What it’s like being an intern at the Big Four

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While it goes without saying that every internship is unique, there are some points of commonality between internships at EY, Deloitte, PwC and KPMG. The workloads may vary - but the emphasis on training is huge.

Fit comes first

When it comes to the hiring of interns, the Big Four tend to look for target schools and strong GPAs yet often prioritize cultural fit over existing technical skills, according to interviews and new survey results from Vault.

The end result is that much of the internship is centered around training – something green interns appreciate while some others find monotonous.

For example, undergraduate summer interns at KPMG will spend a full week doing national off-site training in Orlando, Florida before they even get started. Second-year students who are selected to be part of Deloitte’s “Discovery” internship program will be invited to a three-day national conference at Deloitte University during the summer months.

“Training here is too general at the beginning; I think it would be better to have more personalized or at least departmentalize the training because it will be very different depending on the group you work in,” said one former PwC intern. This is a common complaint among those who know the business line in which they’d like to work, though interns who want access to multiple opportunities see more comprehensive training as a plus.

After training week, KPMG interns will spend half of the summer working in audit and the other half in either tax, advisory or business enablement services. Deloitte’s sophomore interns will rotate across two of the firm’s three main business lines: audit & assurance, risk and financial advisory, or tax. “The internship is all about figuring out what you want to do long-term and putting yourself in front of the people that run the group,” said a former Deloitte intern in New York who is now with EY. “Use all the networking events to your benefit.”

You’re likely to be overworked. Or bored

Depending on your university, you can intern at one of the Big Four during the summer or during your junior year. The benefit of a summer internship is that it’s during the slow season at audit and tax firms; there’s less work and more time for training and mentoring. But this often leads to “monotonous,” “tedious” and “boring” assignments that can be repetitive and forward-thinking, rather than critical client work, according to Vault respondents.

Meanwhile, interning during the busier winter months is highly stressful and comes with long hours, which can be mitigated somewhat if you are hired on an hourly rate, as is the industry norm, and are eligible for overtime. Most Big Four interns are known to make $30 per hour and up. A former KMPG intern said that, while the in-semester internship was a bear, it provided more hands-on work experience and the ability to make closer connections with current employees. “The companies are huge. You can get lost during the summer and not get anything out of it,” she said.

Consulting gigs mirror “full-time” work

Like all firms with a consulting practice, the Big Four look to MBA programs to fill some of the seats within their advisory practices. But they hire undergrad students as well. Those who interned as consultants at EY, Deloitte, PwC and KPMG were generally more optimistic about the experience than those who only worked in tax and audit. Consulting interns said they often worked on important tasks, interfaced with clients and upper management, and even traveled to customer sites.

“It was good to experience travel but that also meant that I was not around for internship events,” said a former Deloitte intern.

The best way to excel

Both former Big Four interns who we interviewed along with a plethora of Vault respondents all offered the same piece of advice for students. Take a class in Microsoft Excel and become as proficient as possible before starting your internship. Knowing Excel “can put you miles ahead of the competition” as you’ll be able to complete work assignments that others can’t, according to the former PwC intern.

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