Big 4 Accounting Career Path

Many people that are just looking into a career in accounting or going to school for accounting don’t know about the career path.

There are also many associates and senior associates that aren’t sure how the big 4 career path is supposed to pan out. That is why we are going to go into a deep discussion today.

I’m going to go over the titles of the positions you will obtain while at the big 4 and how long you can expect to stay in each position.


If you are going to work at the big 4, obtaining a big 4 internship is key. You will need to focus on getting this position while you are in school though.

You don’t want to try to get an internship after you have already graduated, as the position will likely not be available to you.

You can expect an internship to last anywhere from 2 to 3 months.


Big 4 associate or staff person. This is where you start out after you have graduated.

What you can expect in this position:

Whether you are in audit, advisory or tax you will be working very hard while you are a staff person. This is because the staff or associate position is the most profitable for the 4 big public accounting firms.

The margin that the big 4 accounting firms make off of associates is amazing.

You can expect to be in the associate position for a couple of years if you are good or you are in a practice that is growing.

3 years is a typical amount of time to spend at the associate position.

If you are an associate after 4 years, you should try to leave public and go into private accounting.

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Senior Associate

What to expect from the position:

Senior associate is not a big improvement on associate as you are now responsible for your work and your staff’s work.

You have to work very hard and get used to coaching people as well. You also have to get used to working with more senior people at this level because you will most likely be working with a manager at this level.

How long you will be in this position:

If you are a good worker or in a good practice, you will only spend 2 years at this position

On average you can expect to spend three years at this position.



What to expect from the position:

At the manager level, you can expect to perform less grunt work. You will be primarily responsible for making sure that all the work on your clients is completed.

You will also be responsible for establishing strong relationships with your client. You won’t necessarily be responsible for the wining and dining part yet unless your office is short staffed.

How long you should be in this position

Again you can expect to stay in this position for about 3 years

If you are in this position for over 4 years you should definitely consider leaving the big 4.


Senior Manager or Director Position


What to expect from this position:

You are responsible for everything on your accounts. You have to make sure that the client relationships are good and that your engagements are staffed. You are also responsible for reviewing all the work of your managers and teams in general.

You also will likely have to attend conferences and other networking events to help improve your presence in front of your clients.

How long can you expect to be in this position?

You can expect to be in this position for 5 years typically.


Managing Director


The managing director position is usually reserved for people that are non equity partners. That means that people in this position will most likely never make partner. I have heard that at some big 4 firms you have to go to managing director before you make partner, but I haven’t heard too much of that so I wouldn’t bank on that being the truth.

How long will you be in this position

If you get to this position, you will be here for the rest of your career unless you take drastic measures to leave. This position is the alternative to partner.



Finally we have the prized position of partner at the big 4 accounting firms. If you counted up all the typical times for each position, you likely realized that it takes about 14-15 years to be an equity partner at a big 4 accounting firm. You are correct if that is the calculation that you came up with.

What you can expect from this position:

As a partner you are responsible for everything in your practice.

What that means is you are responsible for HR matters, staffing problems, billing, client relations in addition to making sure that your clients are happy and that you are winning new work. Sounds like a lot right?

So many people dream of becoming a partner and don’t realize what it takes to be one.

You can also relax if you have the right people around. If you have good managers and senior managers, you don’t have to worry about your client work getting completed.

If you have good assistants you don’t have to worry about your schedule getting messed up.

If you have good HR people, you don’t have to worry about staffing and annual review issues.

How long can you expect to be in this position:

Obviously you can expect to be in this position for the rest of your career as this is the pinnacle of the big 4. There are some additional titles that can be tagged onto your name such as senior partner and regional leader.

It is also possible to obtain leadership positions is you want to work really hard as a partner.