What happens when you don’t make Partner?

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03 Apr 2019



A common scenario that I have witnessed in recent years is when an individual at a Big 4 or Top 10 firm reaches a point in their career where the opportunity for partnership has disappeared and frustration sets in.

Most accountants have the ambition of working at a Big 4 or Top 10 firm and reaching the holy grail of becoming an Equity Partner. But the reality is that there are very few opportunities at this level and a large number of people vying for those positions.

It is great to have the ambition to become a Partner but there is always the need to have another plan up your sleeve just in case, for whatever reason, Plan A doesn’t come off.

There will come a point when you have to ask yourself :

“When do I throw in the towel?”


You have reached Director level in your current firm with your sights set on making Partner. The opportunity to make the next step in your career arises. Unfortunately, you don’t make partner first time around.

What happens next?

Do you go for it a second time?

Firms want to see bouncebackability – this may result in making Partner second time around once you have had the chance to demonstrate commitment or worked on the areas that you were told you needed to improve.

But still very few make it at the second bite of the cherry.

You could potentially be offered a Partnership role that is outside of the region and require you to relocate. Is this something that you really want to do?

There is an offer from the firm to move into a similar role in another office with the promise of Partnership when you return in a few years. Could this be a false promise?

Money can also be a driver in this situation when a candidate is on the journey to make Partner and has aspirations to ultimately become an Equity Partner. Ask yourself the question - have you considered the packages on offer elsewhere?

Firms are making fewer and fewer Equity Partner promotions – it has always been a hard task. It is now more of a pipe dream than a reality.

By considering taking a different path towards your ultimate career goal, you could make the move to Partner in a firm the tier below and be 2 to 3 years closer to becoming Equity.

As we all know, a lot can happen in a short space of time and there is always a risk of the goal posts being moved (again and again) .

Is it worth taking a gamble and remain where you are with the “promise” of making partner?

Seizing the opportunity to move to a firm offering your Partner now or waiting to reach the promised land that doesn’t come to fruition – which one would you choose?

Hindsight is a wonderful thing – I don’t think any professional wants to look back on their career and wish they had taken that missed opportunity.

In some instances, you may be happy to continue at Director level at a Top 10 or Big 4 firm once you have reassessed your career ambitions.

Those professionals that are ambitious and driven to make partner may have to take a look at reconfiguring their career path.

The ideal move then would be to move down to the tier below and aim to make Partner at Top 10 or Top 20 level with a far greater chance to further their career.

Our Advice

This drawn out process could result in wasting valuable time, reducing the potential of you succeeding with your career ambition of making partner.

If Plan A, B, C or even D doesn’t work, what happens then?

It is imperative for accountants to keep an open mind when it comes to their career.

Tracking the market regularly throughout your career is a worthwhile exercise as you will pick up insights on firms and industries as well hiring trends and market intelligence.

From this you will be able to see potential opportunities that could be of interest and be in a position to make informed career decisions rather one that is rushed and a stab in the dark with a high risk of this back firing.

Take the time to understand what you really want from your career. Having the ambition to make Partner at a large firm is all well and good. You know as well as me, there aren’t that many that make it as there are so few opportunities.

Considering what you really want may change as you progress from trainee through to Director level as you begin to experience what life is really like in the world of accountancy.

Take a close look at the size of firm you want to work in, your remuneration, work/life balance and the pressure that comes with different territories of the industry.

Opening your thoughts to moving to a different sized firm certainly has to be on the agenda.

Building a network of trusted contacts that you can lean on for impartial advice and tap into their knowledge can be invaluable.

Without considering the “What if?” scenario you run the risk of wasting valuable time and fall foul of false promises from a firm that is the only thing you have known since starting as a trainee.

It is understandable that some individuals may become institutionalised without them knowing it. Their firm is all that they know and it is a safe environment.

Ask yourself the question – it may be safe but is it the best place to be for your career?

Is it time to throw in the towel and see what else is out there?

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