5 Awesome Strategies if you Attend a Big 4 non-Target School

Michael Stephens by Michael Stephens Last modified on May 24, 2017
Big 4 non-target school

The Big 4 sits at the top of your career goal list.

But you attend a non-target school.

What can you do?

Well, you have five distinct options to get the job you want. In this post we’ll set out the pros and cons of each method, along with our recommendations and top tips for success.

Before we start I’ll be clear, getting in if you attend a Big 4 non-target school is tough.

Not impossible, but pretty tough. Unlike a target school, the Big 4 are not going to come to you.

You’ll have to go to them.

Option 1: Complete a Master’s Program at a Big 4 Target School

Pros: Easy when you finally come to apply, having a suitable masters will improve your chances of getting the job even more, can reset your GPA
Cons: Expensive, time consuming

This comes first because it’s potentially the easiest method, but understandable out of reach for some candidates and definitely not the only approach. Plus it is only “easy” once you’ve applied, paid the fees and completed the course.

In saying that, if you have the slight inclination that you may want to complete a Master’s degree in a relevant subject then definitely go for it (I have accepted many candidates who completed an accounting or finance Master’s after other less applicable degrees).

Beware that if you again attend a Big 4 non-target school for your Master’s program, there is no real benefit and you will be in the exact same position as with your undergraduate. Your holding of a Master’s may make your application more compelling in the general sense, but do not complete a non-target Master’s on the assumption that it will improve your chances of securing a Big 4 career.

It’s the targeted nature of the school – and the direct access to recruiters it brings – that makes this approach so attractive.

Oh and if your GPA is not great (anything above a 3.0 GPA technically shouldn’t interfere with your application), then a Master’s program is one of the few ways to reset it.

Option 2: Apply Online

Pros: Almost zero effort
Cons: Almost zero chance of success unless you fall into a specific group

Oh if I had a Dollar for every time I heard a student say that they applied online and didn’t hear anything back. I bet you didn’t know that, ideally, the Big 4 wouldn’t even have online applications.

Remember that the recruiter is always trying to make their job as easy as possible and believe me, interviewing ten candidates at a Big 4 target school in one day is much easier than trawling through hundreds of online applications from Big 4 non-target schools, most of which won’t make the grade.

But the online application process exists for a reason. It is to catch experienced hires (see option 4), non-typical candidates with unbelievable knowledge or experience that would make the resume reviewer take note, such as a PhD from Harvard, or for a niche service areas that sometimes struggles to fill places (see option 5).

Unless you fall into one of the above categories, I wouldn’t recommend applying online as the best option, particularly for something broad like audit or business tax. Do it, by all means, but don’t expect results.

Option 3: Beg, Steal and Borrow Your Way to An Interview

Pros: Your best option for getting in right now without spending money
Cons: Potentially difficult

So now we come to our favorite topic and one of Big 4 Career LAB’s specialties. If you attend a Big 4 non-target school, this is really the only option you have for getting into the Big 4 now without spending more money or taking more time.

You’re an amazing candidate, right? All you need is the opportunity to showcase your abilities to an interviewer. We get it. But you need to be invited to interview, that’s the hard part.

Remember our mantra that the Big 4 recruiters are lazy and want to do their job as easily (for them) as possible? Your job is need to make it easy for them to give you a job. How do you do that? You need:

Yeah, it’s not easy.

Option 4: The Experienced Hire Route

Pros: High success rate if you stick to the plan, you’ll get paid, you’ll join the Big 4 at a higher promotion level
Cons: Potentially most time consuming

Ok, so you tried networking, you don’t want to do another degree, etc. What options are left to you?

The experienced hire route.

For those candidates that really, truly struggle with networking, the experienced hire route is the best and only option. To clarify, an experienced hire is a candidate that is applying for a position that is above entry level, typically at the senior consultant level (for our purposes anyway). You would be surprised how valuable and scarce good experienced hires are.

This is your approach: you apply for a firm that does target your school, ideally top 30 accounting, larger boutique consulting or tax law firm. You work at that company for around two years gaining as much experience as possible and passing all relevant exams.

While you’re there you continue your networking efforts and make connections with Big 4 employees in positions similar to yours.

When the time is right you apply, either online directly to an opening (this is where applying online sometimes works, in this case the business really needs you), or through your contacts.

Fun fact: Did you know that Big 4 employees are rewarded with a finder bonus if they introduce an experienced hire to the business. This is why it’s much easier to network and get results if you’re an experienced hire.

If done right, it is really unlikely that this method will fail. So long as your GPA is acceptable (>3.0) and you do good work for a reputable firm, then two years later you’re in. And the best thing, you go into the business at a higher level and you haven’t really lost anything compared with if you’d got the original job when you graduated!

It’s a great approach, but it takes dedication.

Option 5: Find a Career Where School Isn’t a Consideration

Pros: Easy(ish) once you’ve found the right fit
Cons: Very hard to find the right fit

No pun intended, the Big 4 are big. We talk about tax, audit and consulting all the time, but each Big 4 offers hundreds of auxiliary internal and external services that are outside of these realms (but closely related).

Want to work in international tax? Have you considered transfer pricing, VAT, tax management consulting, tax technology, supply chain optimization? The list is extremely extensive.

While audit may hire 5,000 graduates a year, the digital marketing team may hire 5.

Now I’m not advocating that an accounting student applies for a digital marketing position (it wouldn’t work…trust me), the point is that there are literally hundreds of departments in very closely related fields that struggle to find candidates.

When a team is struggling to find candidates, there’s no such concept as a Big 4 non-target school.

To prove the point, I did a quick search of one of the Big 4 careers websites. The following jobs are prime for this type of application (assuming a finance/accounting background):

  • Cost Accountant, Arlington (this one seemingly doesn’t even have a minimum GPA requirement!)
  • Audit Analytics Specialist, Nationwide
  • Retail Cash Management Project Associate, Nationwide
  • Internal Controls Consultant, San Jose

Like we always say at Big 4 Career LAB, always get in the door first. When you’re first a Cost Accountant in Arlington, it’s far easier to become an auditor in NYC than if you apply straight to NYC audit along with 10,000 other candidates.

It’s an art and you’re not guaranteed to be successful, but it’s a structured approach that can work wonders. If you’ve done your networking properly, try reaching out to your contacts to see if they have any insider information on teams that are struggling to hire.

Big 4 Non-Target Schools – Conclusion

To sum up, attending a Big 4 non-target school makes your job search harder, but by no means impossible. To be successful, you must choose which of the five options is best for you:

  • Graduate degree
  • Applying online
  • Network your way to an interview
  • Experienced hire
  • Niche Big 4 career move

Follow one of these approaches and the fact that you attend Big 4 non-target school will have no bearing on your future Big 4 career success.

Are there any tips you have to share when it comes to getting into the Big 4 from a non-target school? Please let me know in the comments below!

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