The Undergraduate's Guide to the Big Four Interview

The Undergraduate's Guide to the Big Four Interview

If you're looking to sign on with a Big Four accounting firm after graduation, a solid grade-point average, leadership in extracurriculars and internship experience will all put you in good position. But to land the job, you'll need to nail a competitive, complex interview process.

Interviewing at one of the Big Four -- Deloitte & Touche USA, Ernst & Young, KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) -- differs for recent college graduates and experienced hires. This advice will help you maximize the process as an entry-level job seeker.

Practice Early

Ernst & Young, For students, some firms start the interview process as early as sophomore year. "By the time we interview juniors and seniors, we've met many of them," says Dan Black, Ernst & Young's campus recruiting leader.

Check company Web sites for special events, campus visits and summer internships. KPMG alone hires about 1,500 interns a year.

During senior year, submit your resume directly to the company or through your school's career center. Companies typically look for a GPA of at least 3.0. Don't overstate your credentials on your resume.

If Big Four recruiters don't visit your school, check company Web sites to find out how to apply. Having an alum or other contact submit your resume will get you considered faster, Black says.

First Impressions Count

If you make the first cut, you'll be called for an on-campus interview. You'll be judged on appearance, so wear a dark suit with a conservative shirt. Men need a tie. No flip-flops, sneakers or nonearlobe piercings, please. Arrive early, because showing up even a minute late reflects poorly on you, Black says.

All four firms do behavioral interviews. "We ask them to explain scenarios where they've had to produce results for clients," says Amy Van Kirk, PwC's campus recruiting director. Blane Ruschak, KPMG's national director of campus recruiting, says strong candidates will give examples gleaned from their experience as chairs or committee heads for campus activities.

Making It to the Next Round

Who gets cut first? "Individuals who show up dressed in inappropriate attire and those who are obviously just disinterested in the position," Ruschak says. And don't get so relaxed that you drop an "F bomb," as one candidate did during an interview, to Black's horror.

Be ready to talk about why you're interested in working for this particular company. "Go out to the Web site and get acquainted with us," says Mary Butchko, Deloitte's national director for experienced hire for audit and enterprise. "Do some research to get a sense of what we have going on. For instance, we put a lot of emphasis on diversity and women's initiatives.

Your school's career center can help you prepare, but formulate your own questions, too. "You can tell when you're interviewing 10 people from the same school, because they've been coached to ask a certain question," Black says.

Don't be disappointed if you don't make the cut. "If we interview 50 students on campus for an initial interview, 10 to 12 will be invited for a second-round interview, typically in the office they're interested in working in," Ruschak says. KPMG candidates who make it to the next round complete an online career profile before the second interview.

Meeting in Person

The next round will include sequential behavioral interviews with three or more partners and managers, as well as criminal background and credit checks. Poor credit could derail you, so be up front about past problems.

At this point, interview questions are aimed at getting to know you. They might assess agility, such as what you would do if your team captain got called away midproject, or relationships, like how you would network within the firm.

Be prepared for lunch with other candidates and last year's hires. While you're eating, you're still interviewing. During the meal, expect personal questions, such as how you chose your school, Kirk says.

Consulting work requires social skills, so class distinctions and manners can be an issue. If you don't know which fork to use first, read up on social and business etiquette. Those who grew up in a socioeconomically challenged household should ask the campus career center for advice on cultural and class differences.