Internships at the Big Four
The easiest way to get a full-time job at one of the Big Four accounting firms is through the internship process. Each of the public accounting firms hires a large class of interns from all of the top schools and from many regional schools each year. A majority of these interns will receive full-time offers at their internship firms.
If you want a job at one of the Big Four firms, remember you have only four chances to get a job. These opportunities are each precious, so prepare thoroughly ahead of time. Know all the answers to the typical questions (discussed later in this chapter). No matter what your goal is, in order to succeed in getting a good internship, you need to be well prepared for all of your interviews.
For internship interviews, most of the questions will be "behavioral" (rather than technical questions about accounting). But you should be prepared for some of the basic technical questions. Competition is fierce -- know why you want to work in accounting, why at that specific firm and why they should hire you. These are some of the basic questions. There are more questions listed in the interview section.
If your goal is to end up full-time at one of the Big Four, but don't land an internship at one of the them, don't lose hope -- you can still get a full-time position. The next step is to make sure that you obtain an internship in a related position.
For instance, you can work at a smaller public accounting firm, a government institution or in an accounting role within the corporate finance or accounting departments of a large corporation. Even relevant work at a small company can help. "In my sophomore year in college," says one senior tax accountant at a Big Four firm, "I was the accountant for a small, local heating and air conditioning company. I pretty much handled their little general ledger and prepared their federal and state tax returns, nothing too complicated. Later, when I was interviewing with the Big Five [sic], they were very interested in my small company experience, even though I had since worked for a large investment bank and had a summer internship at one of the Big Five."
The value of summer internships
Summer internships are valuable because they offer the student a chance to get a sense of their early job responsibilities. Usually, summer interns perform work similar to work done by full-time employees in their first year of employment. Another possibility is to consider taking a semester off from classes to pursue an internship with a firm during their "busy season," typically the period between January and April. This can result in credit toward an accounting degree as well as a large lead in climbing the experience curve. Many public accountants claim they learn more during this period than any other time during the year. Stated one former senior accountant at a large firm, "Learning definitely comes in waves within this industry. Those particular three months represent a tidal wave of learning and work."