I know it and you know it, Big 4 interview questions are tough. Very tough.
Luckily, it really doesn’t matter whether it’s PwC, Deloitte, KPMG or EY.
There are some unique ways that you can answer the most commonly asked Big 4 interview questions and really stand out.
You’ve secured a Big 4 interview? Great job! Statistically you’re already over the biggest hurdle.
Deloitte is more difficult to get into than Harvard, hiring only 2% of applicants. Punit Renjen, Deloitte CEO
Now you want to dominate the interview, right? Well, that’s why we’ve written this no-nonsense guide.
You want to know:
You also want to know whether there are any nuances depending on whether it’s Deloitte or EY, audit or consulting, internship or full time, and whether you’re a graduate or an experienced hire.
Well, my friends, I’m here to share the secrets with you.
But first, let’s hear what EY Partner Dan Black recently told me were THE most important considerations for a Big 4 interviewee…
Answering the Most Common Big 4 Interview Questions
What do you think of when you imagine the questions you might be asked during your Big 4 interview?
Fortunately for you, there are only five types of questions.
- Case Studies
That means your number one most important job before a Big 4 interview is to prepare for each question type.
Notice I didn’t say each individual question. That’s because you need an overall strategy which works across the board, and that doesn’t mean memorizing a hundred different answers.
We’re going to go through each question type in detail, when each one might arise, and then show you a detailed list of Big 4 interview question examples in each category.
But before we get into all that…
How to Approach a Big 4 Interview
It’s very easy to get too focused on interview questions. It’s human nature to be concerned about what we perceive to be the scariest part.
But think about it, plenty of other aspects matter just as much.
If you’re dressed in a 25 year old suit and you’re not wearing any shoes then your interview technique probably won’t be the deciding factor.
There are three parts to preparing for an interview and you must nail them all.
#1 – Background Preparation
First off and absolutely non-negotiable, you must do some thorough background preparation.
Actually, lots of research.
You need to know:
- Exactly why you want to join that specific Big 4 using real examples
- What the job entails, both at a high level and day-to-day
- What clients that firm serves, in what industries and any recent news stories
Then you need to practice your interview technique. We’ll get to the questions later, but right now you need to practice shaking hands and looking people in the eye while talking.
You need to practice in a real life interview situation.
But you can’t just practice anything, you need to know what you’re practicing.
Undertake as many mock interviews as you can. Many schools offer mock interview services, but you need to make sure they know what they’re doing.
If you can swing it, a mock interview with someone already in the industry is pretty much invaluable.
#2 – Mental Preparation
This is the most underused interview strategy. By a mile.
You’re dressed to kill and you’ve memorized every question ever asked in the history of mankind. But you’re a nervous wreck! That’s just not going to work.
Think about it this way, do Olympic athletes just walk onto the track without any preparation?
No. They. Don’t.
They have a pre-race routine that they follow to the letter. They warm up their body and they focus their mind.
They use power poses, visualization and meditation techniques. They “feel” like they’ve won the race before they’ve even started.
Running an important race is no different to entering an interview room. It’s a stressful, competitive environment where you need to perform at your best.
Mental preparation is vitally important. If you use it properly you’ll come across as professional, confident and prepared…and that’s half the battle.
Check out this helpful infographic on using power poses.
#3 – Physical Preparation
This is the easy part. Wear something professional. Don’t try and show off with something expensive, it won’t go down well.
Get a haircut, shine your shoes, eat mints (but don’t chew gum!). This is all stuff you know but it’s amazing how many people forget about it during an interview.
You’ll almost definitely be taken out to lunch by junior staff to see how you interact. As well as speaking up, ensure that your eating habits are not off-putting.
Don’t order soup or spaghetti.
How the Big 4 Will Interview You
If you’ve spoken to more than a few Big 4 professionals you’ll already know this.
Whether it’s PwC, EY, Deloitte or KPMG, the Big 4 are all pretty similar.
Yes, they have their own strategies and the cultures are somewhat different, but in general you’ll be doing the same work for the same clients and you’ll be working with the same kind of people.
Surprise surprise, this ties over to interviews.
We can use that to our advantage because even if you have multiple Big 4 interviews (lucky you!), you only need one approach.
Almost every interview you’ll ever have at the Big 4 will combine traditional and behavioral questioning.
If you’re applying for advisory or consulting, it’s almost guaranteed that there will be some case study aspects thrown in.
If you’re applying for a specialist role like Cyber Security, then expect some specific technical questions too, maybe even a technical case study. Even auditors usually get some accounting questions.
How do you know what to prepare for?
We’ll get to that.
How to Get a Head Start on Your Big 4 Interview Research
What if I was to tell you that Deloitte Audit had more in common with EY Audit than it did with Deloitte Consulting? Well, it’s true.
Then how about the fact that the EY Seattle office is more aligned with the Deloitte Seattle office than the EY Dallas office? Also true.
If all this is true, then how can you ever know what to expect in an interview?
What if you turn up for an interview having practiced behavioural questions for hours, only to be given a case study when you walk in?
Well here’s a little pro tip.
Remember that professional network that you spent months building up? Those people are still useful even after you’ve secured an interview (that’s why it’s so important to network effectively).
It’s pretty likely that you already know someone in the office and position you’re hoping to get.
Send them an email
This is an actual email sent by one of Big 4 Career LAB’s candidates to a KPMG network contact and the reply she got.
This one step will put you way ahead of the competition. Why did you spend all that time building up a network anyway?
Treat it Like a Conversation With a Friend
As a rough estimate I’ve undertaken 500 on-campus, in-office and experienced hire interviews during my time at the Big 4.
I say this not to brag, but to show you that I know what works.
What is the one piece of advice I would give every candidate ?
There is nothing worse than an awkward or weird interview.
You’ve done all the hard work with your GPA, leadership experience and getting the interview itself.
Your job now isn’t to brag about your internships. It’s to answer the one question that every interviewer is trying to answer:
“Would I be able to work with this person for 8-10 hours every single day?”
Your job is to convince them that they would.
It’s Not Just the Questions You Answer
Finally, you need to be able to ask relevant questions.
Candidates get hung up on answering questions, but to show real intent you need to be able to ask the interviewer something relevant. At the end of the interview (and sometimes during) they will ask:
“So, do you have any questions for me?”
You’d better have some seriously great questions at the ready.
The best advice here is to take a pen and paper into the interview and write down some brief notes about anything to interviewer says.
Don’t go overboard but make sure you remember some key points.
You then ask:
“Well, you mentioned x and y, and I wondered how it might apply to z?”
It’s a straightforward tactic but works a treat.
The more you can get the interviewer to talk about themselves the better (people love to do that).
If nothing comes up in the interview that you can refer to, then prepare some generic but relevant questions such as:
“How did you decide that this was the right career for you?”
Just please make sure you ask some questions, whatever they may be. Not asking questions when you have a chance is a sure-fire way to not get the job.
Oh and just one more thing…
Make sure you send a thank you note!
Behavioral Interview Questions
So finally here it is. The best approach to behavioral questioning.
Are you concerned about behavioral interview questions? Good, because so is everyone else!
But there is no need to be nervous. All that is needed is a strategy.
Behavioral questions are pretty unique to early career requirement because they are designed to determine how you would act in certain situations when you don’t have significant (or any, if you’re a student) relevant work experience to rely on.
They are worrisome because you could literally be asked anything.
In reality this is a good thing, because there is an intrinsic part of behavioral questioning that we can turn to our advantage.
The questions you will be asked are vague enough that you can systematize your approach. And that’s what we’re going to help you do here.
“It can sometimes be a challenge to motivate a team to complete a project with so many conflicting priorities in life. Describe in detail a time when you were successful at achieving results even though you were part of a team that was difficult to motivate. How did you help to set goals and ensure that those goals were met?”
Approach to Answering
That’s a pretty tough question to answer, right? Especially with no planning.
But you are going to plan!
First off, you need to arm yourself with a great set of example scenarios. These scenarios should fall within general categories such as teamwork, research, flexibility, etc.
Think of at least two scenarios for each of these categories.
If you’ve done this well you’ve already got a huge head start on almost every other candidate.
The best thing is that your general scenarios can apply to multiple situations. This is a much better approach than diving straight into practicing behavioral questions where you’ll be focused on explaining one very specific point.
The next phase of the Big 4 behavioral interview strategy is to break the question down into its parts.
We can quickly summarize the example question above in our heads, which will help to determine how to find an answer based on our pre-prepared scenarios.
- You worked in a team
- The team wasn’t motivated
- You set goals to motivate the team
- The team became motivated because you ensured the goals were met
That makes a little bit more sense now, right?
Your job now is to use your relevant scenario and answer the question, aiming for one paragraph per point.
Let’s see what a model answer might look like (and what the interviewer will be thinking).
“I remember a time when I was working as part of a team in the fundraising office for our campus charity during my junior year.”
(Ok, interesting scenario, tell me more)
“I mean we had a great team of student but they often didn’t put in a 100% effort and I sometimes got the impression that some of them were just trying to build their resumes. They just weren’t very motivated to fundraise and it was impacting our performance.”
(That’s a shame, what happened?)
“I took it upon myself to find ways to motivate the team. I’ve always been interested in team accountability and so I helped to implement a “buddy system” whereby the staff would each have an accountability partner that they would discuss their fundraising goals with at the beginning of each week and then have to follow up at the end.”
(Wow, great idea. Did it work?)
“This worked a treat and the team was significantly more motivated. It worked so well that we well exceeded our fundraising target for that year. I think at least a part of it was due to the “buddy system” I implemented.”
(Great answer, well done!)
There we have it. Exactly the kind of answer an interviewer wants. No waffle and straight to the point in four short paragraphs.
Traditional Interview Questions
A traditional interview is exactly what you think it is.
Before behavioral interviews and case study questions there were traditional interviews.
You would be invited to the office, would sit down with your potential boss and would be asked a barrage of questions like:
“Why do you want this job?”
These questions can be tough to answer, but as always there’s a strategy.
The thing about traditional interview questions is that they’re all the same.
For example, I would bet my house that you’ll be asked some variation of:
“So David, why PwC over the other Big 4?”
This is where your research comes in. You already know exactly why you want to join PwC.
“Well, Mrs interviewer, PwC works with some of the biggest and best clients and is led by industry experts in every field. The prospect of working alongside and learning from such influential thought leaders is a highly motivating factor for me. Also, I understand that PwC is focused on promoting diversity which is fantastic and shows real commitment to positive change…”
Now learn your own version and practice until you’re able to deliver it naturally.
The strategy for all these questions is so easy I decided to spend one minute writing it down for you. You’re welcome!
Technical Interview Questions
You’re a CPA. There are going to be questions about US GAAP.
You’re an econ major. There are going to be questions about the proper use of discount rates.
At some point in every interview there will be technical questions. There might only be one, there might be 20.
Your best approach, as always, is to be prepared.
But how can I prepare when I don’t know what on Earth they’ll ask me?
Here’s your answer:
As important as it is to ask your network about interview styles, they may not be able to (or want to) tell you what specific questions will be asked.
You need to dig deeper.
Fortunately, there are a wealth of online resources available for exactly this.
If you’re not familiar with Reddit, it is the self-styled “front page of the internet”. There are individual forums (known as subreddits) for pretty much every conceivable topic.
Let’s take a brief glimpse at the goldmine right here.
Sign up and start asking some questions!
Glassdoor is the other super helpful site that has a unique interview questions feature.
Candidates review their interview experience with various companies and, lucky for us, they list out the types of interview questions they were asked.
In many cases they even give exact questions asked in each field.
There are literally thousands on there. Add these together and you’ll have a pretty specific idea of the types of technical questions you might be asked by the Big 4.
Finally, and we don’t like to brag, but the Big 4 Career LAB forum is also a fantastic place to ask and answer questions specifically related to the Big 4 hiring process.
Case Study Interview Questions
Ah, the case study interview.
Pretty much guaranteed if you’re a consulting candidate, potentially going to happen for advisory or tax consulting, unlikely for audit or tax preparation (but not impossible).
To explain the need for case study style interviews, here’s our friends at Management Consulted.
“Case Interviews give the interviewer an in-depth view of how you think/function under pressure, problem solve, and understand both the large picture and the smallest aspects of a problem. In addition, they are excellent test scenarios for communication on your feet. Case interviews go beyond just spouting business knowledge – you are tested on how you build and communicate a clear framework, break down problems into small pieces, develop real world options, and recommend actionable solutions despite the presence of conflicting information.”
So yeah, they’re hard.
Each of the Big 4 uses a slightly different case interview format, but typically it will be a one-on-one (or two) with no data provided before the interview.
A typical case interview question might be:
“Our client is Mexican restaurant chain with falling profits. How can we help them?”
You will then explain your ideas to the interviewer and attempt to solve the business problem.
The key here is to focus on the business discussion aspect, you should be driving towards the answer you consider to be most relevant, rather than reacting to interviewer questions.
In saying that, a common mistake in case interviews is not listening. You might have 50 great ways to save the restaurant business, but you won’t pass the interview if don’t let the interviewer speak.
Always explain your thought process and expect some math to be involved. There may even be technical and behavioral questions thrown in too.
Much like the traditional questioning, there is a theme to case interviews. You should come up with a list of ideas in relation to solving typical business problems.
Then you practice. A lot.
TOP TIP: Remember, you should use your time wisely and only practice the types of questions that you are fairly sure will come up at your interview (you know this because you’ve already done your research…haven’t you?!).
If you’re an audit candidate don’t spend hours on case interview technique. Prepare for it, sure, but it shouldn’t be your focus.
You’re probably wondering what can possibly remain. What is this mystery category?
Well, brainteaser questions are anything that an interviewer could ask you that does not fall into one of the above.
These questions are often crazy. Some interviewers may ask a lot, others may not ask any at all.
Thankfully, this type of questioning is becoming rarer because it’s not very insightful, particularly in accounting or tax interviews. You may get one or two, so it’s worth being ready just in case.
Brainteaser questions are designed to test your ability to think on the spot without getting flustered.
In reality, there is no correct answer to “how many ping pong balls can you fit in a jumbo jet”*
If one of these questions arise, you need to think through all your assumptions first before even getting to the math:
“Will the seats remain in place?
Can I use all the storage areas?
Will the balls get squashed?
What about the pilots?”
Stay calm and think out loud – that’s the best you can do. The worst you can do is say “I don’t know”.
Automatic fail right there.
*In an interview setting that is…the actual answer is 22,870,000.
67 Big 4 Interview Questions
Finally, the moment you’ve all been waiting for!
The 67 most common Big 4 interview questions.
My advice would be to practice each of these questions individually using the strategies mentioned above.
Remember that we’re not trying to remember every single answer here. The aim is to improve your interview technique across the board.
Get a pen and paper, find a willing mock interviewer and apply everything you’ve learnt. When that Big 4 interview comes around you’ll be sailing home victorious.
Behavioral Question Examples
- In our business, we need to stay well informed about the marketplace. Tell me about a time when your research of a particular topic allowed you to make an informed decision. How did you approach the research?
- In order to grow the business, we identify client needs and recommend solutions to address those needs. Tell me about a time when your knowledge of a topic allowed you to make a recommendation to resolve a problem or fulfill a need.
- Strong communication skills are critical to the selling of services to clients. Tell me about a time when you were successful in communicating with a difficult person or under difficult circumstances.
- Our business requires flexibility when negotiating with clients. Tell me about a time when you had to adjust your negotiating position in mid-process in order to achieve an objective.
- We often have to rely upon our innovative thinking to solve problems. Tell me about a time when you came up with a breakthrough idea or saw possibilities that were not obvious to others. What were the circumstances? Describe your idea and how you developed it.
- When working in teams, the ability to obtain the commitment of others is critical. Tell me about a time when your positive example influenced others to be more committed to a project or task.
- With so many conflicting priorities, it can be challenging to motivate a team to complete projects. Tell me about a time when you were successful at achieving results even though you were part of a team that was difficult to motivate.
- Sometimes we have to sacrifice individual recognition in order to help a team be more successful. Tell me about a time when you put the needs of a group before your own when completing a task.
- Knowledge sharing is an essential part of our firm culture. Tell me about a time when a willingness to share your knowledge significantly enhanced the outcome of a decision or situation.
- Describe a time when you needed to consider a range of options before zeroing in on a solution. What was the situation? How did you handle it?
- Exhibiting personal ethics is critical to gaining buy-in from a team. Describe a personal, team-based situation where the resolution clearly reflected your level of integrity.
- Listening to our clients is essential to understanding their needs. Tell me about a time when your listening skills allowed you to exceed the expectations in the delivery of a task or project.
- In order to serve our clients well, we must be interested and knowledgeable in our clients’ businesses. Tell me about a time when you made an extraordinary effort to learn about or understand another person’s interests or perspective.
- We are very focused on exceeding the expectations of our clients. Tell me about a time you worked with significant time constraints and exceeded someone’s expectations.
- We are often faced with time constraints and balancing multiple tasks while delivering a quality product. Tell me about a time when you influenced/convinced a group to stay on target to achieve a defined objective when they considered changing the approach to save time or effort.
- Can you remember a time when you needed to deliver a sensitive message to someone whose reaction you were unsure of? What happened? Give an analysis on your part. What was the situation? How did you approach it?
- The ability to “get at the heart of the matter” is a valuable tool in Consulting work. Can you recall a time when you successfully did so when dealing with a problem?
- We believe we make better decisions when we solicit input from others. Tell me about a time when you actively sought out input from others prior to making an important decision.
- In business, decisions frequently have implications beyond what may initially be obvious. Tell me about a time when you sought additional information that broadened your perspective and changed your initial opinion regarding a decision.
- To manage effectively, leaders must clearly communicate expectations. Tell me about a time when your ability to clearly express expectations allowed a team you were leading to be successful.
- You will frequently have competing priorities and put in long hours at times to serve our clients. Tell me about a time when a non-academic activity competed for your attention and you prioritized your time appropriately.
- Being an effective manager of your own expectations is as important as managing the expectations of those around you. Define your standards for success in your last job. Describe what you did to meet those standards, and if you fell short, how did you become comfortable with that?
- Project teams’ members must rely upon each other to succeed. Describe an event that portrays you in this type of scenario.
Traditional Question Examples
- Why KPMG?
- Why international tax?
- What are your strengths?
- What’s your biggest weakness and how have you tried to overcome it?
- Tell me more about yourself
- Where do you see your yourself in 10 years?
- What is your dream job?
- What do your first 30 days in this job look like?
- What can Deloitte offer you that the other Big 4 can’t?
- How well do you work do in a team setting?
- Walk me through your resume
- Describe your personality
- Do you like to travel? Why/why not?
- Tell me about your hobbies
- How would you describe your leadership skills?
- Why should I hire you?
- What makes you stand out?
- What’s the most difficult thing you’ve ever had to do?
- Sell yourself to me
- When are you the happiest?
- You’ve mentioned [x] on your resume. Why is that relevant to this job?
- How would you go about firing a troublesome employee?
- Do you have any other job offers from the other Big 4?
- How do you handle criticism?
- Will you be comfortable working 50 hours a week? How do you know?
- What do you like to do for fun?
- Why didn’t you do an internship with us?
- Do you prefer to be criticized or praised?
- What books are you reading right now?
- Are you into the big picture or the detail?
- What’s the one skill you have that will be most valuable in this position
Case Study Question Examples
- Your client is a mining company that was consistently earning $500 million a year. This year it has lost $50 million and no one knows why. How do you turn it around?
- Your client is Microsoft. The year is 1985. They have just released the first version of Windows. They want you to estimate the demand for this product over the next 30 years and tell them if there is a market for this invention (and prove it).
- Your client owns a number of beach resorts. Half of their portfolio was recently hit by a giant tidal wave and suffered significant damage. They are currently deciding whether to liquidate the assets or rebuild. What would your recommendation be and why?
- Your client is a movie theater and the market is so competitive that they make no money on the movies. All the profit is made in food and other related sales. What is most effective way to layout the theater to increase profitability and why?
- Mercedes claims it is the safest car in the world because fewer people die in a Mercedes than in a car made by any other manufacturer in the world. What’s wrong with this conclusion and how could you test it for accuracy?
- Your sister runs a lemonade stand. Yesterday was Monday and she was open from 2pm – 5pm and sold 2 cups. What should she do differently tomorrow?
Brainteaser Question Examples
- How do you define greatness?
- What is the similarity between a milk carton and a tractor?
- What is the meaning of work?
- How long would it take to move an average sized mountain from one side of the U.S. to the other using a teaspoon?
- If you were an animal what would you be and why?
- How much water is contained in all the world’s oceans?
- If this room was completely sealed and covered in concrete, how would you attempt to escape?
You’ll notice that there are no technical questions here!
This isn’t a mistake. By their nature technical questions are almost infinite depending on your specialism. Check out the resources we mentioned above to get more information on technical questions.
The EndWell that was fun! I truly hope you found something useful in all this.
Here at Big 4 career LAB we want to share as much information about the Big 4 hiring process as possible. We want to help you succeed.
If you found this in-depth guide helpful, then I know what else you’ll find helpful…our Big 4 Interview Guide. It was written by a team of Big 4 Partners and Senior Managers (with over 100 years of experience) especially for early career recruits. It includes everything you’ll ever need to know about the Big 4 interview process and goes into much greater detail on all of the points above, plus a great deal more.
Finally, let us know in the comments if you have any personal experiences of Big 4 interviews!
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