Dance With Them What Brung You

While acknowledging that “there have been very few actual reports of rescinded offers at this Law School or our peer institutions,” the letter urges students to accept, and accept now. “To put it more bluntly, this is not the time to shop your offers or wait to see if a better one comes along. In addition to being in your own best interest to accept quickly, it may also assist other students who may then receive an offer that you turn down…”

The Wall Street Journal Law Blog, Dear 2L: “If You’ve Met Somebody You Like, Start Dancing With Them.”

This blog has had only anecdotal reports of offers being rescinded by the Big 4 audit firms.  Rescinding offers and its corollary, cutting schools from schedules and/or making fewer or no offers after interviewing on campus, would be a very, very negative sign. 
I had heard some rumors of some firms interviewing on campus but not planning to make offers. But the schools in question said that they had not heard that yet.  I asked the school officials I spoke to to think of their students and make sure they know as soon as possible if firms’ plans change.  It’s only fair.
There were confirmed reports a while ago of start dates being delayed by firms in the UK, in particular for MBAs going to M&A and transaction services practices.
The challenge for the firms when they see the need to reduce new starts is that the recruiting cycle is very long. It can be approximately two years and potentially three for interns after junior year who go on to take a Masters in Accounting as a fifth year.  That’s because in the US, interviewing for internships starts in the early fall of your Junior year to be accepted for an internships the following summer.  Interns that are accepted are practically guaranteed a full time position when they graduate the following summer, as long as they don’t get drunk and jump off a Walt Disney World Swan Hotel balcony, landing on top of a partner who is making out with a young female intern below.
So, a guarantee of a full time start is effectively committed to by a firm almost two years in advance.  Reversing this supply chain, reducing the number of chassis coming down the assembly line ready to be made into luxury sedans upon graduation and initiation into the firm, takes more than just flipping a switch.  There are offers already made almost year ago after internships, there are commitments to interns that will expecting offers at the end of the following summer, there’s a schedule already committed to with universities for both intern and full time recruiting, there’s potentially higher acceptance rates when times get tough and lower rates of attrition for existing incumbents, there’s the impact of involuntary terminations, and, finally, just plain unexpected circumstances.  Twenty-two year olds are still a somewhat fickle bunch, more so nowadays as part of the Millennial generation, even if they are otherwise more conservative, risk averse, top graduates of accounting programs.
I have heard that recruiting schedules for full time positions have been restricted at some schools for only previous interns for a particular firm.  And I have heard that graduates are either being asked to consider other offices or restricted from interviewing at other offices, depending on that particular firm’s needs.
Big 4 firms have been laying off for a while. Whether the assignments and reallocation of work that is occurring because of the financial crisis and bailout change the needs of individual firms is anyone’s guess.  You see, they’re just not that good at redeployment.  And we can see they’re not that good at revenue forecasting and estimating the staffing to go along with it for any extended time horizon.
16 replies
  1. Francine McKenna
    Francine McKenna says:

    This comment was posted anon last night on an earlier post, but I thought it may be of interest here.

    "I work at a large firm in the NYC area. We have received calls from candidates we offered last year but who decided to sign with D&T. They have had the offer the received last year rescinded in September, only weeks before they were slated to begin work. I was out recruiting at a university today and they had three students who signed with D&T last year who had their offer rescinded last month. Based on discussions today, Universities are aware and they are not pleased. "

  2. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    I work for a Big4 in advisory and the blood letting will continue…after x-mas (this is mid year or just after) for firms and they will continue to cut the ranks…business is not improving IT IS WORSENING. Pipeline in many many areas are shrinking to almost zero. Even in defensive groups such as litigation/forensics – the lack of independence and the inherent conflicts is chasing away any hope of sustainable business over the next 6-8 months.

    1/3rd of advisory did not receive bonuses and raises were below COL. Major cuts in perks and spending have been made as well (this is prudent though) but it won’t be enough to justify utilization hovering at 50% or lower.

  3. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Right you are Francine…your last paragraph in the post is correct. This past year I saw them (a big 4) change from what they did in previous years which was have a plan and benchmark against that during hte year and maybe, MAYBE, change it mid-year. This past year they did away with talking about plan and starting using forecasted numbers to compare against. That would indicate to me that the plan blew up and crumbled in front of their eyes and they had to forecast…mind you I know there is a difference but they never, never previously used forecasted numbers to show performance they only used plan numbers.

  4. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Just got the email that mandatory 50 hour work weeks will be moved up from mid January to November, further adding to the already pleasant economic news.

    – Tier 2 accountant

  5. Krupo
    Krupo says:

    I’ve seen a concerted effort to try and make the forecasts actually work. It’s incredibly tricky to pull off though – I’d like to see most industries successfully plan their expected level of business two years out into the future, really.

  6. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:


    It’s indicative of a slow-down in business because a bunch of people have been let go. Thereby spreading what’s left over fewer people.

  7. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Hey FM, wondering if you’ve heard any rumblings of KPMG layoffs in the next 2 weeks…(i have)? Figure you have your ear to the tracks a little more closely than some

  8. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    @2:02…a particular region? Firmwide? Audit, Tax or Advisory? Or a nice mixture of all three?

    Not surprising, the firm has been hurting especially on the adv side…bonuses were terrible if non-existent and lots of cost cutting measures have been put forth…with a note that further “adjustments” could be made…

  9. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Haven’t heard any specific region/division. Although you’re dead-on w/ the bonus/compensation being reflective of such (although ours in nyc were suprisingly MUCH higher than the other big 3 this year). Guess we’ll find out in the next 1.5 weeks.

  10. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Why the 2 week timeframe? Is it because mid-year evaluations are coming up – are they going to frame these layoffs as performance related as almost all big 4 did this past year (except for Deloitte – thanks Francine!).

    How many times can they sing that song?

    Any other relatives of Uncle Peat care to comment?

  11. Francine McKenna
    Francine McKenna says:


    Regarding the “performance related” technique…

    What I’ve seen and heard is that the process is sometimes multi step. It includes telling folks even before formal reviews that they’re going to get a lower rating. Your coach or another trusted mentor tells you that it seems the “committee” feels that performance is down and maybe you might want to think about looking elsewhere. Maybe you’re not “cut out” for this work. You’ll be “happier somewhere else.” See if they can get some out, shame them out, and save on both severance and the need to put anything in writing that may be difficult to substantiate.

    If the person is stubborn or incredulous, then they end up having to do the performance review, mock something up, go through with the whole charade and eventually offer severance. One false idea is that you can maybe transfer or move to another proactice if you have an average rating. They may let you waste a lot of time “interviewing” with other teams. The other illusion is that you can actually debate or rebut a lower performance review. In both cases, you’re toast.

    My advice: Make them squirm, push for severance, more if you’re in a protected category, throw around phrases like “good faith,” as in “I came here in good faith, I believed your encouragement and promises in good faith, I thought you supported me and took those word in good faith.”

    Then have a lawyer review your agreement. They are offering extra weeks to sign a release because they don’t want you to sue them or file an EEOC claim. They need to be released from potential liability for something, including their injustice, unfairness and ineptitude in managing their employees.

    The have neither the time, energy or inclination to redeploy even good performers. Better to let more people go and start over when they can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Which will require first getting their heads out of their a***s.

  12. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    I’m a new tax associate at a big in one of the larger offices. We just hosted some interviewees yesterday and I’ve been told the number of interviewees are way down compared to the recent past.

    They are also “asking” some new associates to move to other offices for a while. It’s hard for those I know who are being told to do this, because they’re still trying to get established in this office, and now they have to start all over elsewhere, only to come back here and essentially have to start over yet again as far as building relationships, etc.
    The scary part is that as I said, we are one of the larger offices and we are one of the offices that allegedly needs people, but I guess the need is at a higher staff level. Very unstable time for new hires, and as my friend told me, many of us feel like we have zero control over our career path right now.

  13. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    @2:21..thats right you do – zero. Francine has some great insights so keep coming back. Just hunker down and keep yourself busy…if you can, other than that you don’t have control.

    Francine – thanks for the insight. I’m confused though on the performance related part. If they choose to force someone out or use their performance as cause for termination and since most people below manager are “at will” then they are not obligated to pay severance, right? If so, is it possible these people are told to pack up and no severance will be given since a person is “at will” and is being terminated for reasonable cause?

    the last time people were let go in my practice no one knew much about the circumstances since the people affected didn’t talk much…maybe they weren’t allowed. They were all told it was performance though – that much i know. But severance is a mystery…differing stories…some say they got it, others say no way since the firm wasn’t required to based on them being “at will.”

    What I find increasingly stupefying is that staff are being essentially blamed for partners’ inability to bring in consistent and stable business to busy the headcount they have pressed for in the last few years – hence your last paragraph is very accurate…and some firms/practices are hiring on more lateral partners – how is that a smart move…unless they need the capital contribution from those laterals…

    The cuts will keep coming…

  14. Francine McKenna
    Francine McKenna says:

    Thanks for your comments. I love to see everyone encouraging each other. If only those that are in this situation can know they are not alone and talk with each other…

    I am not an attorney, but am more familiar with “at will” and the ways of terminations and severance than most. It comes from being in a senior management position more than once at BearingPoint, JeffersonWells and prior and unfortunately from having to protect my own rights at times.

    Let me clarify a few things you mentioned.

    “At will” – Yes, that is the basic premise in the US, but the exact terms and laws and regulations differ by state. So do rules about overtime and speed of payment when leaving of all outstanding amounts due you. That’s why my best suggestion if you have questions is to contact your local State Department of Labor, if you cannot afford to talk to a lawyer, (although most good ones will have a free initial chat.) If you feel you are being discriminated against, call the local Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Office.

    It’s my understanding that all four of the Big 4 and most of the next tier have professionals sign employment agreements when they start. These documents often state severance terms right off the bat. This is essentially an employment contract. It gives you rights and also sets limits. But it’s the price of agreeing to work at one of the firms. It’s pretty standard and few people have the leverage to negotiate any of the terms, at least at an entry level or until you are bringing business or special expertise.

    So the firms usually have severance standards in these employment letters for every professional that go beyond what local law may require because they are usually that kind of firm. So what’s in your agreement is standard and the minimum they have to do if they let you go.

    “Cause” is a tricky term. It is defined in these employment agreements. Termination for “cause” is usually defined as something really bad, like you broke a law violated a serious policy, or stole from the company. Performance, which is subjective, is usually not defined as “cause” especially when the new rating is sudden and not documented well, without a probationary period or warning and a chance to improve, etc.. So they are asking you to sign an additional waiver over and above your employment agreements (which is usually the letter you sign to accept the job) because they want you to give up your rights to sue or to file a complaint with your state department of labor or the EEOC. So they may or may not have been unjust or discriminated, they may or may not have a good documented reason for terminating you, they may or may not have followed their own HR policies for judging performance and treating people consistently. But if they give you extra weeks, and you agree to give up your rights, everyone will go away “happy” and drop any issues.

    Lack of planning, forecasting, too much recruiting, a change in business strategy, misjudging resource needs, deciding not to spend time or money retraining or redeploying staff, is not your fault and not “cause” for termination. The firm can terminate you “at will” but it also means they have to follow their own policies and procedures consistently, comply with any contracts they have with you, not discriminate and follow local, state, and federal law.

    Any questions, contact me and I can direct you to additional resources.

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