Want to know what it takes to become a partner at a Big 4 firm such as EY, Deloitte, KPMG, and PwC? Making partner at such a huge accounting or consulting firm is the ultimate accomplishment for an Accountant or Consultant, however, many talented professionals fail to make the cut. To help give you the best shot, we are sharing the top tips directly from Directors who have successfully made it to partner themselves. In this second part of our two-part series, we reveal the remaining 5 out of 9 secrets to help you become a partner at a Big 4 firm. (Click here to discover the first 4 secrets in part one of the series)
5.) Build a strong personal brand internally and externally within the firm
The Big 4 firms, EY, Deloitte, PwC and KPMG, are all massive firms with thousands of employees so why should you be nominated for the partnership track? Why should you be made partner? When you know the answers to these questions, you should be broadcasting them to highlight your strengths. In other words, to stand out enough to become a partner at a Big 4 firm, you will need to have a strong personal brand and high profile both internally and externally of the firm.(Read: Is your personal brand blocking your career progression?) Here are some tips to build a strong profile:
- Specialise earlier rather than later in your career.
- Become known as a ‘Go-To Expert’ for some technical or sector-specific knowledge.
- Allocate time every week to building and maintaining a strong professional network. E.g. attending young professional networking events and deepening relationships with other professional advisors you work with.
- Prioritise building your own referral networks which will provide you with a regular stream of new high-quality client leads.
6.) Start building your business case as early as possible
It is widely known that to become a partner at a Big 4 accounting firm, you need a strong business case. What isn’t as well known is the time that you need to spend on it. The directors at Big 4 firms – EY, Deloitte, KPMG and PwC – who have successfully made it through to partner, say that they worked on their business case for at least a couple of years. Although it’s not impossible, they’ve found it to be very hard to build a strong business case within only 12-24 months of actively building a business case for partnership. Long story short, much like your personal brand, the earlier you start to build your business case, the easier you make it on yourself and the more likely you are to do it right.
7.) Build your fan base outside of your own department
The partners at a Big 4 firm (EY, KPMG, PwC and Deloitte) will regularly and openly discuss who they will make partner. With that thought in mind, ask yourself ‘how many partners would be ‘pitching’ you and ‘fighting your corner’?’ One of the biggest tips that directors can give for making partner in a Big 4 accounting firm, is that you will need more than just your sponsor fighting for you! Like a panel-based job interview, you will not be at the table when the final decisions on who should get partnership this time or even get put onto Partner Track are made. This is why the successful Directors who become a partner at a Big 4 firm have taken the time to build up a strong fan base within the partnership BEFORE they are considered for admission to the partnership. Within a strong fan base, there will always be degrees of support. At the lowest level, the successful director will have built enough relationships with partners within their Big 4 firm so that they have a broad base of support for their partnership ambitions. However, successful directors who actually make partner know that they need to have more than just their head of department and sponsoring partner (who are likely to be the same people) in their corner.
8.) Be prepared to relocate
What many accountants and consultants don’t take into account is, the more mobile you are prepared to be, the greater the opportunity to make partner at a Big 4 firm. What this could mean in practice is that you will need to be prepared to relocate your family to a completely different country. I was recently speaking to an EY director who had relocated from India to work on his biggest client’s affairs in Africa. Now, this may be slightly more drastic than you may be prepared to do, but the tip remains the same. The more flexible you can be with your mobility, the more opportunities available to you to become a partner at a Big 4 firm.
9.) Be willing to change firm (if necessary)
The last secret tip from successful directors who have made partner is to not be afraid to consider moving accounting firms to speed up your progression to partner. Whilst it may be nice to say that you are ‘man and boy’ at a firm, if a move means that you can significantly strengthen your business and personal case, then you need to be prepared to make that move for your career.(Read Why we need to go towards fear if we are to progress our career)
Become a partner at a Big 4 firm
Hopefully, our two-part series spouting advice straight from the horse’s mouth will significantly help you on your journey to making partner at your Big 4 firm. Just remember to implement what they said in your daily work life:
- Don’t keep your ambitions private
- Pace yourself to avoid burning out
- Balance your workload
- Hit your targets
- Build a strong personal brand both in and outside of the firm
- Start building your business case early
- Make sure that more than one partner is advocating for you
- Be flexible with location
- Consider changing firms if you have to
If you take this advice from the very people who have made it to partner, then you can’t go far wrong! Read: Your top six priorities when you are successful in the partnership admissions vote What to do when you are told you won’t get on the partner track