Joining Big 4 from a Smaller Firm
An Interview with Logan Allec from EY
Earlier this week I was fortunate enough to do an interview with Logan Allec. Logan is an interesting guy and has a great story about how he transitioned from a smaller CPA firm to Big 4. He’s currently a Manager at Ernst & Young (EY). Logan also has a successful side-hustle, Money Done Right, where he talks about personal finance topics and his journey to increasing his net worth.
I frequently get asked from experienced professionals, “How can I break into Big 4?” It’s always a difficult question for me to answer because I started in Big 4. I hope that this post will shed some light into what someone else actually did to break into Big 4.
Let’s get started!
B4B4: Tell us a little about yourself and why you got into public accounting in the first place.
L: I’ve always had a love for keeping track of money and spreadsheets. When I was younger and earned money for something, I loved keeping track of it in spreadsheets or financial software like Quicken. So accounting was a natural fit. In terms of why public accounting specifically, I was just following the crowd.
B4B4: How did you decide on which service line to work in?
L: When I was in college, I had not yet taken an auditing course by the time I was applying for jobs, so I just told recruiters that I was interested in tax. I don’t think I even knew that there were other options than auditing and tax at the time.
B4B4: Were you targeting the Big 4 when you were in school?
L: Not particularly. It was 2009, the economy was in the toilet, and I just wanted a job. To be honest I wasn’t the best at keeping track of recruiting deadlines. I missed the internship interviews my junior year, and I was behind with the senior year full-time interviews as well. The only Big 4 that I made the on-campus interviews for was KPMG, and they did not extend me an offer. Interestingly enough, since then, I have received offers from EY, PwC, and Deloitte, but KPMG has always rejected me.
B4B4: What made you want to make the switch to a larger company later in your career?
L: I was working Big 4 hours on a Big 4 client without the Big 4 name on my resume and felt that I had exhausted my time at the smaller firm. One good thing about them was that they paid overtime to staff and seniors, but once you get promoted to manager, you don’t get paid overtime anymore, so it made sense to leave as a heavy senior.
B4B4: What avenues did you take when it came to networking with the Big 4?
L: I didn’t really network with the Big 4 when I wasn’t in Big 4.
B4B4: What is your advice for someone wanting to get into Big 4 from a smaller firm?
L: Work on the largest clients you can. Now that I’m on the other side, I interview a lot of candidates from smaller firms, and something we look for is the ability to handle large clients similar to ours. Now, you might still get in if you’re cordial and have a solid work ethic, but we’ll definitely bump you down a level (or two) if you haven’t worked on large clients with complex issues. For example, we interviewed and extended an offer to a really bright guy who was a manager at a smaller firm. He had over 10 years of experience and was very friendly and motivated. But because he didn’t have solid experience working on large clients, we could only bring him in as a second-year staff.
B4B4: What was the most challenging part of breaking into Big 4 as an experienced hire?
L: There’s a lot more administrative stuff to deal with. The core compliance work felt more or less the same given that I had worked on very large clients before, but the admin was a tough pill to swallow.
B4B4: What kind of opportunities did you see available to you at EY that weren’t available to you before?
L: My old firm was very compliance-driven at pretty much every level below partner. So that part felt very much the same at EY. But at EY I was exposed to more large-scale consulting projects. The internal network at a Big 4 is also incredible. Even as just some random tax manager, I’m regularly talking to very bright people specializing in transfer pricing, expat issues, quantitative services, etc.
B4B4: Big 4 is notorious for their turnover, how do you manage the stress and avoid burnout?
L: I take it easy and make sure I delegate and leverage work effectively. If you can train and teach people effectively, you won’t burn out. Of course, as a staff you have to pay your dues in a sense, but it does get easier up the chain if and only if you know how to effectively delegate tasks.
B4B4: If you were back in school, knowing what you know now, would you do anything differently?
L: I would definitely have been more on top of the recruiting process.
B4B4: Since joining EY, you’ve actually started a successful blog, Money Done Right. How has your experience been holding down a side-hustle while working as a Manager in Big 4 full-time?
L: I segment my time. I work on the blog early in the morning and late night. I also work on it during my commute since I take the train and can usually be very productive. I also work on the blog on weekends. I don’t mind this schedule at all since I’ve always been really into productivity and not wasting time.
B4B4: What are your long-term goals? Do you plan to stay in Big 4?
L: I’d like to leave Big 4 within the next 12 months to pursue 1) blogging and 2) my own tax and accounting practice. Big 4 has been a great experience, and I don’t have any hate, but I feel that I’ve been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, and it’s now or never. It’s also reassuring knowing that with Big 4 on my resume, I’ll always be able to come back to a solid job if my business endeavors don’t work out.
B4B4: Any last words for our readers?
L: If you want to get into Big 4, don’t focus on why you can’t; focus on why you can.
Awesome advice, Logan. Thanks to him for providing an insightful view into what it took for him to transition over to Big 4 and balance a successful side-hustle. I think there’s a lot of great lessons and advice we can take from this interview.
- Be prepared for and understand the recruiting process (as a student and experienced hire)
- Do excellent work in your current position
- Try to work on large, complex clients
- Segment your time and be productive
- Focus on being effective
Thanks again to Logan and make sure you check out his blog over at Money Done Right.