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Moving from a smaller firm to Big 4

Written by: Ernst & Young LLP (EY UK)
Published on: 4 May 2024

Meet Michelle Horsman (she/her), an assistant manager in Audit at EY UK. Michelle joined EY UK from a smaller firm in 2021 as part of their Elevate programme. She shares her experiences of transitioning to a larger firm and her advice for others. 


Michelle Horsman EY


Michelle’s journey so far 

Michelle began her career in Audit in 2014 after she joined a smaller firm as part of their Apprenticeship programme. She worked at the firm for 7 years during which time she completed her ACA qualification with ICAEW. 

In 2021, after completing her ACA qualification, Michelle was approached about Elevate. A bespoke programme at EY UK, designed to help newly qualified and soon to be qualified Audit professionals transition from a smaller UK based firm to one of the Big 4.

Michelle wasn’t actively looking for a new role at the time, however she felt a move to a Big 4 would be a great way to support her career development.

“I knew joining EY, and the experience I would gain, would open doors for me. As such, while I wasn’t looking to make a move at the time, I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work with clients, colleagues and projects that would challenge me, enhance my skills, and accelerate my career.”

Joining the firm 

In November 2021, Michelle joined EY UK in their Luton office. Although she was excited about the opportunities working at a Big 4 would offer, Michelle was nervous about the transition. 

“I had some misconceptions about working at a Big 4, but my transition wasn’t as hard as I had expected it to be. I expected to feel as though it wasn’t doable, that I wouldn’t be supported and that I would regret my decision to move, but that wasn’t the case. At no point did it feel impossible or that I was out of my depth.”

Michelle was assigned a careers counselor to help ease her transition, received training, and was welcomed by everyone in her team, regardless of their level.

“On one of my first days in the office, I booked a desk right next to a Partner. At first, I found this daunting, but they immediately made me feel welcome and it was refreshing to work so closely alongside leadership.  During those first few weeks everyone, regardless of their level, made an effort to introduce themselves and make me feel like part of the team.”

Although initially nervous, the first few weeks made Michelle feel confident about her future at EY.

Benefits of working at a Big 4

Michelle enjoyed her time at her first firm, she built strong working relationships with her colleagues and clients and had access to a variety of opportunities that allowed her to develop her skills as an Audit professional. However, she feels that working at EY has helped enhance and elevate her career.

“There’s a big difference in the types and size of entities you audit when you come from a smaller firm. At EY, I’ve been able to watch my client’s progress and support them with new challenges and ventures through my role in Audit. I’m able to communicate what I’m passionate about and where possible evolve my portfolio, which allows me to explore my interests and learn new skills. I also get to see the beginning stages of work and processes, something that wasn’t available at my previous firm.” 

Working at a larger firm has also presented Michelle with more opportunities for progression:

“The size and scope of EY also means there’s lots of different opportunities for development and progression. This means that regardless of your interests or career goals, there’s always something to explore and support to help you get there.”

Michelle has also gained a better work life balance, something she didn’t expect:

“I thought my work life balance would suffer in the transition, but it’s improved. At EY, people care about you as an individual and give you the flexibility and trust to do your job well. My team has a hybrid working model which means depending on the work that’s required, we work between home, the office and client site. This really helps me balance my portfolio and personal life.”

Having a better work life balance gives Michelle more time to spend with her two nieces and enjoy walks with her dog, Simba.  Overall, Michelle is confident that making the move to a Big 4 firm was the right decision for her and her career. 

Advice to others

For anyone looking to transition from a smaller firm to Big 4, Michelle has the following advice:

“Make sure that you ask for help when you need it, everyone has had to learn it once, learning new systems and methodology which is firm specific. There is no shame in not knowing the answer nor getting it wrong, that’s exactly how we grow.” 

Discover more about the Elevate programme at EY UK

In our next article hear from Nikhil Sangani from Sage Accounting on his experiences of transitioning from one of the Big 4 into a smaller practice and his advice for others planning on making the change.

If you are ready to take the next step in your career journey take a look at our job listings and other career advice