We Want You! How The Big 4 Sells To Students

I continue to receive great input based on my request to interview recent Big 4 interviewees. We’ve talked about the starting salary issue and rather than beat that one to death, I’ll put it aside for now while I gather more info from all sides.

In the meantime, let’s focus on the recruiting aspect of the process. The firms are getting more sophisticated about their recruiting processes. As has been discussed here and on other sites, firms are using videos, social networking sites like Facebook, events and other active and sometimes innovative ways to try to attract graduates to their firms. In that sense, they are competing with each other for the limited number of graduates in accounting and related majors, especially for the limited number of top graduates.

However, sometimes they forget that despite the current recruits being members of Gen Y, with a reputation for short attention spans, self-interested and aloof attitudes about everything, increased emphasis on working in a “green” and diverse work environment, and other attitudes that differ greatly in many respects from those doing the hiring, the students are people too. What I meant to convey by that overly long sentence is that they expect to be treated as adults, deserving of courtesy and respect and as future professionals and colleagues. They are often swayed by nice dinners, festive events and fancy invitations. But they are also influenced by the level of sincere attention and focus they receive from those they encounter during the process. And finally, the recruits to the Big 4 are accounting graduates after all. They are, for the most part, serious students who are more geeky and conservative than the average liberal arts grad, and the type who take for granted that they will have to pay some dues to get ahead.

Based on my limited sample, KPMG has been getting more high marks for its people and process. PwC has been getting more of the complaints. That makes sense to me. KPMG has to try harder, perhaps, to convince students that joining them at this time is a good career move. PwC folks often don’t think they have to sell anyone. Rather, based on my experience and the comments I’ve received, they feel that they are bestowing a huge favor on anyone they deem worthy of extending the blessing of maybe working there. E&Y and Deloitte got only a few negative and a few positive comments. Maybe that’s good…

Here’s a few of the comments for your perusal. (I was impressed at how articulate they all were!)

EY: I was not impressed. They did not do any pre-interview social event. They e-mailed me at the last moment and told me that I needed to send them an electronic transcript before the interview. Not easy thing to when your school will not send out an electronic copy. All of my interviews with every company was held at our grad school recruiting center. EY was the only company that did not have somebody in the lobby that would talk to you before the interview to answer any questions and help calm peoples nerves. Once I got in the interview it seemed like the guy could not wait to leave. Maybe he had a tee time he had to get to, but he was ready to jet. He sounded like a robot and asked me all those subjective behavioral questions you expected to be asked, only he really didn’t care about your answer.
Seriously, I had a very hard time deciding – I was really fortunate to have to pick between 4 very good offers, but it was a little annoying too. I ended up deciding between EY and KPMG (and I can TOTALLY expand on this if you need me to…). These 2 firms did a VERY good job in making me feel truly *recruited* – much better than PWC and Deloitte, where I just felt like another applicant. I felt that my fellow interviewees were of higher quality at EY than at KPMG – I think KPMG makes their major cuts after their 2nd round interviews instead of after the 1st round like the other 3.
KPMG emphasized a lot about its benefits since theirs is by far better than others. Deloitte stressed how they are active and young. Deloitte people are really good at following up even after all the events. E&Y had very upscale style of dinner for all candidates. PwC had very personal touch of pre-night interview dinner.Many of my classmates choose Deloitte over E&Y because they were more personal and proactive
I interviewed with 3 out of the 4 firms, and had follow-up interviews with 2. Obviously all the firms compete somewhat with their “recruiting” events which typically involve fancy dinners and open bars (although E&Y does have dry recruiting).
I felt like the firms did compete for me. They held multiple campus events where they’d try to wow us with how great the firm was. In reality, I felt like EY, PwC, and Deloitte were all the same thing, just presented differently. PwC seemed to have more people that had a similar personality as myself..but I realized that I end up building my perception of the firm based off of the recruiters I was in contact with. The offers were all very similar in terms of benefits and salaries offered.

Influence from the school: The school controls what firms interview on campus. They have guidelines that the recruiters have to follow, for example, they don’t allow recruiters to give us offers that will expire before we have the chance to interview with other firms. I’d say there was some influence from professors about KPMG that led me to have negative perception of them (also, the people I met during recruiting events from KPMG were a little weird). The ‘weird’ thing has to do with the few people I met from KPMG. They just didn’t seem very sociable. I went to one of the recruiting event nights at a restaurant and the recruiter wasn’t there, which also hurt my perception of the firm.
The way the interview process worked for me and some other MAccs that moved to other parts of the country, the (local office) interviews us on campus. During the interview, you can tell they try to get people to go to (local office), but understand that (my school) places people all over the country. If the candidate wants to work in (local office), they bring them into the office for an office visit/final interview and decide on the offer. If the student doesn’t want (local office, they send out a referral to other cities that the student wants. I had referrals sent to X and Y because I was deciding between the two cities(each firm makes you pick a city, so I told EY-X City and PwC-Y City, Deloitte-Y City). The office that gets the referral then decides if they want to fly you out for an office visit. It’s nice as a candidate because they put you up in a great hotel and pay for everything. In Y City, the Deloitte and PwC recruiters worked together to bring me out and interview me on consecutive days, which was nice. PwC even took me to an NBA game the night I was in town.
None of the firms made much of an effort to differentiate themselves during the first round interviews. The second round interview was used to sell the firm, although it was mainly HR generalities like training opportunities which would be applicable to all the firms. Each candidate was assigned an associate for the day to go around the office with and to lunch, in a somewhat awkward exercise that I don’t think resulted in much useful information for anyone.
KPMG: They blew me away! They were very personable at our Beta Alpha Psi meetings. Their recruiting department was top notch. They kept you informed at all times and very very friendly. The night before our interviews they took all of the candidates to a nice hotel and held a little social event where we could get to know the people who were going to interview us the next day.

11 replies
  1. nyc-staffer
    nyc-staffer says:

    I think that this post and the last 2 all raise good points. Being a staff accountant at a Big 4 firm, I can say that from my personal work and recruiting experiences, the best way a Big 4 firm could “sell” itself to students is to offer a salary that is satisfactory to the hours/effort put in (or at least expected to be put in!). I know this is kind of a beat-up topic in the public accouting world, and ultimately it would hit the partner’s bottom-line take-home pay, but if one firm did it I bet not only would they attract the best students, but would retain double, if not more, of their experienced and trained staff. Easier said then done, but just my thoughts.

  2. Francine McKenna
    Francine McKenna says:

    Given the enormous resource needs of the firms, retention is probably the number one HR issue. Of course, they don’t want to retain poor performers, but if anyone is perceived as a poor performer during their first or second year, I blame the recruiters or the professional’s manager/partner. Layoffs which are usually disguised as “getting rid of poor performers” are the fault of poor forecasting and resource planning by the partners.

  3. nyc-staffer
    nyc-staffer says:

    anonymous said…”But how much retention do the Big 4 want?”

    As much as they can get! Thats one of the main priorities jammed down the throats of employees during annual meetings. Talk to the staff, managers, and partners on any engagement where the staffing demands are sooo tight that a second year, or a “3/4 of a year”, is essentially “senioring” an engagement. That is kind of scary consdering that is the level where the bulk of the work, and ultimately the issues, are discovered. And trust me, I’ve been on, and can think of many engagements my peers work on, where that is just the case.

  4. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    I think EY Toronto might be different than NYC, especially in the FSI section. At our ’emergency’ general meeting we were being reassured (due to 8 seniors sending out their goodbye emails in the span of 3 weeks) that a turnover rates of 50-60%, at a senior level, was normal and also part of their business model.

    That left most of us disgruntled.

  5. Francine McKenna
    Francine McKenna says:

    Hi Toronto, 50-60% is not normal. You’ve either got a very bad manager or partner over there that’s chasing people away, a bad client that has spooked people or an agressive employer that’s stealing folks. Or was it a forced ranking style layoff where folks though they had to leasve because they got bad ratings and no raise… How’s business in your office? I’ve heard through Neil McIntyre that the hedge funds are paying big bucks up there too. http://neilmcintyre.ca/hedge-funds-looking-for-accountants/

  6. Anonymous in Toronto
    Anonymous in Toronto says:

    This was actually in 2006, before the rank based layoffs. From what I recall, 4 of those seniors were from my job on one of the banks (which is widely regarded as the engagement to avoid at all costs) and the other 4 were a mix of the other banks and smaller engagements.

    As for how business is? From what I’ve read in the papers and heard from former co-workers, clients have been lost, major engagements in non-AABS have gone, and the Sox/SoxNorth is running dry. People who failed the UFE twice are gone from the firm (instead of shuffled into non-assurance as in prior years)

    I was actually hit by the forced ranking layoffs this year, but I had been interviewing at hedge funds, banks and a prime only mortgage company the month before, so it worked out very well for me.

  7. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    I come from a non-Big 4 medium sized firm. What amazes me is that students are so easily impressed by fancy dinners and extravagant events. Any firm can spend a few extra bucks on that stuff and still treat them like crap once they have accepted the offer. There is a lack of consideration for what working for the firm will really be like after the recruitment process. One would be naive to believe that once they have started, they will be having lunches at Jump all the time when finding the time to even have lunch would be enough of a challenge. Furthermore, each of the Big 4 have had massive layoffs in the last few years, especially Deloitte who apparently has had thousands of “poor-performers” in 2007. With all that money spent on recruiting, you’d think that they would have attracted more talent.
    What I say is: “Forget the Big 4!”. Go for a mid-sized firm that offers the same salary/benefits without the crazy hours and layoffs. They may not offer fancy dinners but at least you will have work/life balance and a job in 3 years.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] is informal, if not formal, collusion on the part of the Big 4 firms, with cooperation of the accounting professors/schools, to fix starting salaries and give the students no chance to negotiate if they have special […]

  2. […] written about the one-sided contracts and the high pressure recruiting tactics of the Big 4 audit firms at re: The Auditors.  When the economy started to turn in 2007, the Big 4 […]

  3. […] My new column is posted @Going Concern. There’s no profession more conflicted about employee retention versus alumni relations than the auditors. On the one hand, the largest audit firms have well-oiled recruiting machines. […]

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