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The Big 4 Accounting Firms - How to Get That Perfect Job With One of the Big Ones

Industry professionals, recruiters and college professors are unanimous in their belief in one thing: there is no better way to start a career in accounting than experience with a Big 4 public accounting firm. If you are reading this you no doubt are well aware of who these guys are:

PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte and Touché, KPMG and Ernst & Young.

While each of these companies has various strengths and weaknesses, they are all alike in the fact that they provide the recent accounting grad with a world class experience. First year associates at these firms are given a level of responsibility that is truly remarkable. When I was a first year I remember thinking on an almost daily basis "I can't believe they're letting me do this." As I strolled into the CEO's office of the firm we were auditing, as I tallied up a multi-million dollar mistake I'd found in another company's books and as I traveled the country with my very own American Express Corporate Card, I kept repeating this thought:

"I can't believe they're letting me do this"

Truly the world of accounting is at your fingertips when you are employed with one of the Big 4. There is an air of respect in those names: PwC, E&Y, KPMG and D&T. There is camaraderie and there is pride. These are the truly elite in the accounting field, and the top of the business world.

Starting your professional career at one of these companies is a ticket to a career in the fast lane. The experience you receive at a Big 4 is, literally, priceless. Many beginners at these firms admit that they would be willing to work for nothing: the experience is that valuable. Land a job and you will guarantee yourself the following:

- For the rest of your career your resume will automatically move to the top of the pile
- For the rest of your career you will have access to a network of professionals that is staggering in its depth
- You will earn an industry busting salary, putting your friends at regional and local firms to shame
- Your resume will contain experience that is recognized and respected globally
- An opportunity to travel the world

At a speaking engagement in 2004, Martin J. Whitman, billionaire and namesake of the Syracuse University Whitman School of Management, was asked the single best piece of advice he could offer college graduates. His reply? "Begin your career with a Big 4 Public Accounting Firm. Period."

Of course.

Think this all sounds good? Of course you do. You're probably thinking to yourself - there must be a catch? Unfortunately, there is. The benefits of working for a Big 4 are widely known and the demand for these positions is higher than ever. These positions are EXTREMELY competitive and often IMPOSSIBLE to obtain without an edge. A great GPA and resume are no longer enough.

If you are serious about your career and want to maximize your earnings potential, you need an edge. How do you land an interview with a Big 4 when there are thousands of others just like you? Once you get the interview, how will you be prepared for the barrage of questioning you will face?

When I graduated from college I had one interview and one interview only: I landed a job with PricewaterhouseCoopers on the first shot. How did I do it? Good grades? Charming personality? Incredible experience? No! I had an insider at PwC who knew the ropes and coached me through the process, from the application to the signing bonus! When I learned these secrets I just watched as my peers struggled and I jumped easily through all the hoops. Unfair? Sure, but life in a world class industry is not fair. While working at PwC I also experienced the recruiting process from the side of the recruiter.

About the Author:
The Big4Guru is a CPA, proud Big 4 alumni, seasoned industry professional and author of eBook, The Big 4 Book of Secrets Hiring Guide.  His passion is helping new accounting professionals achieve their career goals.

Comments

I'm currently in the military serving as a Logistics Specialist for the unit.I'll be separating from the military in July 2014, and will be transferring to school for completing my Bachelor's degree in Accounting (I am few courses away). Given that my current GPA is 3.97 and I will have 4 years experience as a Logistician/ Property Book Manager, what are my chances of getting an internship or a prospective job at one of the Big 4 firms?

I'm new to the forum, so I can't tell how relevant my experience will be to anyone else, but here goes:

I am 49 and working towards sitting for the CPA exam here in Texas (just finished the MBA, taking some required courses in Audit and Tax in the fall). Late into the game I know, I've been in management for 26 years and gradually realized how much I love accounting. The thing is, how relevant would trying to join a Big 4 firm be in my case? And given my age, would local make more sense for both my prospects and the company I would be joining? The company I work at now was bought out and it's difficult to weigh my prospects staying where I am.

Thanks for the comment. You're absolutely right that local and regional firms should not be overlooked.

I am partial to the Big 4, myself, because of the exposure that is possible. Auditing a fortune 500 company, for example, would open up the experience of IFRS, SEC filings, etc.

The point about the work/life balance cannot be ignored. That remains the one thorn in the side of the Big 4. It is a catch 22 because the difficulty of the work and the demand placed on associates is criticized, but it is also the reason why that experience is valued so highly by employers down the road.

I advise students and professionals to balance the trade-off.

Top students who know that they want to stay in the community should not overlook local firms. The opportunity to become a partner in a successful local or regional firm in a relatively short period of time has never been better. Baby boomers are looking for young partners to take over! Income opportunities are just as good as big 4 with a lot more work/life balance. I'm just sayin. Let's have some balance!

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