People who study ACCA often go on to work for a Big Four accountancy firm. But you don’t have to wait until you have an ACCA qualification, the Big Four – Deloitte, PwC, EY and KPMG – all offer school-leaver and internship programmes and graduate schemes.
But these programmes are notoriously competitive; for example, PwC’s 2,000 graduate and internship roles in the UK in 2016 received 39,000 applications, while KPMG will receive 20,000 applications for its 1,000 vacancies.
So to give yourself the best chance of success, there are a few simple things you can do early on. The Big Four have offices in cities and towns all over the world, so get in touch with the offices nearest to you to see what programmes they run. If you don’t find what you want locally, look further afield to bigger cities where the firms will have national HQs and a wider variety of vacancies.
Thoroughly research the companies and identify a division that most appeals to you, for example, audit, advisory or tax. Once you’ve researched the firms and roles, and understand the high expectations, don’t assume it’s all about good grades alone. The Big Four look at the whole person and are often impressed by people who do extraordinary things outside of their academic life, such as volunteering or sporting achievements. In fact these combined with a good academic record are the strongest offering.
‘Your grades and the university you graduated from are standard things that make you stand out, but what you might not realise is how important your personality and attitude is,’ says Catherine Moolenschot, marketing executive at graduate recruitment specialists Inspiring Interns. ‘People hire people they like and think will fit well in the culture of the company (as well as hiring for skills and experience).’
The Big Four are looking for certain qualities above all else and are very concerned about ‘cultural fit’ (being right for the company culture), with PwC and EY even recently reducing their academic screening requirements to attract a greater diversity of applicants. The Big Four want excellent communicators and team players, able to show leadership potential, courage and enthusiasm, alongside business acumen, a global mindset and relationship management.
And while technical skills are important, for most internships and graduate schemes you’re not expected to know everything, there will be plenty of training. What firms have trouble finding is the right fit of person; they can teach the technical aspects on the job, but finding people with the right characteristics and qualities is more difficult, which is why the application process is so rigorous. As well as online applications followed by interviews, the Big Four use psychometric testing: numerical, verbal reasoning and personality tests.
Catherine’s tips on the application process and the first few days on the job:
‘Firstly, make your CV stand out by demonstrating your achievements and relevant work experience. Your CV cannot have any spelling and grammar mistakes in it, it’s as simple as that (more tips on how to write the ultimate CV).
‘In the application stage it’s crucial you dress professionally, show confidence (not arrogance) and build rapport with the interviewers, avoid talking too much or too little, you need a good balance. Don’t show a lack of commitment or a lack of knowledge about the profession – you should be committed and have researched well if you are applying for one of the Big Four.
‘During the first few days on the job we recommend showing your good work ethic and not being afraid to ask questions. Asking questions shows that you understand what they’re saying and clarifying what you don’t understand. That way, once clarified, your manager and colleagues will feel confident you are doing your job correctly.
‘We also recommend building rapport with colleagues, so that if a tricky situation arises you already have a sense of trust, which makes negotiating the issue much easier.’