Life After the Big 4

By Hugo Tam – Associate Consultant, Banking & Financial Services Recruitment, Links International Hong Kong

Cigars, fast cars, a sailing boat, a summer house, and money in separate funds. That won’t happen until you hit retirement when working in the Big 4. 

Most people don’t aim to become partner as their end goal; instead, they look for specific exit points that will help to build their career.

From a recruitment consultant’s perspective in Hong Kong, there are many good reasons to start off working in the Big 4. The training, work ethic, culture, deal flows and the people are all part of the draw (and of course the name counts too)! And for obvious reasons, seeing “Big 4 audit training background” on a candidate’s CV also attracts the attention of a lot of employers who are seeking hardworking candidates.

First Exit – Certified Auditor

Auditing is an endless cycle that could get tedious over time. A solid two to three years’ experience would put you as a “certified” Big 4 auditor, with all your fundamentals set. This is the first exit point. Transaction Services (TS) is the desirable option, as many ambitious auditors seek a front office career.


Transaction Services, Transaction Advisory Services, Deals Advisory, Advisory Services –  these are all the first destination points after leaving the Big 4. Internally, switches are not as easy as you think, as there are various policies with specific grade level requirements. For PricewaterhouseCoopers, for example, a manager grade is required before a switch will be considered, or at times, offering a spot in Transaction Services could be part of a retention strategy by the management.

What about outside the Big 4? This is the part where your connections and networking kicks in, along with your character, your skillsets and even your certifications. A CPA is almost a must; coming out of the Big 4 without a CPA is alarming, unless you are audit function-free. CFA and familiarisation with US GAAP or PRC GAAP is a plus. Sector focus could also be a bonus point, as related exposure and experience always play a role. Although it is unlikely that you will be placed in a front office role without connections, it is highly possible that you will be placed into an in-house finance role.

Second Exit – Manager level

Moving on towards the next exit point, you are now a Senior Associate or a Manager with four to five years’ experience. You might have switched between the Big 4s, been placed into Transaction Services, or perhaps you are still cracking on with auditing. You are now more than a “certified” Big 4 auditor, with prime experience in leading teams, interacting with clients and much more.

Transaction Services branches off into many teams and other services, from planning, to execution, to completion; specific teams within TS could have a very different outlook. Most clients seek technical skillsets, as they know that the deal flows within Big 4 firms are incomparable to bulge bracket banks and investment banks. Teams like Valuation and Business Modelling, Restructuring, Corporate Finance Advisory, or M&A Advisory tend to bring on more exposure. DCF models, P&L analysis, sensitivity analysis, income approach versus market approach, proposing pitching materials, conducting industry researches, are all the key words that hiring managers look for, the words that accentuate your resume with bright colors.

After working for a Big 4 firm, it’s not exactly an easy jump into major investment banks, even for a candidate who “exceeded expectations”. Candidates might choose to look into Chinese Investment Banks as an alternative option, as often their requirements are lower. Since this sector is Greater China centric, Mandarin is absolutely essential, therefore cultural dynamics are also dissimilar, so personality fit is critical.

Other options could be small private equity houses and family offices, and, if you are willing, the path back to back office roles is always open.   

Third Exit – Become a Sector Specialist

So, what comes after this? 


You could become a sector specialist and take on a switch thereafter. And, if you can just be patient, you will soon be in the upper management within the Big 4, looking forward to heading down the long road with a formidable retirement life ahead!

Are you close to the first or second exit? Or are you still unsure about an exit? Whichever exit you take, Links will be your career companion and will always be looking out for your life after Big 4, seeking to help you reach your greatest potential with the best suited role for you.

To speak to one of our recruitment experts in Hong Kong, submit your CV to Links International or contact us now.