Internal Audit vs Big 4 – Which Career Path is Better?

As a finance professional in the auditing field, I often get asked about the pros and cons of choosing between an internal audit role at a company or joining one of the “big 4” firms like Deloitte or PwC. Here I’ll share my insights based on my own career experiences in both types of roles.

Briefly, I’ve found internal audit provides more long-term stability and pathway to leadership roles, while the Big 4 gives accelerated career growth but lower work-life balance.

Internal audit means I can specialize deeply in one industry. Big 4 provides exposure to diverse sectors. Pay is higher in the big 4 initially but internal audit offers better work hours for my lifestyle.

Below I’ll compare the two paths in detail across factors like career advancement, work demands, compensation, and more.

internal audit vs big 4
internal audit

Career Growth

When I worked at Big 4 firms, I got the opportunity to work on projects across different industries and clients. This gave me well-rounded experience and expanded my professional networks. My Big 4 experience enabled me to take on complex assignments and build specialized expertise much faster in the initial years of my career.

In internal audit roles, I gained an in-depth understanding of my employer’s business operations, risks, and controls. However, my learning was confined to one enterprise. My career growth was slower as I waited for audit leadership roles to open up internally.

Overall, I found that Big 4 firms offered steeper learning curves and accelerated career advancement, especially in the first 5-10 years.

Domain Expertise

At Big 4 companies, I gained broad experience across diverse sectors like technology, manufacturing, financial services, retail, and more. This expanded my business acumen across multiple domains.

As an internal auditor, I acquired deeper knowledge within my employer’s specific industry and business model. This specialized expertise became an asset as I progressed to senior leadership roles within the organization.

Travel Requirements

I traveled frequently when I worked at Big 4 firms, needing to visit many different client offices and sites to conduct audits and projects.

As an internal auditor, minimal travel was expected as I focused on assigned locations within my employer’s organization. This made internal audit more suitable for my preferences.


The salaries I received for Big 4 positions were higher compared to equivalent internal audit roles early in my career. Additional performance bonuses and profit sharing also boosted my Big 4 compensation.

However, in an internal audit, my salary at a top corporation eventually exceeded what I made even as a Senior Manager at a Big 4 firm. Chief Audit Executives at major companies can earn over $500k.

Work Hours and Culture

At Big 4 firms, I consistently worked long 55-60+ hour weeks during busy seasons and project deadlines. My work-life balance was much lower. Weekend and late-night work was common.

In internal audit roles, I had a better work-life balance with mostly 40–45 hour work weeks. There was more schedule flexibility and minimal overtime demands except during periodic SOX compliance busy periods.


The internal audit provided stability as I had one long-term employer. Switching jobs was rare and my job security was relatively high.

At Big 4 firms, I experienced higher attrition rates both in terms of colleagues leaving and performance-based layoffs during slower economic times. I also changed jobs more frequently to advance my career.

Leadership Potential

Internal audit served as a pathway for me to advance to senior executive roles like Chief Audit Executive and CFO. I leveraged the deep business insights gained as an internal auditor.

Within Big 4 firms, the chances of rising to top leadership positions beyond Partner seemed lower based on colleagues I knew. Secondments to client leadership roles did happen but were less common.

A Quick Table for Better Understanding

Here is a comparison table summarizing the key differences between internal audit and Big 4 careers:

FactorInternal AuditBig 4
Career GrowthSlower initially, accelerated later into leadership rolesFaster career advancement in early years
Domain ExpertiseGained deep knowledge in one industryGot broad experience across diverse sectors
Travel RequirementsMinimal travel requiredModerate to extensive travel
CompensationLower pay initially, exceeded Big 4 pay at higher levelsHigher salaries early in career
Work HoursBetter work-life balance with 40-45 hour weeksLong 55-60+ hour weeks, poor work-life balance
Job SecurityVery stable with one long-term employerModerate security, high turnover
Leadership PotentialProgressed to senior executive roles like CAE and CFOLimited chances of rising beyond Partner
Exit OptionsSpecialized roles within one industryWider range of opportunities across industries

My Verdict 

While Big 4 offers faster career acceleration initially through varied experience and networks, internal audit provides long-term advancement potential to leadership roles within one enterprise.

Big 4 gives higher pay but also a much lower work-life balance. Internal audit hours are more reasonable.

Assess your career aspirations, sector interests, work style preferences, and compensation needs. Then choose the path that best aligns with your goals.

With diligence and high performance, you can build an impactful career in either internal audit or Big 4 firms!

Final Thoughts

While Big 4 provided me with faster career acceleration, internal audit offered long-term stability and leadership advancement potential. Evaluate your own career goals, interests, work style preferences, and compensation needs. Then choose the path that’s best aligned.

Let me know if you would like me to modify this first-person perspective and comparison between internal audit vs big 4 careers in any way. I’m happy to incorporate additional details or perspectives.

Frequently Asked Questions 

What are the educational requirements for Big 4 vs internal audit? 

Big 4 typically require at least a bachelor’s degree, preferably in accounting or finance related majors. Internal audit roles also demand a bachelor’s degree, with accounting, auditing, or business administration majors preferred. CPA qualifications are a plus for both careers.

Do Big 4 professionals get to choose industries? 

Big 4 professionals can indicate industry preferences, but ultimately you must work where client demand is highest. Industry choice is higher at more senior levels.

Is internal audit a dead-end job? 

No, internal audit provides a solid foundation for advancement into senior risk management, compliance, and C-suite leadership roles long term. But career progression may be slower than Big 4.

What kind of travel is required in the internal audit?

Minimal travel is expected for internal auditors as you audit the company you work for. Occasional travel may be needed for things like site visits or executive meetings at regional offices.

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