Most roles in Big Four accounting firms require a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) or other accounting qualification, but this isn't the limit of the skills you need. Like investment banks and every other professional services firm, PwC is stepping up its recruitment of students and experienced candidates alike who have studied science, technology engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects.
This will improve your chances of getting into PwC. Why? Because business acumen, communication skills and technology capabilities are increasingly important, according to Carmelina Lalley, who leads the U.S. assurance experienced recruiting team and oversees the firm’s STEM talent acquisition strategy.
“In assurance, the number-one thing we look for is the accounting background, because the CPA is the basic qualification for most audit roles, with a couple of exceptions,” Lalley said. “In the same breath as needing a strong accounting skill set, our audit is changing, as technology pervades every industry, including recruiting."
Accounting and auditing professionals who make the grade are called "accounting plus", she says. "People who understand data, are very data literate and maybe had a minor or double major in data science or data analytics, computer science, programming or management information systems.”
PwC develops or buys new tools and software constantly in an effort to improve client communications and the efficiency of its audits, and it expects its auditors to be able to get up to speed quickly with new technology.
In addition to these candidates, PwC has begun to hire more STEM majors, even those without an accounting degree.
The firm has also made an effort to increase the tech-savviness and data literacy of its existing employees through a series of online courses on data analysis and presentation skills via a partnership with Coursera.
“The audit profession as a whole is changing, and at PwC the audit is changing with the invention of data analytics tools now used in the audit – it’s not people with paper and a pencil walking through factories anymore,” Lalley said. “Our auditors are doing everything via tools that pull whole populations of data together versus shuffling paper files, which doesn’t happen anymore.”
Lalley advises students and experienced candidates alike to become as data literate as possible, in additional to gaining accounting knowledge.
Interview dos and don’ts
During an interview, Lalley appreciates candidates who can tell the story of their career and can talk about the impact they’ve had.
“You showed up to work every day, but so what? What impact did you have on clients and your team?” Lalley said. “I want to hear examples and evidence of success, an indication of team work.
“If someone can articulate their story and talk about the impact they’ve had without being prodded, how they reacted in a certain difficult situation or completed a tricky task, as well as the impact of actions, then they’ll have a leg up,” she said.
“If I don’t feel that level of interest or a candidates comes in unprepared, that can be a tough interview for me,” she said. “Another is somebody having a weird story or one that doesn’t make sense in terms of timing.”
Finally, be upfront about your experience, without exagerating.
“Somebody who says they know certain skills, and having technical capability is one of the key dimensions of roles in the assurance business,” Lalley said. “In interviews with senior associates and senior manager types, we will ask technical questions, and sometimes we’ll notice a piece of work or knowledge that is superficial even though based on the candidate’s resume it should have been deeper.”
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