The b-school experience of a Big 4

After recently leaving a cushy position at PwC to pursue my MBA degree, I began to realize more and more how similar working at a Big4 was to studying at a top tier business school. As the weeks progressed, the more classes and networking activities I attended, the more obvious the similarities became. Since the topic is on Big4, I will list down the big four similarities I noticed.

Networking and Connections

Ask any b-school grad and they will all tell you the same thing. The most valuable aspect of any business program is the connections and networking you make with your cohort and the alumni base. Working at PwC was almost like going to business school for me. Because there are some barriers to entry, it puts you in the league with top-notch colleagues. You build relationships with a wide variety of people, including senior business leaders, not just at your firm but also at client companies also. The more engagements you pursue, the wider your network becomes. And the company “alumni” is likely to be as helpful in terms of career opportunities. 10 years down the line, some of your peers will likely be holding senior leadership roles in your line of work. I have pitched ideas to and had dinner with multiple CXOs from large private players in the Indian banking sector during my short stint at PwC.

Exponential learning

Very few careers will expose you to such a rapid pace of learning. You will get opportunities to take on new challenges every single day. The quality of projects is definitely at a higher level. Hence, you develop skills and expertise that is valuable to most other companies, just as valuable as the skillset of a b-school fresher. The firms also provide ample training for professional development. Other than the technicalities, you also learn skills such as people management, business proposals and conflict resolution, skills that people go to b-school to develop. The exponential learning curve that is offered to you is rarely seen at other corporates. Compared to a peer working in a similar role, the speed and complexity of the varied tasks that you would manage on a daily basis would put you in a different league.

Exposure and Opportunites

At the Big4, you get opportunities to take on as much work as you want. And the work doesn't go unnoticed. Other than the substantial annual hikes, you will have the opportunity to rise up the ladder much faster, provided you can get your work to work for you. You will not have managers creating bottlenecks and fighting for promotions because they have paid their dues in terms of years spent. At the Big 4, your work speaks for you. You also get exposed to a diverse range of industries, across geography. Since you are exposed to the industries, it makes it that much easier to transition to the client side or pursue business opportunities of your own. The client base includes almost every company in the Fortune 500. Since they work fast, a typical project is a couple of months. You move on to a new client and new learnings soon. To sum it up, the work that you do will result in something that you will see in the Economic Times soon enough. Just as a business degree gives you the opportunity to completely change your domain, a few years at a Big 4 does the same for you if you are brave enough.

Stamp of Approval

Lastly, similar to the prestige associated with a top tier business school degree, a Big4 name on your resume is favoured and coveted by potential employers. The Big4 are respected and having it on your resume is an immediate signal that you are smart, hard-working and can handle the high pressure that comes with high paying roles. You don't have to convince the recruiter about how challenging your last role was. It is expected.

Bonus point: the partying!

The Big4 knows how to throw a bash. Similar to the epic parties that go on at business school campuses, the Big4 also hosts grand parties and weekend trips to build stronger relationships among employees. Although people have fun at these events, they are actually very resourceful in terms of connections that you can build within the firm.

All being said, working at a Big 4 cannot substitute the peer learning and high-class education imparted by professors at a top tier institution. But if you really want to fastrack your career and are willing to work for it, you can achieve it at a big 4. However, there are some caveats to the points I have experienced first-hand during my stint at PwC, which I will cover in a separate post.

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