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Why do professionals want to know how to make partner at a Big 4 firm?

How to make partner at a Big 4 firm? This is often seen as the pinnacle of achievement for any accountant or consultant; a title that many strive for throughout their whole career. In the last part of this two-part article series, I dig into exactly what it really takes to become a partner in a Big 4 firm whilst also highlighting how this differs from mid-tier firms. (click here for the first part of the How to make partner at a Big 4 firm series

You need to know about the firm’s promotion process

To make partner at a Big 4 firm – in fact, at any firm – you need to find out how your firm’s promotion process works as well as what qualities, skills, and behaviour you need to display at each of the different levels. Only when you know this can you progress effectively. For example, from lack of knowledge, you don’t want to find yourself in a director role if it means a ‘dead-end’ for your career.   I have worked with the accountancy profession for more than a decade and have seen the expected career progression of directors change, and sometimes change back again. The profession is in a quandary because it doesn’t know what to do with highly technical experts, who are immensely valuable to the firm, but not really suitable for partnership. Therefore, sometimes firms select from their senior managers and only promote to director if they feel there is partnership potential. On the other hand, some firms leapfrog the director stage and promote from senior manager to partner, leaving the director role for the technical experts. This is an approach KPMG has taken in the past, although now they are using director for potential partners again. Long story short, find out about your firm’s promotion process so that you don’t get left behind.

How this differs from mid-tier firms 

While it may be easier to find out what the actual promotion process is in a Big 4 firm, as this is usually transparent as extensive documentation is available, it may be easier to progress in mid-tier firms. As we mentioned previously, it is unlikely that you will need a business case for every promotion lower down the chain and you only need to endure one partnership panel interview as opposed to 3. 

You need to know what size client portfolio you need

Because of their size, Big 4 firms have more partnership slots to fill than mid-tier firms. This means they can be flexible about who they have within the partnership.  You will still need to have strong evidence of how you will develop and win business but (and this surprised me) when going for partner with a Big 4 firm, you don’t need a large client portfolio, they are actually more interested in your potential for building a partner-sized portfolio. (Read on to find out the typical size of a Big 4 partner’s client portfolio To make partner at a Big 4 firm, find out what size client portfolio you need and what you need to do to demonstrate your potential to develop your portfolio. This is essential as the number of partners that each firm plans to admit may change each year. For example, a client from a Big 4 firm who I am coaching is going for one of 30 partnership places. Last year, the firm admitted 63 new partners. There are still the same amount of directors going for these 30 places as there were going for the 63 places last year!

How this differs from mid-tier firms 

Mid-tier firms such as BDO and GT don’t have nearly as much flexibility as Big 4 firms do in terms of the amount of partnership slots they have available. For this reason, they require you to have a large client portfolio for you to even be considered for partner.

You’ll be expected to earn the rewards of partnership

So, there we go.  You should now be getting a good idea of how to make partner at a Big 4 firm. There’s plenty more on the site, so take time to read further. Having started you off, it would be remiss of me not to mention the amount of input that will be expected from you as partner. You’ll be handsomely rewarded, but remember that every firm wants its pound of flesh, and the Big 4 partners are expected to work very long hours and continue working at networking and formal social functions as well. What does it really mean to make partner? There may be plenty of aspects you had not considered! At the start of this article I posed the question, How to make partner at a big 4 firm? At the end of the day, it’s your choice. If you do want the rewards of a partnership in a Big 4 firm, remember you will need to earn them!

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