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You Don't Need a Perfect GPA to Land a Big 4 (Accounting)

By Ryan Moncarz, Graduate Diploma in CPA Student
August 28, 2018
By Beth McKenna


You Don’t Need A Perfect GPA to Land a Big 4

The prospect of joining a Big 4 firm lights up the eyes of young business professionals. Spots are limited, talent is abundant and competition is fierce. In considering the current landscape, students are working tirelessly to generate the perfect application.

 Accounting majors looking to get hired by one of the Big 4 are often worried that their resume doesn’t measure up when compared to other candidates. Are you concerned that your GPA is not up to par or that you aren’t special enough to get noticed in the recruitment process?

Hopefully, this article will provide some useful tips on how to position yourself for a job at a global firm.


Having experience that ties in directly with the tasks juniors take on at a public firm will help get you noticed. Get involved: many small audit firms hire summer students to help their audit teams perform simple tax returns and support managers that are swamped with year-end files. By joining a small audit firm, you can fill out that CV with tons of relevant experience, learn the language of the profession and undoubtedly perform tasks that you may encounter at a Big 4.

The experience you amass provides key talking points for recruitment cocktails, firm tours and interviews. The more you can attribute to your name, the larger the likelihood that you can cut through the noise and make the short list of candidates. 

It’s also crucial to have a working knowledge of the programs, software and systems firms use to conduct everyday business. Throughout my various work experiences, I was lucky to become proficient in several software programs that are used at large firms such as Taxprep, Caseware, SAP and others. Knowing how to use these programs will signal to potential employers that you can productively participate in everyday operations from the get-go.

I began at a small audit firm at a time where the terms audit, review engagement and notice to reader were foreign to me. After rolling forward files, ticking and tying and substantively testing, not to mention the endless amounts of scanning, I traded in my paperclip for a job at Bombardier where I was afforded the opportunity to work at a large organization, performing internal control audits (the type of work I had not seen at a smaller firm). Both of these experiences propelled my career forward, convincing my current employer of my competence and diverse experience with both small and large, multinational corporations.

 Relationships and connections

We’ve all been told to use our connections and our networks to the greatest extent possible, but the power of actually building and cultivating these relationships is highly underestimated. Here’s the problem: you might be too shy to reach out to your cousin’s friend’s brother who is currently working at a Big 4 but in reality, most Big 4 dwellers are proud to be there and eager to help out a familiar face.

“Using your connections” extends beyond the individuals in your immediate network. Often considered throughout the recruitment process is the question of a student being the right fit for the firm and for their team. Big 4 recruiting teams often consider things like:

·        Can you comfortably sit with their current employees for many hours at a time?

·        How will you represent the firm when meeting with clients?

·        Are your values in line with the firm’s?

Here’s how to convince the Big 4 that you’re top candidate material.

 Be Genuine

Most of the conversation at recruitment events usually revolves around a firm’s day-to-day activities. This is fine, but it won’t necessarily get you noticed in a group of candidates. You should hint at your experience, but save the interview for the actual interview. Appeal to the recruiter’s human side, assess the type of person you’re speaking to and determine the appropriate level of candidness. For example, ask about their peers once you’ve established comfort with them, ask whom else you need to meet to make an impact and ask how you can be remembered. Make that person your mentor for the brief moment that you have together and they will respect you for it. 

 The Follow-Up Email

Many students send a generic follow-up email after a recruitment event. Something along the lines of:

Hello _________, 

It was so nice to meet you, I really enjoyed the evening and what your firm had to offer… etc. 

It’s better to take an approach that is less cookie-cutter and that won’t get you lumped in with the rest of the pack. Your strength lies in making lasting impressions. Your follow-up e-mail should only be sent to those who would truly remember you. If you were in a circle nodding your head with eight other students and a recruiter, save yourself the time. However, if you made a connection with someone, use it. Be specific in your email, For example, mention points you discussed, your genuine pleasure for having met them and for them having made your night easier.

The golden rule: Be the person that you yourself would remember

Last but not least… Persistence

Competition is too high for everyone to get hired on the first go around. Keep working on your personal brand, making connections and cultivating relationships. If you’re hungry enough, your time will come.

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