Big 4 Salaries – Every Day A Surprise

As promised, I wanted to give you a flavor for some of the side emails and comments I have been getting in response to my post last week on Big 4 starting salaries. I am reprinting a few here, with minimal commentary and with the names and places changed to protect the weary, frustrated and resigned.
Dear Francine, I was startled by your starting salary figures. I got
$43k out of school in 2005. When I left [Big 4 firm] counsulting practice last summer, I went from making $50kto $65+ as an internal auditor with [big name multinational]. I negotiated [decent signing bonus] and [small] relocation from [big name multinational]. If I had stayed at [Big 4 firm], I expected no more than a [middling] raise and [paltry] bonus. The [Big4]ers I keep in touch with express frustration that incoming associates are making more than they are after a year or two at the firm….

My response to this person included this comment:

…You were underpaid at your prior firm for consulting and could probably get more than what you are getting at [big multinational]. But do well and get the experience and a Manager title, and you will do great in a couple of years. And never tell a prospective employer or headhunter what you’re currently making. Tell them what you want for the job they want you to do, based on the market. A recruiter who insists on knowing your current salary before presenting your resume is being unscrupulous. An employer who insists is being cheap. In particular, contingent recruiters are like real estate agents. They are always working for the seller, the party paying them to close the deal, not the buyer. In the job market, recruiters are paid by the employers, the sellers, not the candidates, the buyers. And so their loyalty lies always with the employer.


Dear Ms. McKenna, The day before you posted about salaries, [a group of us with under manager level] were discussing salaries, but of course in the firm encouraged, veiled, we-won’t-actually-compare-numbers-and-get-the-real-scoop kind of way.

We basically all came to the conclusion that at least at [our Big 4 firm] and at least now HR/recruiting is screwing everyone over. Apparently there have been all kinds of rumors about new hires (entry salary) being paid as much as staff after their first raise or even seniors. Though I can’t verify it, it’s possible that with my signing bonus and my I-passed-my-CPA-exam-within-the-1st-year bonus I’m making as much as the person with three years experience. I felt a little bit like the jerk in the room who stole their raise money, but I keep telling myself it’s HR, not me.

This person has written to me before. He is a very sharp, articulate person who entered with a Masters in Accounting. Interestingly, he blames the HR functionaries, not the partners, the owners of the firm!


Dear Francine, [Thanks for ] your post about the starting salaries. Really gave me a chance to heave a big sigh of relief.

I think your starting salary listed for [Big 4 firm] is on the way-low side. Undergrads are starting with $5,000 to sign (2 year vesting schedule) and $55-58K per year in the “Northeast Region” (Mason-Dixon line to Maine). Kids with MBA’s or MIS degrees are getting from 5-7K more depending on offices. And there are 22 days of Paid Time Off plus 8 firm holidays.

Benefits suck though.

I know [the benefits] vary from office to office depending on client restrictions[????????????], but it seems the firms all have a national policy of what percentage they pick up, what they try to offer, etc. I was really appalled at [Big4] ’s benefit package (almost $15 per week for pretty high co-pays. Dental is/was an extra $4 or something. I know it isn’t a lot of money, but when it seems like they are inflating salaries and upping premiums to help cover the new salaries. It’s a little shady.


Dear Ms. McKenna, Doing my work as a new staff I can see how much of the audit falls in the hands of people with 3-5 years experience who are 24, 25, 26 years old. It scares me and makes me afraid for the financial markets. I guess in some ways being so young makes us more independent than the partners, but that’s the only benefit I can think of – and I think it’s a stretch at that!

On my current client, I keep finding in our permanent folders that don’t foot (but have a tickmark saying they do), references to documents that don’t exist, and the partner on this job is known for being detail oriented! In my opinion, for the past X number of years, we’ve merely been COPY-ing the figures without taking a step back to see if it makes sense.

3 replies
  1. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    “I know [the benefits] vary from office to office depending on client restrictions[????????????],”

    Maybe they mean that the insurance providers vary based on independance issues? If the NYC office of a Big-4 is auditing Aetna, I don’t imagine they are able to offer Aetna insurance. That seems like it would be a pretty ugly conflict.

  2. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Francine, thank you very much for keeping this blog. I will be starting at EY soon and I have learned more about the industry through this blog than through any other means.

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