All Politics Is Local

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That’s a quote from one of our famous US politicians, Thomas “Tip” O’Neil.

I was reminded of this quote because the radio, TV and print media in the US is flooded with chattering about the Iowa caucuses tonight. It’s an unusual process, a “gathering of neighbors.” Rather than going to polls and casting ballots, Iowans gather at a set location in each of Iowa’s 1784 precincts. Typically, these meetings occur in schools, churches, or public libraries. I heard on NPR this morning that they actually mill about the halls, with supporters gathering under the signs and placards of their candidates and cajoling their friends and neighbors to join their group.

I thought of the recruiting process for the Big 4 at universities that usually starts with recruiting nights, sometimes one day before the day of interviews, sometimes well before. The representatives for the firms gather in a big hall, each with their tables set up, their giveaways and raffle prizes prominently displayed. Each has expensive conference style placards and exhibits that shout their slogans amidst videos about diversity and belonging, and other other branding images. The purpose is to present a global firm image, an impression that no matter where you are interviewing, from Iowa City to Atlanta, from Austin to Ann Arbor, you’re joining a club.

In my opinion, in the US at least, the Big 4 generally appeals to two different sides of the student personality spectrum – the “All American” boy or girl, member of the fraternity/sorority who leads all the charitable initiatives for their house, gets the highest grades and comes from a long family line of professionals such as accountants, academics and engineers.

The other side of the spectrum are the top students who are more introverted, studious, the geeks. Their personality playing card is the fact that often they will do anything to belong to the club. They want the brand recognition and the forced collegiality of the firms because it balances out the fact that they want to specialize in tax or something even more esoteric. They’re the bigger prize for the firms because they are often from more modest means and so used to working long hours and very hard in obscurity. Their desired reward is not monetary.

While interviewing students for my book, I am definitely hearing about big differences in how the firms recruit at various schools. The local/regional nature of the recruiting efforts make a big impact on opportunities for students. But the general process is the same the world over. Next week, I will highlight some non-US examples.

The firms are still run one office at a time, even though it should be one client at a time.

Quotes from my book research:

“I attend a school in the California State system. It’s not the top school in that system, and the CSU system in general is considered inferior to the UCs. The fact that we’re still heavily recruited I suppose goes to show how big the accounting boom has gotten, although I’ve heard that students from the top schools are more likely to be able to work at whatever office they want, whereas in my case it was made pretty clear that if I was going to work for the Big it was going to be in (the local office).”

“Interviewee: I have noticed one trend among the Big 4: attractive twenty something female recruiters. Deloitte (at all three offices I was in) was the worst “offender”. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that most of the Accounting students are male, and this may be a way for them to appeal to, as you say, a slightly nerdy and conservative audience, but the way Deloitte bundled it as being part of their WIN program got a little under my skin.
Interviewer: So which firm are you going to join?
Interviewee: Deloitte”

“We also know that in public accounting, your degree doesn’t have a lot of value – what seems to have a lot of value is actual job experiences – therefore, it is not “smart” to attend a top school and pay more fees, because they are not paying us more for making that step. I have tried more than once to get attention in a big market with the same firms that “love” me in my hometown and failed; yet from a top school “anyone with a personality” gets multiple offers.”