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How to move from a small practice to one of the big four accountancy firms
For talented finance professionals, there is no limit to what they can achieve in their careers. The opportunity to move up when working in smaller firms is certainly there, but many view the so-called ‘big four’ accountancy firms as a way to fast-track to the top. Exposure to bigger clients, bigger contracts and a far larger workforce mean there is more opportunity to expedite one’s career growth. So, what should accountants currently working for smaller firms be doing if they want to break into the big four?
Know what you are looking for
Each of the big four accountancy firms operates in a wide variety of business areas and divisions. The fact that you want to work for a big firm is one thing, but do you know which you want to work for and in what capacity? If you have some experience there is a good chance you have begun to specialise in the type of accountancy you do. You may also have a good idea of which of the firms you are leaning towards. Those making their way into the industry, university leavers and those looking for internships, will need to be clear about what type of work they are looking for.
Deloitte, KPMG, EY and PWC all have a variety of divisions, including consulting, audit, tax, advisory and technology. Knowing where you want to work and in which division will be important in your application and interviews, and ultimately put you in a better place to secure a job.
Keep in mind that these jobs can be highly competitive. In the yearly graduate intake, each of the big four receives vastly more applications than places they have. PwC, for example, takes on approximately 1,400 full-time graduate hires as well as 600 interns each year in the UK alone. For these roles, they estimate that they receive 38,000 applications. This puts the acceptance rate at just 5%. Similarly, Deloitte receives around 20,000 applications for just 1,000 annual hires. If you want to work for the big four, you need to be a standout candidate, and knowing exactly what you want from your career and a job with one of these firms can help to distinguish you from your competition.
Know what the big four are looking for in an interview
When applying for a role at one of the big four firms, competition is tough. Each vacancy receives numerous applications and generally only the very best candidates make it through the rigorous interview process. In many cases being the most qualified candidate, or having the best degree, is not enough to succeed. The interview processes at each organisation are exhaustive and designed to test more than technical competency. Knowing exactly what it is that the big four are looking at in their process and being able to prepare accordingly can put you in a very strong position.
The big four are keen exponents of psychometric testing and regularly run them from initial interview stages. They often also conduct numerical tests, personality tests, and logical and reasoning tests. Some employ situational judgement tests in order to assess how candidates react to certain situations and problems. All of this is aimed at working out the correct cultural and personality fit. It’s about ensuring that those who do eventually get hired are capable of managing the rigours of working for one of the world’s premier organisations.
They are looking primarily for strong team-players, who exhibit integrity, respect and enthusiasm. Those who can build relationships and influence stakeholders will be highly valued. Be prepared to exhibit your positive qualities and show that you have the potential to add value outside of your basic technical competencies.
Think outside of London
There can be a misconception that to work for a world-leading, UK-based accountancy firm you need to be working in London. It is true that each of the big four has a large base of operation in the capital and that a lot of the high-level international work is conducted from these offices. However, each of them also have regional offices based right across the UK. Again, while London may have more openings, they also receive far more applications. A rewarding career, one which can move forward rapidly, is achievable at one of the big four firms outside of London.
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