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What Big 4 recruiters are really looking for

Prospective employee

(Hint: It’s not accounting skills — everyone at a public accounting firm has those.)

You could get hired as an accountant before you even know how to do the job.

It’s true. Recruiters from Big 4 accounting firms start meeting with master of accounting students in select graduate programs within a few weeks of them starting the program. Students typically receive multiple job offers before they’re halfway through the program!

Recruiters know that students who successfully complete the rigorous graduate curriculum en route to earning their CPA will have the accounting skills they need to get started in their careers. That’s the case with UNC Kenan-Flagler MAC graduates, over 70 percent of whom go to work for Big 4 firms after graduation. With a remarkable track record for success in the profession, recruiters have even more assurance when they meet with UNC students.

>> Do you have the skills that Big 4 firms want? Download a checklist.

So how do recruiters assess candidates? By considering four key attributes.

Work ethic

Big 4 firms operate in a highly competitive global marketplace, offering critical advisory, tax and audit services well-known public and private companies. Their employees need to be smart and work hard.

Recruiters consider your undergraduate GPA as one indicator of work ethic. They’ll also consider the extracurricular activities you were involved with and may give you extra credit if you worked part-time in college.

Communication skills

Accountants work in teams and communicate frequently with clients. They need to be able to give presentations, dispense advice and deliver news (sometimes bad news) in formal and informal settings.

Big 4 recruiters will assume you learned to write as an undergraduate, and that your corporate communications professors will sharpen those skills. So during interactions with you they’ll observe your interpersonal communication style.

They’ll assess how you behave in different settings – a friendly cocktail party vs. a formal job interview – and whether you come across as an energetic, effective communicator.

The UNC MAC curriculum includes communications classes, coaching and feedback to sharpen your interpersonal communication skills.

Leadership experience

Big 4 recruiters want to hire employees who could become leaders at work and in their communities. They want to hire people who can influence others and make an impact. Leadership skills are critical.

Extracurricular activities, volunteer work and involvement in organizations outside of school are all signs of leadership potential. If you served as an officer or some other leadership capacity, that’s even better.

Culture fit

The last factor that recruiters consider is how well you’d fit in with their firm’s culture. But fit is something you should be considering, too.

Some firms foster collegial environments, where everyone works to support one another. Others emphasize community service and encourage employees to get involved in nonprofits and volunteer causes.

New employees who fit in well with a particular corporate culture are much more likely to be successful there. So as you talk to recruiters about fit, you need to clearly assess what kind of environment you want to work in.

What, specifically, do the Big 4 firms really value? Download our Big 4 Skills Checklist to find out about the accounting skills and soft skills you’ll need to succeed in public accounting.


Considering Accounting as a career?

Your first step is a Master of Accounting (MAC) degree.
UNC Kenan-Flagler offers a one-year, Top 10 MAC in two formats:
1. On-campus for non-accounting majors
2. Online for both accounting and non-accounting majors