How does the work life balance work out at the big 4? What kind of hours do you put in a typical day?
Honest answer - it is a struggle (second year Big 4 in London).
The need to study for ACA means that the majority of your first two years you are spending weekends/evenings studying which eats into your life. As you get more senior, you tend to work longer hours as there is a tendency for work to be pushed downwards and you'll almost always be juggling multiple engagements at the same time. Working on jobs you are not booked on currently as there are a number of annoying admin tasks (particularly in audit) is a very common part of life. I would say that typically I would call working 9 -6:30 a "good" client and my two worst jobs in busy season, I'll typically be doing 9 - 9 for weeks at a time and often working at home when I get back on top of that.
On top of this, there is an expectation by the firm that you will be doing extra stuff on top of all these other commitments so that you look good when it comes to annual ratings eg. industry networking events, community volunteering, organising group socials etc. It's up to you how important this is for you personally though, the bonuses in audit are so paltry that the extra work just really doesn't justify the reward and if you're set on leaving as soon as you qualify then it makes even less sense to do all these things on top as every employee from a big 4 receives a generic reference with no explanation of how they actually performed whilst at the company.
Yes I am in audit, not planning on staying as industry seems a lot more interesting and the big 4 culture really doesn't suit my personality or life aspirations. Generic references are a must really as your don't have a boss in the traditional sense as you work for so many different people.