How to Get an Accounting Job at the Big Four
If you’re looking for a job right out of school, it’s slim pickings. The unemployment rate for recent graduates in the U.S. is hovering around 14%, nearly double that of the overall rate. In Europe, it’s even worse.
Accounting firms offer a rare bright spot; entry-level employees continue to be their lifeblood. If you want the job, you’ll need to start networking early. You’ll also avoid a host of common pitfalls, like wearing casual clothes to an interview or lying about speaking French.
Blane Ruschak, executive director of campus recruiting at KPMG, gave us an insider’s look at how to land an accounting job with the Big Four as a recent grad. KPMG plans to make roughly 4,000 full-time and intern hires during its next recruiting class.
Take me through your recruitment process for entry-level candidates
We’re very active on campus. We start meeting students when they are freshman or sophomores. By the time their third year rolls around, they’ve been well wined and dined. We have relationships with around 300 schools, but we concentrate our efforts on 40 or 50 premier schools. During the fall, we’re basically living on campus.
We offer a leadership program where students can come and work for three to four days. If they’re good, they’ll get an internship offer after their junior year. If they do well there, they’ll be lined up to get a full-time job offer when they graduate.
The good news is, if you are an accounting student, the recruiters come to you. If you participate in the networking events and keep your grades up, we’ll find you. We follow the model: “No good student left behind.”
What are some cover letter and resume mistakes that you see too often?
The most common cover letter mistake is summarizing your resume and adding nothing new. Also, standard cover letters that make it clear they were sent to every firm. It screams they had it ready to go and put no thought into it. We don’t ask for much, but we want you to customize your cover letter.
More glaring examples are when candidates refer to the wrong recruiter or the wrong firm. It happens all the time.
Resumes shouldn’t be longer than one page. If you can’t get your life on one page, you’re listening to the wrong career experts. And you need to have your grade point average on your resume. That is the first thing we look at. It can be helpful to separate out your GPA for accounting classes.
And of course typos. I’ve been doing this for 32 years – if there is one missing period, I’ll find it in two seconds.
Do you have a minimum GPA threshold?
We don’t have a set standard. It often depends on the school. We have full-time recruiters who understand which programs are difficult and which inflate grades. Say you started your first year as a physics major, and got a D or an F, it can be difficult to make that up. If you have a 2.8 GPA overall, but got a 4.0 in accounting, we can make that exception.
What other skills or experiences are needed?
The big one that jumps out at me is language skills. Most students can carry their weight in English, but foreign language skills are a huge plus. A global mindset is important. You need to understand what it’s like to do business in Japan, Brazil or France. You need to understand the challenges.
Study abroad programs are looked at positively. It shows people are trying to immerse themselves in another culture. We also look at honors, achievement and scholarships. It’s always nice to have relevant work experience, but it’s not a must.
Take me through the interview process? What kind of questions do you ask?
In many cases, we try to take the pure nerves out of the process. Fantastic candidates at the college or MBA level can freeze up in an interview. So the night before, we have a social gathering with recruiters, partners and candidates. It gives them five minutes to say hi, chat socially and see interviewers as people.
In the interviews themselves, we mostly ask behavioral questions that help determine future performance based on past experiences. At some point you are going to talk to a client about a tough situation, and you’ll need to make an adjustment. We’ll ask you to tell us about a time when you had a conflict with a member of a team and how you handled that situation. Say you had a team member that didn’t show up on time. What did you do? What did you learn from it? How would you handle that in the future if you had to do it again?
We also sit down and talk about the core competencies of each niche, whether it be tax, audit or advisory. We identify core skills like time management, organization and team work, and we’ll ask the same series of probing questions to each candidate so it’s fair.
What are some common interview mistakes people make?
Two conflicting things. Lack of confidence is one. When they don’t seem confident in tone, approach or body language. When you ask them about something they’ve done that they’re proud of, you’d think they would be excited, but they come off as mellow and subdued.
Another is overconfidence. They show up to the interview assuming they are sitting opposite to their friend, not realizing they are being assessed from a professional standpoint.
Also, attire pops up on every list. The words “business-casual” seem to merge together too often. The suit doesn’t fit, they’re wearing gym socks with a suit, women don’t have their suit tailored. I’m always afraid women are going to trip. Some clothes are great for the club, but not for an interview.
Candidates should also know that if it’s on your resume, it’s fair game. If we see something that says you’re the president of a fraternity, we’ll dig into community events that you’ve sponsored or volunteering activities that you’ve planned.
So you shouldn’t say you speak conversational French if you don’t?
Haha. We test. Someone actually got caught on that one before. They didn’t get the job, obviously.
Any final advice for graduates looking for work?
The key to getting jobs out of school is networking. Most firms are still relationship driven, so show up to every event you can and introduce yourself. Building your virtual brand and real brand are critical early in your career.