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What to do after leaving a Big 4?

When nearing the end of your training contract within a Big 4, you are met with the question of: What type of accounting path should I follow? Should I pursue a career in private practice, make a move within industry or even leave Ireland for some international experience?

Identifying which path will best suit your skill set and ambitions can be challenging. We look at the points you should consider when making your choice to move into industry or private practice.

Why do Big 4 accountants make a move into industry?

Around half of accountants pursue this route. One of the major benefits this path offers is the ability to move your career along quickly, with opportunities for promotion common in industry roles.

Which role do most Big 4 leavers take on within industry?

For those who are interested in taking on a more strategic role, financial planning & analysis is the best route. Increasingly, employers are looking to their finance teams to provide insights into long term business development, so if you are interested in taking on these challenges then you are more than likely to find roles in this field highly rewarding.

Internal audit is typically a less popular route, with much of the role mirroring the work that you would have carried out during your role within the Big 4. However, if you are interested in gaining international experience within your role, internal audit may be the perfect route for you. Many multinational PLCs are keen to move internal audit professionals around the business globally in order to ensure a uniform approach across the firm.

In both cases, if you are looking to move into an in-house role you will be entering a job market where opportunities are widespread. And as more businesses look to establish operations in Dublin, more roles will become available. You should also consider that these roles are unlikely to be typecast into a single industry, with many employers being open to professionals with a background in a different field when hiring.

Can you also give us some good reasons to stay in private practice?

We have seen that almost one third of accountancy professionals enjoy staying within private practice, with the ultimate goal of becoming a partner within the firm.

One of the biggest benefits for a career in private practice is the structured style of career progression; firms are clear with their requirements to achieve promotion and many favour giving staff management experience early in their careers.

And if you are a more technically minded professional, then this route will also offer opportunities for you to work on increasingly complex internal audit projects, developing a thorough understanding of audit across a wide range of industries, particularly if the firm has a diverse client base.

However, you should keep in mind that salary increases can be slower than in other career paths and it can be difficult to leave private practice later in your career if you decide to make the move into an in-house role.

Despite this, a role in private practice can still offer varied experience, with the ability to move into different departments within the firm and gain exposure to different industries.

What about moving abroad and gaining international experience?

Once you have completed your training, gaining some overseas experience can be an effective way to differentiate yourself from other professionals in the market. This can also help to avoid candidate-saturated markets.

Just make sure to consider which locations will help you when you decide to make the move back to Ireland. Countries like the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada all operate under similar legal and financial regulatory systems to Ireland, so your experience will be applicable when you return. In addition, for Irish citizens it’s easy to get work permits in these countries, meaning you can arrive in the country without having already secured a role.

It is also important to consider the challenges that may come with leaving the country. In particular, employers may be concerned that you do not plan to remain overseas in the long-term, and might therefore be less likely to invest in training and development if you are from abroad. But you can turn this to your advantage by pursuing short term contracts and gaining experience across different industries and disciplines, helping you determine which path you want to pursue on your return.

Also bear in mind that many aspects of financial regulation are common across these regions, but differences still exist. So pursuing roles focused purely on technical accounting may be less advantageous in the long term, as some of this knowledge and experience might not be applicable in Ireland.

And what if I don’t want to stay within accounting?

The majority of qualified accountants choose to remain within the field, but it’s definitely  not uncommon for some to choose entirely different career paths. If you do, having qualified within a Big 4 firm can still be hugely valuable. This background possesses many transferable skills.

More general skills such a methodical approach to challenges, strong organisational skills and a structured mind-set can be hugely valuable in project management roles, or if you decide to start your own business.

Professionals with a technical understanding of accounting are also highly sought after for specialist recruitment roles. As a qualified accountant, you will be in a strong position to assess the skills and experience of finance and accounting candidates, and be able to identify which professionals will be an ideal fit for the role.

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