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How to Get Hired at a Big 4 Accounting Firm

young accountant shaking hands with new boss

When thinking about how to get hired at a Big 4 accounting firm, the first thing you need to think about is WHO. You will come in contact with a lot of different people throughout the hiring process, but the good news is that you can leverage every single person involved to help you in some way. This blog describes the key groups of people you will encounter, what their roles are, and essential information you should know about them before moving forward in your attempt to obtain a position at one of the Big 4.  

The Most Influential People in Your Ability to Land a Big 4 Accounting Job

How to Get Hired at a Big 4 with Recruiters

Recruiters are the face of the Big 4 firm’s hiring efforts on college campuses, at job fairs, and anywhere else potential job candidates can be found. DO NOT make the mistake of overlooking recruiters or belittling them as “someone from HR.” Their primary job is to generate interest and excitement in their firm in order to attract the best possible candidates for the interviewing process. However, once the interview process begins, the tables are completely turned.

Recruiters have a major say in who gets hired. In fact, they are one of two groups of people (see the next group for the other) who have unilateral hiring power at the firm. Impress a recruiter in an interview and you are well on your way to securing a job.

Recruiters are often nice, young, and energetic. These qualities often make them more approachable and easier to relate to than other people at the firm. Use this to your advantage, but do not abuse it. For example, it may be advantageous to approach a recruiter first at a recruiting dinner because it is an easy way to break the ice and you can get comfortable talking with someone from the firm before moving on to more experienced professionals. However, it is never advantageous to sit at the bar with a recruiter and get obliterated off vodka shots to the point where you are blabbering on about your drunken college escapades.

Recruiters will be at most of the events the firm holds during the hiring process. Make an effort to not only meet them, but establish a relationship with them. They are often the screening point for candidates who will be granted interviews. Engaging them in a few meaningful conversations can go a long way in getting your name on that list.

How to Get Hired at a Big 4 with Partners

Partners are the owners of the firm. They are the big dogs. Partners unequivocally have the most power in the hiring process. Impress one and you may have a job without even having to speak to another. Offend or perform poorly in front of one, and it may be nearly impossible to recover.

Now that the scary stuff is over, it is important to look past the power partners wield and view them as ordinary people, not unlike your parents. They often have young kids, hobbies outside of work, and enjoy interacting with college students. About 99% of them are very nice people and their goal in the hiring process is to make you think their firm is the best and to be involved with the decision making process of who the firm ultimately hires.

They are not expecting you to do something earth-shattering or impress them beyond belief. They understand you are a college kid going through your first hiring process and you are probably a little nervous. The key is to make a good connection with them. They should remember who you are when your name comes up in hiring discussions.

Another way to think about partners is to put yourself in their shoes. If you owned a business and you were in charge of hiring the group of people that your pension payments would depend on 15 years from now, you would have a vested interest in ensuring only the highest quality candidates were hired.

It is essential for the longevity of each firm that they hire the best and brightest. You should not be shy about approaching partners and getting to know them. Being timid and too afraid to talk to them will not impress them. The best ways to successfully interact with partners is to be yourself during cordial conversations.

building relationships with the right people is key to getting hired at a big 4 firm

How to Get Hired at a Big 4 with Other Firm Professionals

We define other firm professionals as non-partners who work in the service lines that you might apply for a position with. For example, anyone working in the audit, tax, consulting, etc. service lines would meet our definition of a firm professional. Someone from HR, recruiters, lawyers, etc. do not meet our definition because they do not work in the type of position you will be applying for.

Firm professionals are actively involved in the hiring process for several reasons. The primary reason is that they know they will have to work with the firm’s new hires on a daily basis. It is in their best interest to ensure only the best candidates get hired. They want not only intelligent and talented people, but also people who will be easy to get along with.

Secondly, because these individuals have usually spent years working in their given service line, they are in the best position to identify the candidates who appear to have the best chance of future success or who will be the best people to work with. These are the candidates that receive job offers.

The various levels of other firm professionals can be summarized as follows:

Staff Professionals with 0–3 years of experience.  

Staff range from new hires to employees with a couple years of experience who have come to have a better understanding of their firm and what their service line requires of people on a daily basis. Staff have no say in hiring decisions and their involvement in any portion of the hiring process is solely to give you access to younger employees within the firm who you can relate to and who remember what it was like to be in your position a few years ago.

Associate/Senior Professionals with 2–5 years of experience.  

Associates/Seniors (the correct term depends upon the firm) will have spent significant time with the firm and developed a good understanding of it. Therefore they are more likely to have more accurate and complete answers to questions you have about their firm and service line than less experienced staff. Associates/Seniors are rarely involved with interviewing candidates; however there are instances when recruiters or partners will solicit their opinion when making hiring decisions. As a result, you should always be cognizant of the impression you are leaving with these professionals despite the fact you will not be interacting with them in interviews.

Managers Professionals with 5+ years of experience.  

Firm employees generally are not trusted with the responsibilities of conducting interviews or making hiring decisions until they reach the manager level. Managers have deep expertise in both their service line and firm. The majority of managers have begun to consider the possibility of sticking around at the firm in an attempt to make Partner. This shift in mindset is an important distinction from staff and associates/seniors in that managers have started to view the firm as their own, rather than a place they show up and work at in order to collect their paycheck.

How to Get Hired at a Big 4 with Interviewers, Greeters, Alumni, and Others

Interviewers—These can be recruiters, partners, or managers. We won’t mince words: these are people you need to impress. The interview is the most important part of the hiring process, and your performance during it is critical. The good news is that you often have the opportunity to meet your interviewer prior to your actual interview, which makes it less intimidating. Interviewers are not there to scare you or make you look bad; they’re simply there to assess a few key points (which are addressed in the interview section of the guide).

Greeters—These are the people you meet prior to an interview or at an office visit. If you are interviewing on campus they will generally be in the waiting room and make small talk with you until your interviewer is ready. At an office visit, greeters consist of anyone you meet with outside of your interview. This could consist of young professionals who show you around the office (staff or associates/seniors), fellow alumni that talk with you, other firm professionals that take you to lunch or dinner, etc.

Greeters are generally there to make you more comfortable and introduce you to more people at the firm, but they also play an important role in the hiring process and are not to be overlooked. Greeters will often be consulted before hiring decisions are made.  Therefore, it is important for you to keep in mind that you are potentially being evaluated any time you are with a Big 4 professional, not just in your formal interviews.  

Interviews are far more important in the evaluation process as greeters won’t be able to give their firm an in-depth analysis of your merits, but it doesn’t take too long to form an opinion on a candidate’s conversational skills, maturity or demeanor.

Recruiting Team—The recruiting team can be generally defined as the group of people from a given firm that work together during the hiring process to first promote their firm to potential candidates and then later to select the top candidates for each step in the process (e.g. various rounds of interviews, office visits, etc.). Recruiting teams consist of all the groups we have discussed above.

Alumni—Alumni stand to serve as your greatest resource. If you haven’t contacted alumni at the firm of your choice or attempted to establish a relationship with them, start working on it. Many great schools are represented at Big 4 firms and professionals regard their alma maters with a great deal of pride. They want their school to be well represented at their firm and they work hard to give opportunities to their fellow alumni that appear deserving.

If you are having trouble breaking into the hiring process of a Big 4 firm, for example if you’ve been unable to get an interview, alumni are without question your best resource for garnering more attention and getting the opportunity you need. It is also important to note that the partner who oversees hiring at a given school is often an alumnus. This is the person you want to get to know. This is the person you want to impress. Doing so is the best and fastest way to earn a job offer.

Career Center—Also often called career services, these provide helpful services such as resume critiques, practice interviews, and career counseling. They are also usually the go-to resource for learning about available Big 4 positions, applying for these positions and scheduling interviews with Big 4 firms.

Not only should you use the career center for its standard offerings such as resume and interview help, but also for valuable insight into each firm’s hiring process. Who are the key people the firm usually sends to campus? What kind of recruiting events does each firm sponsor? When are these events held? How many students from your school usually receive offers? There is no reason you can’t have full information BEFORE you even begin the hiring process. Your career center can provide you with much of what you need to know.

You—Last but not least, you need to know yourself. This isn’t as simple as it sounds.  Taking an honest and accurate assessment of oneself is not an easy thing to do. In fact, most of us are very bad at this. What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses?  Why do you want this job? Before jumping into the Big 4 hiring process head first, take a step back and evaluate yourself. You’ll probably need help. Talk with your professors, counselors, career center staff, etc. and discuss your goals and how you plan on getting there.

The hiring process can be intense and fast moving. You will be required to talk about yourself a lot. If you’ve spent some time thinking about and discussing some of these key questions, you’ll be infinitely better prepared to share your insights with your Big 4 recruiters. It will not take them long to differentiate between someone who has jumped into the process without much preparation just because the job sounds good and someone who has put in quality time and thought. You will also find the interview process remarkably easier if you’ve performed this internal assessment ahead of time.

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AccountingTax.com by Andrew Argue is now Corvee