Lessons from Big 4 accounting firm

lessons from a big 4

Lessons from a Big 4 Accounting firm


All we hear about in the first couple weeks of January is New Year’s Resolutions, Gym, Diet and detox. Let’s switch things up a little shall we? I wrote a post before on reflection in general and how reflection can be exactly what you need in order to set some kick ass goals. I want to take this a little more broad now, in more of a ‘lessons learned’ a la career mode.

My lessons are coming from my experience at a ‘Big 4’ accounting firm, however I would wager that it is the exact same if you worked in a law practice, consulting company or any professional services organization.

I remember starting at the ‘Big 4’ and feeling a flurry of emotions; was I good enough, did they make a mistake in hiring me, would I make partner someday!? Of course these questions and a million others were going through my brain. As I was placed in a team and really got into what the most dreaded part is – – – BUSY SEASON – – – I became so unhappy, unmotivated and borderline depressed. At the time I was sure that everyone else was having an easy time at this gig and knew exactly what to do. Ultimately, I knew that a career that consisted of moving up the ranks within the firm was not really my cup of tea, I knew that there were other adventures and passions that I wanted to pursue (I.E Fernweh Society), however looking back now I can say without a doubt that I learned a lifetime’s worth in a few short years.


The Sitch

(*situation – for anyone who is not up on the abbreviations, I find myself there a lot!)

At the beginning I didn’t really realize how important it was to know how to get through office politics. I don’t know about you guys, but I remember having few crappy situations in high school and some in uni when I would think, “I am so looking forward to working so that I don’t have to deal with meaningless political behavior” AKA mean girls, bi*ches, and any other clueless scenarios with people like this, guys or girls.

Welp – sorry to burst this bubble, but it kind of only gets worse. Not that you’re going to have to worry if you’re wearing the same outfit or going after the same guy, but rather, make sure to scope out who you need to like you in order for you to be considered for a promotion.

I would definitely consider myself a straight-forward, direct person. This is to say I don’t really want to spend time with X person if I don’t like them, just to get them to like me. BUUUUUUUUT – *disclaimer over here as this is a touchy subject* – if you are such a direct person that you spend zero time getting the office people to like you including superiors, or decline lunch/coffee/golfing invites from superiors – good luck moving up. It is dumb, but people will promote those that they “see themselves in” or have a personal relationship with.


Tread lightly on this, but scope out who you need to befriend, be nice, be real(no need to go overboard) and be strategic.

I really look forward to hearing your thoughts on this, please DM me or comment below!


The Sitch

If you’re in professional services you will immediately find yourself in a situation of SINK OR SWIM!  You get maybe a couple days of, “welcome to the team” chatter, and then after that you’re thrown into the fire to figure things out! Uncommon, but sometimes your team lead or peers might have time to help you figure out an issue or work out a kink, but realistically, you have to think fast and stay strong to get through your work (everyone is struggling, so no time to pick up slack from others). At the beginning, I was really unimpressed by this; how am I supposed to learn or do my best!?


It is definitely not fun in the moment but the ‘sink or swim’ environment does force you to develop skills at a rapid pace! The other thing too is that you just have to push through, find the energy and motivation to continue and you do get a lot out of this experience. Many professional settings like this, I am thinking ‘articling’ situations, you’re working towards a goal of a designation or rank, and you have a set timeline. Use this to have a light at the end of the tunnel!


Remember that you are not the only one who is struggling, everyone around you is also working through the tough spots. Keep motivated and stay persistent, at the end of your time you will look back and realize how many amazing skills you learned in such a short period of time because you HAD TO! Think of it like learning a language, you always learn the fastest when you are immersed somewhere and cannot speak English (or whatever your mother tongue is) to anyone, sink or swim, and you pick things up quick! Working in these situations is like being in a pressure cooker, you develop and grow so much faster!


The Sitch

Throughout my time in a “big 4” I came across a few standout leaders and mentors. There were many situations when I didn’t have a good person to look to for advice. As I had more time under my belt I started to see patterns of how things were done and who to talk to for certain things (see my first point on politics). When I would work with those who joined the firm after me, I wanted to share some knowledge. GUYS – you don’t have to be an assigned ‘mentor’ or ‘buddy’ to help someone out. You also will have leadership opportunities outside of assigned tasks at work being a team lead or manager. Use these situations as opportunities of growth for you and whomever you’re mentoring! As you learn life and career lessons, SHARE with those who need it? I am not saying give your two cents where ever you can, that is definitely not how to win friends and influence people, but if someone needs advice or is going through something similar that you went through, help them crack the code!


By offering a little context to people you will practice and grow your skills of being a leader and mentor, seriously these skills will help you in general life, not just during the hours of 9:00am to 5:00pm, haha or in the case of #firmlife 9:00am to . . . midnight? We need to practice more of giving back and mentoring, not always looking to see what we will get out of it, though of course is there ever truly a selfless act, you will learn how to approach leadership situations and coaching techniques, both amazing skills to have.


lessons from a big 4
lessons from a big 4


I want to give one more tip that I couldn’t really nail down a perfect ‘Sitch’ but I think that this tip could actually be the most important, if there is such a ranking:

Play the Part

Simple right? Think about the phrase, ‘dress for the position you want, not the one you have’. I think that this is powerful, not only in our attire but in our demeanor as well. You are a analyst or a staff, does that mean it is okay to show up to work in casual attire, does that make it okay to speak to your colleagues and clients using slang and send poorly written emails? I will answer this shortly, NO!!!

You need to grow up fast in a professional environment; dress for the part, ask questions, do your homework, BE PROFESSIONAL. This is a lesson that if you can come in and go above and beyond from the beginning, I guarantee you that you will be seen as a star performer, no matter if you need to develop on other things like technical components of your work. You will put in the time to hone your skills, but professionalism is something that is harder to teach, so show them that you already have it.


Was this helpful? Has anyone else had a similar ‘sitch’, I would love to hear about it! Also, let me know if there was something you learned that I missed!!!


OX Annika



lessons from a big 4

Photographer Steve Bezanson



  1. Seema
    January 12, 2017 / 2:31 pm

    You nailed it!

    • annika
      January 13, 2017 / 1:00 pm

      Hey Seema! Thank you for reading, and so happy you agree!!! What were your thoughts on the office politics??? I would love to hear your take 🙂


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