How to get a job at a Big Four firm now. In numbers

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There are many reasons to work for a Big Four accounting firm (ie. Deloitte, PWC, EY or KPMG).

Chief among them is the fact that they hire literally huge numbers of people. In 2017, for example, Deloitte alone recruited 70,000 "new professionals" - one hire every eight minutes. Hiring in investment banks is modest by comparison: Goldman Sachs, for example only employs 34,400 people in total and it ended last year with 400 fewer staff than it began.

How do you get one of these plentiful jobs with the Big Four though? And - given that are still 18 applications to every available graduate job at Big Four firms (in the UK), which jobs are easiest to achieve?

Based on the newly released reports from Deloitte and PWC, here's how to target your Big Four application for maximum effect.

1. Apply as a "client service" professional

As the chart below shows, most of the people who work for PWC are actually out there servicing clients: support staff and partners comprise a tiny proportion of the total headcount.

Moreover, these client service jobs are where the growth is. Overall headcount is up 13.5% at PWC in the past two years, but for client service professionals it's up 15%. By comparison, PWC's number of practice support staff have only gone up 9% in the same period.

The muted growth in support staff hiring is in direct contrast to investment banks - which have been loading on with middle and back office staff in areas like compliance and technology to deal with regulatory requirements and cutting back on client facing people in the process.

The thing to remember though, is that client facing professionals at Big Four firms are probably working in areas like compliance and technology - and are selling their services into banks.... (hence the growth). Support staff in banks are client facing staff in the Big Four.

2. Apply in Asia

Asia is where the job growth is in the Big Four. At Deloitte, Asian revenues rose the fastest last year and employee numbers grew to match. There was a similar trend at PWC, where - if you're not applying in Asia - you might want to apply in Europe.

3. Apply in "risk advisory" or consulting - not audit

Audit and assurance still form the backbone of revenues at Big Four firms. At PWC UK, for example, 36% of revenues were generated by the assurance division in 2017. But, putting together the accounts for large corporations isn't where the growth is at Big Four firms.

The growth - as the chart below for Deloitte Global shows, is now in areas like risk advisory and consulting.

What does this mean? Deloitte defines risk advisory as things like, "cyber, and innovative solutions in the areas of robotic process automation, risk sensing, and predictive analytics." Consulting is all about helping clients "accelerate business model transformation" through "strategic acquisitions, alliances and investments in areas such as artificial intelligence, robotics, cognitive, creative digital consulting, cloud computing, blockchain and Internet of Things (IoT)."

It's not just Deloitte. PWC doesn't provide global figures for its revenue growth by division, but in the UK (where it does), consulting revenues are also rising faster than the rest.

Old-fashioned audit is pretty boring and staid by comparison.

4. Join either as a graduate or as an "experienced professional"

If you're trying to get into an investment bank, your best bet is to join as a graduate. Although banks will sometimes hire people from industry into their equity research or M&A teams, it's not normal for them to do so.

By comparison, as the chart below shows, Big Four firms like PWC hire both graduates and experienced professionals. - You can get a job in the Big Four once you've spent a few years working elsewhere; they want industry knowledge.

5. Specialize in the financial services industry

When the Big Four hire experienced professionals from industry, they're looking for people who have experience of the industries where their clients are located. And guess what - a lot of their clients are banks and financial services firms.

As the chart below shows, financial services clients are PWC's number one segment globally. If you've spent a few years in risk or technology with a bank, PWC would probably very much like to hear from you.

6.Don't be privately educated

While banks have a well-documented tendency to hire middle class students, accounting firms are doing their best to hire from across the social spectrum. 

PWC, for example, has a 'social mobility team leader' and 74% of its UK graduate hires were state school educated last year. It also monitors the proportion of people it hires from families receiving income support (14%) or who received free school meals (10%).

7. Moderate your pay expectations

Lastly, it's no good applying to a Big Four firm which banking-style pay aspirations. The chart below shows average pay at PWC and Goldman Sachs in the UK. Basically, PWC pays a lot less. This changes if you make it to partner level, but for that you'll also need luck and patience, and even then you won't earn much more than the average person at GS.

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Photo credit: Numbered by ChristopherTitzer is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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