The Big 4 Interview (KPMG, Deloitte, PwC, E&Y) can be stressful, but if you prepare and practice enough it will make it a much easier and more relaxed experience. And the Big 4 firms are looking for polished, professional, and hard-working students to fill their slots for new hires.
They want professionals that they feel comfortable putting in front of their clients. Students who rocked their accounting courses, focused solely on school, and got 4.0’s meet their match at the first interview: The On-Campus Interview. It is the first round of the interview process and is commonly known as a “Fit Test.” If your resume goes through the initial screening process (usually cutting off GPAs below 3.3-3.5 depending on the office), you will be called to have an interview.
The good news is that since there is so much turnover associated with the profession, there are a ton of spots to fill. Since the process is so common it has become almost systematic, so here are some of the things that can help your resume rise to the top of the stack.
1) Be confident
Being confident might be the most important interview tip of all of them. The impression that you want to give off is that you are capable of carrying on a conversation in a business setting, especially when there is a lot of pressure. Don’t fidget, give solid eye contact, and try to pretend that it is a conversation with a familiar professor rather than an employer. In being a part of on-campus interviews, the firm I work for is mainly trying to get a feel for how the person will act in regard to the client. Will they crumble under pressure and act really weird or will they be able to carry on a conversation?
2) Be humble
This one seems like it is directly competing against “Be confident” and it is. There has to be a balance to how confident you appear. While being confident is important for being in front of clients, coming off as arrogant makes you someone they do not want to work with. I have witnessed a candidate with a very impressive resume (GPA, clubs, internships, etc.) come in and give off a cocky attitude without trying. This guy might not even be cocky outside of the interview setting but was trying to be too confident and it came off negatively. The key is to strike a balance and the best way to do this is to relax.
3) Be direct about what you want
This area is not talked about much and often times there is some wrong information being distributed. I remember my professors saying “You need to be flexible if you want to get a job in this market.” This is absolutely false when it comes to interviewing and it can really hurt your chances of getting a job. Let me break down exactly how the recruiter described it to me when I was discussing offices.
This wasn’t actually at an interview but it was a summer networking event with about 50 or so students. There was a sign-in form and then a paper spreadsheet with preferred office and audit/tax/advisory. For the office, I put my first choice and then my second choice, and then audit. I noticed several people had put “Any” for office and audit/tax for the position. The recruiter explained to the entire group that if you continue with this practice in your interviews it will really hurt your chances. The reason is that the way recruiters filter people is by their preferences. If you put down every office in the country and every service line, they have nowhere to put you – and they aren’t going to put you in every single resume stack. Those who chose a specific office in a specific service line are much more likely to at least get an interview.
Now, back to the actual interview at hand – continue with this practice and say why you want this particular office and why you want audit/tax. Also don’t say you want audit because you hate tax or the reverse. If you have family in the area, friends, or if you’ve grown up at the location you’re interviewing for – voice those reasons to the interviewer. They want employees they can invest in, not those who are going to transfer out in a year. Also, don’t mention how you want to get into the Transaction Advisory Services group within Advisory. Unless you are very confident that you will get at least a few other offers, don’t gamble with this. Seen it, just don’t do it.
4) Develop and practice your interview answers
Although you may be tempted to just “wing it” and be yourself, it is honestly best to practice the Q&A. Take common Big 4 interview questions, write down your answers, and practice answering them. Get a friend to help you practice by reading the interview questions. It’s kind of awkward in these situations to “pretend” you’re in an interview – but it will vastly reduce the awkwardness of the interview that counts. It is important, however, to not regurgitate what you wrote down as the answer because it will show, and you will come off as having no personality. Instead, have the answer as a base for discussion and have an actual conversation, not a speech. Also, answering the Q&A’s ahead of time catalogs many of your experiences. If they give you a question that you didn’t prepare for you will still have a relevant experience to talk about that is fresh on your mind. It is also good to have something “scripted” to fall back on if you freeze up. Having something scripted to say is much better than that awkward period in an interview where you say “Umm.. well hold on.. well.. actually I can’t really think of an example.” I’ve been there and it makes the rest of the interview tense.
5) Research everything about the office
Most firms have their office information online and it would be a great resource to look up the clients and industry the office mainly works on. Sometimes they mention intramural or non-profits they participate in, and you could discuss how that interests you here. I would do some googling and see if the office recently won any major clients. If you’re interested in a particular industry, explain why. This is especially important for offices heavy with financial services clients, healthcare, or nonprofits.
If you’ve done your networking, you have several people “on the inside” who you can ask for information about if it isn’t online. Hopefully, you’ve already gotten a lot of information as part of the initial information request, but go to them with questions about the culture, clients, etc. and they are likely to give you some great information that you can use. They may take a while to respond – we tend to stay busy.
6) Sign up for every interview and mock interview you can find
Because practice makes perfect. I took part in the mock interviews that were offered through my career services and I think it helped me a ton. Not only do you get feedback on what you need to work on, but you also begin to be more comfortable with the interview process. The first interview I did through the process was absolutely horrible, but by the time I had the real Big 4 interviews, I was much more calm. If there aren’t any mock interviews available, talk to your career center and they will likely have you do practice interviews with one of their staff. If you’re interviewing for the Big 4 firms, you’ve likely also locked up an interview with the smaller firms so sign up for those even if you may not be interested in working for them.
7) Always have questions prepared to ask at the end
I missed this tip going through the interview process and although I came out with an offer, you shouldn’t do the same. Having questions at the end of the interview gives you an opportunity to display your personality, build rapport with the interviewer, and especially get them talking about themselves. Some questions you can ask are:
“Could you tell me a little about how long you’ve been with the firm and why you made the decision to go with XXX?”
“Have you had any interesting experiences with clients either good or bad?”
“Has the office had a lot of turnover in the past few years?”
The last question is something that you as an interviewer should actually care about. On our end, we hate hearing it because we have to tell you about how people quit because the work environment was terrible or that we laid some people off. Turnover is normal for the Big 4 and people often leave because of competitive offers but if there are a lot of people jumping ship you may need to weigh that into your consideration of offices.
8) Send a thank you card
Yes, an actual physical thank you card that you put in a mailbox. Ask for a card at the end of the interview and it will have the address of the person you’re interviewing with. I guarantee you will be only one of a very small amount of people who did this. At my office, only 2 of the 30 or so people interviewing mailed thank you cards and it was noticed very favorably. When I started, we had winter inter interviews and the girl who mailed a thank you card to the recruiter was the only one hired from her school. Seriously.
If the person you’re interviewing with is fresh out of college sending a card is slightly less important. It is up to you but I wouldn’t send a thank you card to anyone below the manager, simply because it just isn’t as common – but you will definitely stand out. It isn’t as powerful a gesture as when you’re interviewing with a senior manager or partner who is used to the good ole days when thank you cards were mailed and people called instead of emailed. Also, keep in mind that mailed thank you cards can take a while to arrive, so send an email thank you card to everyone you talked to so you touch all the bases.