The “Big 4” — that is, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, Ernst & Young and KPMG—have formed a worldwide oligopoly in the accounting and professional services market. Most accounting and business students dream of securing employment at one of these firms, all of which are regularly included on many publications’ “best places to work” and “best places to launch a career” lists. Here are a few tips for those among you who aspire to work at one of these firms sometime in the near future:
Study, Study, Study
The level of academic success necessary even to be considered for a Big 4 job or internship is quite high. The firms require that you have at least a 3.4 GPA before their hiring teams will spend even a single second glancing at your resume. Their offices in major markets—think New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago—often bump this already high requirement up to 3.5, and keep in mind that that is just to be eligible to submit your resume. The actual GPA necessary to land an internship or a full-time job is likely something higher than that, although barely meeting or surpassing the minimum requirement would not disqualify you from consideration so long as you were able to distinguish yourself from other applicants in some way. The bottom line is that you want your grades to be an asset, not a liability. Although good grades alone probably will not be enough to get you hired, they will certainly help your chances. On the other hand, bad or mediocre grades alone will be enough to prevent you from having any chance at all. Do everything in your power to avoid letting your grades suffer. This may mean making some short-term sacrifices—just remember that your long-term gains will drastically outweigh them. It will all be worth it in the end, so stay the course.
Network, Network, Network
“Network” is probably a word you are tired of hearing. People would not keep repeating it if it were not immensely important, though, and there is no time like the present to start listening to them. Virtually everything you do is a potential networking opportunity. Get to know your professors, keep in touch with older friends or classmates who work in the professional services industry and ask people from both of these groups if they can put you in contact with friends or colleagues who work in the Big 4. You never know when one of these relationships may pay off, so forming and maintaining them should always be a top priority.
Gain Relevant Experience Beforehand
You can spin your experience from any job—from food service to grounds maintenance or clerical work—to work in your favor. It is just a matter of learning how to determine which skills from each particular job are relevant to the Big 4 job you want and applying them to the accounting and professional services context. If your job delivering pizza taught you how to formulate a strategy for planning optimal routes or your landscaping job taught you the importance of persistence and focus, recognize these lessons and communicate them to your potential employers. Just as importantly, you should maintain contact with your former employers. They will be happy to provide professional references for you during your job search. It will require little effort on their part, and will be tremendously helpful to you. Do not be afraid to ask.
The Big 4 firms hire the cream of the accounting student crop. If you follow the tips outlined above, you will put yourself above the competition and into position to secure the Big 4 job that will help you launch your career in the business world.