KPMG, Deloitte, EY and PwC are collectively referred to as the Big Four; that is the four largest accounting firms, as measured by revenue in the world. Because of their reputation and reach across several industries, the Big Four are known to employ thousands of graduates every year. Despite this, competition for places in any of the firms is fierce and gruelling. Consequently, landing a job with one of the Big Four firms is sometimes viewed as a difficult task.
However, with the right tactics and a bit of luck you can break into any of the Big Four firms. Some might see that we have said luck plays a part and feel that no matter what they do they can’t get into KPMG or any of the Big 4 but they’d be wrong, for ‘luck is a dividend of sweat. The more you sweat, the luckier you get.’
Another apt quote says ‘you get out of life what you put into it. I think you need a bit of luck but you also make a bit of luck.’
With this, this article will provide actions, tips or tactics you can employ to make a bit of luck that you’ll need to get into any of the Big 4. We’ll divide these into two categories: Pre Application and Post Application
Earlier we said that the Big 4’s reach cuts across several industries from audit and assurance services to consulting and advisory services the Big 4 present. They don’t just make up the numbers; they are successful by leveraging their financial and personnel capabilities. Thus the number one action you need to take is to research the Big 4 or the member of the Big Four you want to work in. The fact that you want to work for a big 4 firm is one thing, but do you know which you want to work for and in what capacity?
You must understand their specialities, divisions and what they expect from their employees. From your research, you should be able to find out which of the big 4 firms’ specialities suit your strengths. For example, PwC takes on approximately 1,400 full-time graduate hires as well as 600 interns each year in the UK alone with as much as 50% of these hires going directly into auditing. The other members may be on the lookout for more tax specialists or transactional accountants. The research you carry out will be useful when you make contact with them later on.
Earn a Degree
While it is true that for most of the industries that the Big Four major in you do not necessarily need a degree, you must get one if you want to work in the Big Four. For instance, Deloitte receives around 20,000 applications for just 1,000 annual hires, with a majority of those applications – if not all – being sent in by graduates. If you want to work for the big four, you need to be a standout candidate, and one of the ways is by getting a degree related to the area of practice of the Big 4 that you want to work in. Finance, business and law degrees are quite good.
Satisfy the Academic Qualifications
In recent years, all members of the Big 4 have made significant changes to their academic entry requirements giving hope to students whose applications in previous years would have been rejected.
KPMG’s minimum UCAS requirement is 120 points (not including general studies) but even if you don’t meet the UCAS requirements the firm states that your application won’t be automatically rejected.
Deloitte expects 104 UCAS points (260 under the old system) and a 2.1 degree from applicants to its graduate programmes (GCSE requirements differ depending on the programme). The firm, however, encourages candidates to apply if they have just missed the requirements by a bit. This means a high 2:2 applicant should still apply.
PwC does not have a UCAS tariff as an entry criterion for the majority of its graduate schemes. However, the firm’s graduate recruiters filter applications by university degree results for many of its programmes: you’ll need to be on target for a 2.1 or above.
EY does not include UCAS and degree classification in its entry criteria, meaning that a 2.2 or disappointing A level grade (lower than three Bs) will not get you automatically rejected from the application process.
Find out and acquire the Skills they are looking for
Though they are of the same group, each member firm may have certain skills they emphasize. PwC wants to see candidates display whole leadership, technical capabilities, business acumen, global acumen and relationships. Deloitte wants applicants with a clear interest in the business that has a sharp and inquisitive mind, possess outstanding interpersonal skills, and are willing to roll up their sleeves and get involved.
At EY you should have excellence, teamwork, integrity, respect for others and energy oozing from your pores. KPMG places emphasis on a strong awareness of business, a curiosity to find out more and the ability to think of new ways to solve problems.
The best kind of experience is an internship in the Big four or in firms in the industries they are in. Your chances of landing a role at a Big Four firm are improved by landing an internship with one of them. Through an internship, you will receive hands-on experience on how the company operates.
However, if you don’t secure an internship, do not panic. Getting a role at a Big 4 is not like law or investment banking where vacation schemes or internships are sometimes the only way those firms recruit. The Big Four take on more than four times as many graduates as they do interns, so it would be physically impossible for them to only take from within.
That being said, if you don’t have an internship try getting other experiences as all experiences can be made relevant if done well.
Make a Stand-out Application
Applications for roles at the Big 4 are all made online. If you have put the above actions into play then in most situations you’ll have the tools to create a stand-out application. To then create a unique application you must set out the time to prepare an application that incorporates all the knowledge, skills, experience and connections that you have acquired. Your application is the first time that your future employer will likely come in contact with you, as such you have to make it count. Make sure that your application is tailored to the particular member firm you are applying to. The silly mistake applicants make is to send in a generic application to the Big Four. This will prove to be fatal in most cases if not all.
Beat all the Application Stages
If you have been successful at the first stage you’ll have to beat the rest of the application stages. Because of the pandemic, you may have to brush your techniques as you might be facing more online requirements than previously seen.
KPMG’s graduate recruitment programme is mostly done virtually. Applicants apply online as usual, and then the rest of the assessments are taken virtually. KPMG candidates whose initial online applications are successful will then sit a situational-based online assessment called Transforming Small Businesses, which takes around 90 minutes to complete. The next stage is called Delivering Outcomes, which is an online video and written response-based assessment specific to the business area they have applied for. This takes around 60 minutes to complete. Then there is a Critical Thinker assessment, which is a numerical assessment. Finally, KPMG’s process ends in the Virtual Launch Pad, a half-day assessment centre that takes place virtually, and if candidates are successful they will receive their job offer within two working days.
EY’s recruitment process starts with the online application, followed by a behavioural and numerical test. Successful candidates from that stage then have a video-based ‘job simulation’, which gives the candidate an insight into what it’s like to work in the specific business area they have chosen. The next stage is a virtual assessment centre followed by a final interview, which was conducted virtually last year.
The process is similar at both Deloitte and PwC where a large proportion of their application and assessment processes are delivered virtually.
There is often a misconception that because London is one of the financial capitals of the world if you seek to work in any of the Big 4 it ought to be in one of their London offices. Why it is true that London is one of the financial capitals of the world and as a result, all members of the Big Four have large operations in the City, it does not mean that they do not have regional offices where they offer challenging work and the accompanying perks.
Thus you should consider sending in applications to those regional offices if you want to work in a Big Four firm. If you want to stick to London you’ll be going against a larger number of applicants for the same roles. It is estimated that more than 50% of applications for a role at the Big Four go to their London offices.
Since they have offices all over the UK – all of which take graduates – why not try them out also?
In conclusion, we shall paraphrase a great quote, which says ‘strong applicants believe in cause and effect. Thus, your dream to land a role in KPMG or any of the Big 4 can come true with a ‘great deal of energy and determination, and a little bit of luck.’ And if you remember one of the first things we said is that luck is a dividend of sweat. With that we encourage you to put in the action, making the luck you need to land a role at one of the Big Four.
Charles is a writer, practising lawyer and personal trainer who loves learning and developing himself. He graduated from Middlesex University, London with eight first-class grades in the second and third years of his law degree, and received a postgraduate offer from Cambridge University. He loves strength training, boxing and encouraging people to succeed in their pursuits (legal ones)
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