For many budding accountants, a job with one of the Big Four firms can be the springboard to the dream career. Ernst & Young, Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers and KPMG are the Big Four – the biggest international accounting firms and the main employers of graduates in the sector.
With up to 2,000 vacancies per year in the UK, jobs with the Big Four are nevertheless highly competitive – the acceptance rate can be as low as 5%. Whether your incentive is the prestige, the promotion opportunities or the starting salaries over £25,000, you need to stand out from the crowd to land a job with the Big Four. Here are some tips to help you reach that goal.
Get an education
To become qualified as an accountant, you can study for a business-related degree and then pass an accountancy exam with the Institute of Chartered Accountants England and Wales/Scotland, the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants or the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants. While an accounting or business degree is not a requirement, it would certainly help!
Alternatively you can skip going to university and undertake an apprenticeship or a school leaver programme with the Big Four: you can train for five years with Deloitte or Ernst & Young, while PwC even runs a degree programme alongside a range of apprenticeships.
Finally, another way into the sector is to complete a lower level course in accountancy and train with a smaller firm until you meet the requirements for a Big Four job. However, keep in mind that with the possible exception of PwC, academic screening can be very strict when applying for a position with the Big Four.
Acquire critical experience
Nothing is more certain to help you stand out among applicants than hands-on experience – and the time to start is right now! You don’t have to wait for the perfect opportunity: simply volunteering to keep the books for a local charity will do wonders for your resume. Be persistent and don’t hesitate to cold-call firms – work opportunities come to those who take action.
Many people work while they study, which can be both rewarding and challenging. Summer internships are a popular alternative and getting an internship with the Big Four is often seen as a golden ticket to a Big Four career: some 90% of interns are ultimately employed by the company. However, if you don’t succeed in landing an internship, there are still plenty of Big Four vacancies to apply for – as long as you have the necessary skills and experience.
Grow your network
If you want to work in a business environment, you should learn early on how to create and maintain professional relationships. Get involved in student organizations, go to career fairs, do job shadowing and attend networking events – opportunities often crop up at unexpected times. Remember that as an accountant you won’t only work with numbers – you will also be working with people. Make sure you become a person that others will want on their team.
Master the application process
Once you have the qualifications and experience needed, it’s up to you to convince the recruiter that you are the right person for the job. Professionalism and confidence are key: make sure to personalise your cover letter, to know the firm and the division where you want to work, to be honest and well-prepared.
Highlight the assets that make you unique – for example, language skills are increasingly valued in a global business environment.
The Big Four value team-workers and leaders, competence and business acumen, as well as the ability to handle difficult situations. Expect to be faced with psychometric tests (including personality, numerical and verbal reasoning tests), as well as several interviews.
While a job with the Big Four can be challenging to obtain, the rewards will be great in terms of opportunities, career growth, salary and job satisfaction. So set goals early, work hard, network, seek out opportunities and don’t be afraid to aim high!