Deciding between a big or a small accounting practice

If you decide to train in an accounting practice, you’ll have to choose a firm to train with (and hope that they choose you!). This is going to be one of the biggest decisions you’re likely to make as a graduate.

The choice will broadly revolve around three categories of firm:

  • Big 4 firms;
  • Top 10 or 20 firms; and
  • Smaller or SME accountancy firms.

While a large proportion of the roles available in the Top 20 accountancy firms are usually on offer during a period known as ‘the milkround’, which occurs between September and November each year, it’s becoming increasingly common for firms to offer graduate positions throughout the year. Smaller accountancy practices will also typically hire on a year-round basis.

Your training contract, like your college course, will last for three to three-and-a-half years so it’s important that you understand what working for the company is like, what the role involves on a day-to-day basis, and what impact the experience will have on your CV once you finish your training contract.

This can only be done by knowing what areas interest you, where in the country you want to work (now and in the future), and – most importantly – by taking time to research thoroughly the different types of accountancy firms hiring graduates and being as proactive as possible in asking questions.

Before you make a decision on which accounting firm (or type of firm) is right for you, find answers to these key questions:

  • What exam support and training is available in the firm?;
  • Are there in-house tutorials available as part of the exam support?;
  • What kind of study leave do you get for professional exams? Is it paid for, or is some of it time in lieu?;
  • Is there a structured development plan in place for trainees? (This typically occurs in larger firms);
  • What do people who have worked in the firm say about the firm? Find them and ask them;
  • Would you like to open your own practice some day? If so, working in a smaller practice with a broad exposure to a variety of tasks would be of benefit;
  • Have you a preference for a particular area you would like to work in, such as audit, tax or advisory? Or would you prefer a more varied training contract with experience across all areas? Or are you open to all opportunities?;
  • Is overtime paid, or given as time in lieu? Are you even rewarded for overtime? Will you be expected to do overtime? If so, how much?;
  • How many trainees will be taken on? This can be good to know for study and social reasons; and
  • What, if any, obstacles do you face in terms of academics or entry requirements? This will help you figure out which companies you can realistically expect to get into.

Don’t leave these questions to the last minute. You should be thinking about these things well ahead of the milkrounds, perhaps even as early on as the end of the second year of your undergraduate degree. It’s never too early to plan ahead.

Credit:, author John Nolan.

At Barden we invest our resources to bring you the very best insights on all things to do with your professional future. Got a topic you would like us to research? Got an insight you would like us to share with our audience? Drop us a note to and we will take it from there. Easy.

You might also like

No resources found