So how do you get a Big 4 interview if you’re not attending a target school?

You have to go to them.

I networked to land my Big 4 interview, and it worked.

If you’re not at a “target” school for the Big 4 or you have a low GPA, it can be very challenging to get noticed.

About 85% of new hires come directly from schools that the Big 4 recruit from on an annual basis.

In the best-case scenario, you have a few recruiting seasons to go through, so you have time to develop your network and build relationships.

You need to forget about the fear of denial, and exhaust every opportunity available to get an interview.

I say this because the recruiting season is very short and when it’s over – there are no jobs left. Accounting firms typically hire most of their new hires and interns in the fall, with very little recruiting done in the spring. The Big 4 hire 1 – 1.5 years out from the desired start date. Getting hired so far out seems crazy, but I had several friends that were hired in September to start the January that was 15 months away.

The Big 4 firms do this because resource planning is complicated, and people quit/get fired so frequently. If you want a good chance at breaking into the Big 4, you are going to have to be ambitious, persistent, and resourceful. The first two places you are going to go are to your accounting professors and the business school career center.

1) Getting a Big 4 Interview: Network with Accounting professors

Your professors know how hard it is for students to get jobs at non-target schools. Also, your professors work toward building up the school’s program to be “good enough” to have Big 4 firms visit the campus. So, they know that the more students they can place in the Big 4 firms, the more they will come back to recruit later on. Explain your situation, and hopefully, (if you’ve been a good student over the years), they will be able to pull some strings and send a personal email recommending you. This happens more often than you think.

2) Getting a Big 4 Interview: Business School Career Center

The career center’s job is to place the students in employment, and many of the top career center faculty have similar connections as the professors with top employee’s/partners in the firm. They will offer to look over your resume and also to do mock interviews — and you should go through iteration after iteration until your resume is perfect. I probably went through about 100 different versions (if you include minor tweaks) in a year.

Other Big 4 Networking You Must Do

Next, you are going to want to reach out to everyone you can. Start with LinkedIn, and search for people who went to your school and are working at the firms you want to target. Do NOT ask them if they are hiring, but you can tell them that you wanted to find out “how they did it” and how the recruiting process went. You will be shocked at the response you get. These people, especially if they are 1 or 2 years into their career, are not far removed from the situation you are in and understand what you’re going through.

If any of the Big 4 have come to do a presentation on your campus, get their contact information and send them an email asking about the recruiting process and what they would do if they are in your shoes.

The Big 4 Interview Cold Call

For many of you, this will be the first time in your life to do this, but you are going to do a “cold call.”

You need to look up the number for the office for each of the Big 4 in your area and call them. You will find that many of the Big 4 will list the Campus Recruiter’s name and contact information online (usually just email). If their name isn’t on there, ask the secretary to talk to the Campus Recruiter. If it is a smaller office, there may not actually be a designated recruiter, and you will chat with a hiring manager instead. When you get a recruiter or hiring manager on the phone, discuss your interest in the firm and mention they don’t recruit directly from your campus, so you want to reach out and discuss the recruiting process.

Lastly, make sure you keep in touch with everyone who you’ve met in the process and don’t be shy.

You never know when just emailing them and saying, “Hi, how is life?” turns into “Hope you’re doing well — give me your resume and I’ll send it over to the hiring manager.” This is how connections turn into a Big 4 interview.