How to make partner at a Big 4 firm (EY, Deloitte, KPMG and PwC)

Making partner at a Big 4 accounting or consulting firm (EY, Deloitte, KPMG and PwC) is often seen as the pinnacle of achievement for an Accountant or Consultant. However, many talented professionals fail to make it to partner at a Big 4 firm. In the first part of this two-part article, I reveal four secrets of directors who have made it to partner at their Big 4 firm. (In the second part of this two-part article, I reveal the final four secrets. Click here to access the second part of the article.)

1. Get onto Partnership Track

The Big 4 firms have formal structured development programmes for their ’emerging leaders’, often called ‘partner track’ or ‘partnership track’. i.e. their senior managers and directors who they believe are capable of making it to partner. If you are going to make the transition from Director (or in some firms senior manager) to Partner you need to be nominated to attend your firm’s equivalent of their Partner Development Programme.

The people who do get on these programmes have normally been talking for a few years with their mentor and sponsoring partner about their partner ambitions. In other words, don’t keep your career ambitions private. The more open you can be about how you would like to progress your career in your Big 4 firm, the greater the opportunities which will open up to you.

?The formal partner admissions process for a Big 4 firm can be up to a year in length, with various long and short listing of potential future partners carried out 0-3 years before an individual is admitted to the partnership. (Yes, the partnership track process can really be that long at a Big 4 firm) It goes without saying that you if you want to make partner at a Big 4 firm you need to get yourself onto the long lists, and then the short lists. Are you on the long list? Or what do you need to do to be on the long list?

“This book is a secret weapon for your career”

How to make partner and still have a life
How to make partner and still have a life

2. Prepare for a marathon not a sprint

One of the most common comments successful directors who make partner at a Big 4 firm say is, that it is more of a marathon than a sprint, and they wish they’d been prepared for that. This means if you want to make partner at a Big 4 firm you need to be organised and do a little every week to work on your career towards partner.

‘I wish I knew that I needed to pace myself, and not sprint for a few days/a week, then stand still and then sprint again’

Newly promoted Big 4 partner

Your business and personal case does not get built overnight. It takes time and activity outside of your normal day job. The 2-3 years when you transition from Director to Partner in your Big 4 firm will probably be some of the toughest years you will ever do. Combine high chargeable time targets potentially with a high level of travelling and a need to materially build your own profile, is a tough ask for most people. No one said it would be easy to make partner at a Big 4 firm!

One of our most sought-after courses in our subscriber-only site Progress to Partner is called “How to Build a Cast-Iron Business Case for Partner”. We think it’s a must-have in your arsenal of tools and guidance to help with your career progression. There is also a section on the Partnership Admissions process with guides and recordings to help you find your way through the system. Check it out!

3. Balance your workload

With the need to build a business and personal case for partner AND do your day job, the only way to do this is to actively balance your workload. The best way to do this is:

Prioritise: Prioritise your career. Make your own personal development your most important client. After all, it is easy to put your regular client work first.

Plan: Plan your internal PR campaign, your personal development, your team’s development, your business development activities…

Importantly plan your time to recharge, it can actually go against you being the first one in and the last one out of the office, or being on client’s sites a lot and people not seeing you and not being able to balance your work.

Tara Fennessy, Executive Coach to Big 4 potential partners

Pace: Take one step at a time of your plan and action it in the right order. It sounds obvious but actually putting one foot in front of the other at a steady pace is what gets you to the finishing line. One of the best ways is to have a rolling 3-month plan of what you need to achieve to build your personal and business case. More than 3 months of activity can easily overwhelm you. Less than 3 months and you may not be able to see enough of the long term vision to seize opportunities when they appear.

?To make partner at a Big 4 firm is a tough ask. One made even tougher if you don’t take control of your workload.

4. Deliver on your numbers and personal objectives

This is common sense, but if you want to be seen as partner material and worth investing in, you need to make sure that you routinely achieve your personal objectives and targets. If you have an ‘average’ or ‘poor’ performance rating you are unlikely to be seen as a future partner of the firm.

Click here for part 2 of this article

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