Recently, I was talking to some friends, and basically, they seemed to imply that going to a public accounting firm outside of the Big 4, and to a lesser extent Grant Thornton, BDO and a couple of others is a really crappy career with no salary prospects and no exit opps in case one wants to become a controller or other executive within a company. While obviously the Big 4 provides the best opportunities, is not getting into one of those really that depressing? One of them claimed that you'll never make a good salary or have any career growth, which might be true for really, really small firms, but is that true for mid-size firms that aren't Big 4 big, but still have offices in multiple states? Also, what if you stay at the firm? Will you actually never even make 6 figures as a partner working at these?
I don't really have enough knowledge to give you a definitive answer with a lot of support, but I can certainly say with confidence that what your friends said are not true. You're going to be doing the same basic thing if you're an auditor at one of the second-tier firms like Grant Thorton, BDO, etc. just auditing smaller companies (Big 4 pretty much have a lock on F500 companies - again I don't know the exact statistics).
As for the specifics, if you'll look at a lot of mid-high level jobs accounting-related jobs, you'll see "Big 4 experience preferred" and "X years public accounting experience required." That should say it all right there.
If you're at a top 10 public accounting firm you're gonna get pretty much the same work experience, just without the brand name recognition on your resume. So would being at a second-tier firm be a disadvantage? Yes. But to the extent your friends are suggesting, so that you won't ever move up or accomplish anything? Not at all. You'll just have to write a bit better resume, interview a bit better to show that your experience, intelligence, skills are superior, regardless of the "big 4 stamp" on the other applicant's resume.
On another note, check out http://www.goingconcern.com
- great accounting blog, and you could definitely send this in as a question over there and get a TON of much better responses than I can give or you're likely to find here.