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

Want to know what it takes to make 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 first part of our two-part series, we reveal 4 out of 9 secrets to help you make partner at a Big 4 firm. (Click here to discover the remaining 5 secrets in part two of the series)  

1.) Open up and get yourself onto the partnership track 

  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. How do you get nominated I hear you ask? You need to be open about your career ambitions with the right people. Associates who make it onto the partnership track are those who have been talking for a few years to their mentor and sponsoring partner about their partner ambitions. Effectively, by being more open about how they would like to progress in a Big 4 firm, they have created greater opportunities for themselves which open up down the line.  Big 4 firms have formally structured development programmes, a.k.a the ‘partner track’ or ‘partnership track,’ for their ’emerging leaders,’ i.e. senior managers and directors who they believe are capable of making it to partner. 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?  

2.) Prepare for a marathon, not a race

  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 You can’t sprint to partner, that just results in you burning out. Therefore, the most effective way to get there is to be the tortoise rather than the hare. The 2-3 years when you transition from Director to Partner will be some of the toughest years you will ever do as you juggle high chargeable time targets potentially with a high level of travelling and a need to materially build your own profile.  Your business and personal case does not get built overnight, so the only way to make it through is to do a little each day outside of your normal day job.   

3.) Balance your workload

  Yes, time-management is one of the top tips for making partner! If you don’t have good time-management skills, then you won’t be able to build a business and personal case for partner AND do your day job.  To be able to actively balance your workload, you need to adopt the 3 Ps:

  • 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…
  • 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 finish 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 “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  

4.) Deliver on your numbers and personal objectives

  Another big secret for how to make partner at a Big 4 firm is to make sure that you routinely achieve your personal objectives and targets. This may seem like common sense but it is often an area that suffers as the pressure, responsibilities, and workload increase.  If you have an ‘average’ or ‘poor’ performance rating you are unlikely to be seen as a future partner of the firm. For this reason, you need to be continuously proving yourself to be seen as partner material and worth investing in.(Read 12 ways high-performers at the Big 4 avoid burnout AND still hit their targets In summary, the first 4 secrets to making partner at a Big 4 firm are:

  • Don’t keep your ambitions private 
  • Pace yourself to avoid burning out
  • Balance your workload 
  • And hit your targets!

Click here for part 2 of this article and the remaining 5 secrets.

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