For many accountants, the Big Four accounting firms represent the dream. Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG, and PricewaterhouseCoopers are each enormous in size, with incredibly stable career options—and plenty of ways to work your way up within the company. If you’re looking for career stability, a high salary, or the potential for long-term growth, you won’t find many superior options.

However, it can be a real challenge when pursuing a career with these major accounting firms—the level of competition you’ll face is fierce. There are hundreds of thousands of people working for each of these firms, and each year, they face more applicants than they can reasonably handle. Which means your application may get buried amongst the crowd.

So, how can you be one of the applicants who lands a job with the Big Four?

Understand The Big Picture

Ultimately, there are three ways you can dramatically increase your chances of getting a job with the Big Four:

1.  Qualifications.   First, you need to be sufficiently qualified to work at one of the Big Four accounting firms. These are prestigious businesses, so they tend to only hire the most impressive candidates with the right educational background, training, and certifications.

2.  Differentiation.   A Big Four firm receives tens of thousands of new applications every year. Why are you worth hiring over everyone else? If you have the same resume they’ve seen a thousand times, you’re not going to stand out. You need some way to differentiate yourself in a positive way.

3.  An “In.”    It’s also helpful to have an “in.” Have you ever heard the phrase: “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know?” This saying exists for a reason; businesses are much more likely to hire and work with someone if they have an existing successful employee vouching for them. It’s much less risky than taking a gamble on a total stranger. You may debate the merits of this approach, but that doesn’t change the fact that getting your foot in the door with a warm introduction can be a massive advantage.

9 Expert Tips for Getting Into the Big Four

These individual tips can all help you increase your chances of getting hired with one of the Big Four accounting firms:

  1. Be open to all options.   You may have a singular preference among the Big Four. However, it should be obvious that you’ll instantly quadruple your chances of getting hired at one firm if you apply to all four. Keep your options open throughout the application process and get to know each of these firms a little better.
  2. Get excellent grades.   Ideally, you’ll go to a school with a strong reputation for its accounting education program. But even if you’re going to a lesser-known school, you can tremendously increase your chances of getting hired by getting excellent grades. If all other factors are equal, a better grade point average (GPA) can help you get the edge over a fellow applicant.
  3. Pass the CPA exam.   While some accountants save the CPA exam for later in their career development, it’s better to pass the CPA exam early. The CPA exam will qualify you as a Certified Public Accountant—a designation that not all people in the accounting firm earn. This will immediately distinguish you from competing applicants and demonstrate just how serious you are about this career. Of course, it’s not easy to pass the CPA exam, and many people fail the first few times they take it. If you want the best chance to succeed, you’ll need the help of a CPA exam review course and other studying materials.
  4. Take advantage of fall recruiting.   The Big Four accounting firms usually work hard to recruit promising young candidates from major colleges and universities—especially in the fall during Meet the Firms. Make sure to go to your college’s job fair and look for representatives from these firms. It could lead to a valuable opportunity.
  5. Professionally network.   If you don’t make it to the job fair, or the Big Four aren’t in attendance, it’s a good idea to try and find an “in” through professional networking. Meet up with other professional accountants in your area and get to know them personally. Joining an organization like Beta Alpha Psi is also looked upon favorably by the Big Four and can help expand your network. If you cultivate strong professional relationships, you’ll greatly increase your chances of getting hired—and if you don’t make it into the Big Four, you’ll certainly make it into another firm.
  6. Land an early internship.   Interns don’t always get hired full-time, but being an intern can greatly increase your chances of getting hired. Consider taking on any internships offered by the Big Four, especially in your Junior and Senior year.
  7. Find a niche for yourself.   It’s also a good idea to try and find a niche for yourself. Consider what sets you apart from other competing applicants and emphasize that uniqueness on your resume. For example, have you studied data analytics? Did you minor in some other relevant field? Do you have skills or abilities that no one else will list?
  8. Submit your paperwork professionally.   If you’re going through a conventional application process, always make sure you submit your paperwork professionally. Ensure you have all the right documents attached and proofread them for accuracy.
  9. Have a backup plan.   Even if you follow all of these tips and look like an amazing candidate on paper, there’s no guarantee you’ll land a job with the Big Four. Accordingly, it pays to have a backup plan in place.

As discussed, one of the best ways to increase your chances of landing a job with the Big Four is to pass the CPA exam as soon as possible. This exam is challenging even for experienced accountants, so it’s important to do your homework ahead of time. One of the best ways to prepare is with Wiley’s CPA Review Course, which will introduce you to all the fundamentals and make sure you have all the greatest content and tools you need to pass.

Want to learn more about the CPA exam?

Get your free eBook: Essential Guide to the CPA Exam and get everything you need to know about starting the process of becoming a CPA.