Why I chose to work at BDO over the Big 4

21 Jun 2023, 15:41

There will be more than just one reason why you decide an employer is the best fit for you. During a recent lively webinar with four BDO employees, all of whom have had previous experience at Big 4 firms, this was very evident. From the variety of colleagues and clients, to having an impact, to flexibility and autonomy… discover their reasons for applying to and joining BDO, and staying with the firm.

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Our ‘ Why I chose BDO ’ webinar panellists were:

  • Julia McCullough, an international Tax Partner at BDO, who joined BDO two years ago, having been at PwC previously.
  • Laura Burton, a Tax Director in BDO’s global Employer Services team, who joined from Deloitte.
  • David Campbell, an Audit Partner in the consumer markets team, who returned to BDO after three years as a partner at KPMG.
  • Shene White, Audit Senior, who joined recently from Deloitte.

Watch the webinar to learn more about their experiences at BDO, find out what was asked in the Q&A session and get some top application tips from BDO Resourcing Adviser, Vicky Virdee. Here are a few of the highlights:

Culture and colleagues

Having great colleagues and an inclusive culture are essential for a happy workplace.

Laura knew a couple of ex-Deloitte colleagues who made the move to BDO a few years before she did. ‘They’d been very openly cheerleading for BDO for years and saying, “When are you going to come across and join us? We think you'd really like it!”’ she laughs. She also really enjoyed being able to meet senior colleagues right away and benefit from their experience. ‘In terms of on-the-job learning, I’d say you learn more in your early years at BDO than you do elsewhere.’

Shene had not been looking to make a career move, but after being approached by a recruitment agency she decided to look into BDO. ‘Within five minutes of my interview, I had changed my mind,’ she enthuses. ‘The culture, the atmosphere, the people that I spoke to, including the two partners at the interview… I loved it.’

David graduated from university with a degree in chemistry. ‘I turned up on day one at BDO with colleagues who’d studied classical Greek, for example, and, like me, knew absolutely nothing about finance. And there were some people who had done an accounting degree. But by the end of the three-year qualification, everybody's caught up!’

It doesn't matter what your background is – BDO welcomes people from a diverse range of backgrounds. It’s good for the firm to have as many different voices as it can. If you've done a history degree and you're particularly good at writing, for example, that's an important, valued skill.

Variety of clients: size, sector, experience

BDO’s clients come in all shapes and sizes, from entrepreneurial scale-ups to multinational groups. David knew that the accountancy training he received would give him exposure to lots of diverse businesses and let him find out how businesses tick, how they make their money and what drives them. He applied to BDO and to the Big 4 (and received offers), but he was concerned that with another firm he would just get put on one huge client for a year and be working on very small aspects of it. Instead, he says, ‘I wanted to get exposure to more clients in a range of sectors, and to be collaborating with the people actually making a difference in those businesses.’

Julia agrees. ‘I'm still working with my core client base of large multinationals. But I do that alongside some really great smaller clients. For example, I'm working with a CEO at the moment who has established his business in the UK and wants to set up his first outpost in Portugal. I'm helping him do that. I get a complete contrast of clients, and it really keeps me on my toes!’


For Julia, BDO’s potential for growth is what really attracted her when she joined.

‘I'd worked for PwC, which was the largest accountancy firm,’ she says, ‘and I was looking for something different. I knew BDO was the number five player, had seen how much it was expanding, and recognised that as part of a growth organisation I’d be able to develop my business within the wider company.’

The opportunity for exposure and fast track growth isn’t limited to those in senior positions. For Shene, BDO also offers huge career potential for those like her at an earlier point in their career, allowing her to grow and learn as much as she can, while being supported to reach her professional goals.


BDO’s entrepreneurial mindset allows new graduates a host of opportunities – it is big enough to afford you all the opportunities that you want. David comments, ‘If you want to work on big international listed clients, you can do that. If you want to travel, you can. But it's also small enough and flexible enough that if you want to do something different that doesn't currently exist, you (most likely) can as well.’

Shene agrees. She became interested in helping new starters at the firm: ‘I joined the tutoring side of BDO, so I get to work with the new starters and help train them. I did a few courses that helped me become an accredited tutor and I've been involved in social committees and a whole lot of other things that are nothing to do with audit!’

Laura, who is based in the Leeds office, likes not being pigeonholed and syphoned into ‘just tax’. Because it is a smaller sized office than she has been used to in the past she’s getting the opportunity to know and work with people across the broader BDO offering. ‘Historically I may have worked with other service lines within tax, whereas here I'm working with advisory and audit and everyone within tax as well,’ she says. ‘It’s perfect in terms of my own interests, personal growth and building a greater understanding of what businesses need.’


‘I was interested in a slightly smaller organisation [than a Big 4 firm] because I wanted to have more of an impact,’ says Julia. The team she had been in previously had around 400 people in it, and a considerable number of partners. It could be challenging to make your voice heard and feel that you had an influence. She comments, ‘At BDO I'm in a smaller team and one of 13 partners. My voice matters and I can have a real impact on the careers and professional lives of those individuals who work for us.’

The chance to explore different sectors…

Julia enjoys working with new starters and being able to give them the opportunity to work in different sectors so that they can get a clearer idea of what they like. A new joiner may express an interest in mining, or oil and gas, for example. ‘I’ll be able to say, “Well, I've got a project coming in within that sector – why don't you get involved in it?”,’ she says.

‘For the majority of my career, I've been pretty industry agnostic, because of the area of tax that I work in,’ says Laura. ‘But recently I was asked to lead our TMT (Technology, Media and Telecommunications) offering for the Leeds region, which has been driven by the fact that I've got a bit of a digital innovation background. This just goes to show that at any point in time in your career here, there are always opportunities to specialise in different things.’

… and the autonomy to build a sector specialisation if you want

David has really enjoyed having the choice and the flexibility to focus on one sector, in which you really know what you're about and you can make a difference when you're talking to those clients. He explains: ‘I started working with restaurant businesses, and I was allowed the autonomy to decide what sort of clients I wanted to work with and go for it. I really enjoyed meeting with entrepreneurs – people who were setting up their very first restaurants – and being with them as they rolled out and opened more and more and then sold them and then opened the next new thing. I don't think you’d get the same interaction with the entrepreneurs – the founders, the people who are really building these businesses – at a different firm.’

Support – formal, informal and throughout your career

Having support at the start of your career is essential. Support at BDO is ingrained in the culture too – not just though formal channels. ‘I love the fact that everyone helps each other – and our clients – to succeed,’ says Julia. ‘When I was a recent joiner what completely struck me was that everyone I introduced myself to would say, “It’s great to have you on board – how can we help you? What are you interested in? Who can I introduce you to?”’

‘All professional services firms talk about ensuring that their employees have a good work/life balance,’ comments Laura. ‘But I genuinely feel that when it’s said at BDO, it is meant. I'm always checking in with my team members to say, “How's your pipeline of work? Do you feel like it's manageable?” Everybody in any sort of professional industry works overtime when it's needed to get things done to meet deadlines, but it's not something that we would ever want to be the norm here.’

Keen to learn more about the support, opportunities, clients and culture at BDO? Watch the full webinar .

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