Background to the Big 4 Change in Criteria for Traineeships
If you are in your final year in the UK at College, aiming for a Big 4 firm, you might feel a bit peeved by this news. I am sorry about that. When things change they can change fast. If you have been following the Big 4 in recent years, you will be aware of the changing developments towards academic entry requirements into these prestigious firms.
PwC, a few years back, decided to use new methods to hire their trainees. They became focussed on assessing the school 'A level' results and instead used criteria to assess if the actual school was a high performing school or not. They determined that an 'A' from an elite school was easier to achieve than a ‘B’ from a poor performing school. Most of the UK's poor performing schools are state schools in economically challenged areas. This was a massive shout out to underprivileged students to rethink their aspirations and dream big!
Deloitte also has their Bright Start programme running in the UK for a few years for school leavers. KPMG have a school leavers apprenticeship too, of 5 years duration. Now, EY have been actively promoting their take on a school leaver entry option They are scrapping the need for a College degree instead entry criteria minimum is 3 A levels at ‘B’ grade. This is all a giant leap forward by the Big 4. It effectively democratises the firms and makes them an equal opportunities employer, especially for those who can’t afford a college education.
Many companies and international offices of the Big 4 will be watching this development with avid curiosity. But I think there may be a few surprises in store.
Why I think you need to be wary
Let’s take their clients, and the employees of their clients. When preparing for a meeting it is the norm to have a look at the attendees Linked In profiles to try and establish credibility of the person they are meeting and to find common ground. Put yourself in the Clients shoes. You are paying a substantial fee to EY to do your audit or tax work, not to mention consulting fees – Ouch! That fee is based on the understanding that EY are going to send in the brightest team to you whatever the job. Unfortunately, if their client’s employees are University educated, and for most Plc’s, that is often the case in non-admin roles, they are going to make certain assumptions about someone who didn’t go to University and endure the pain that a degree takes to obtain. I don’t think in the immediate short term this is going to sit easy with clients. Change like this is going to take a decade of proven positive results. Even if some of those recruited after leaving school are brighter than their degree educated peers.
Also, how are these non-college educated trainees going to business develop in future years? College is a fantastic networking hub. If a student really applies themselves to the task, they can leave college with not just a degree, but a vast array of contacts, who will eventually be in decision making positions in their respective companies. Who are these contacts going to extend an invite to a meeting to tender as their Auditor? Business Development is mostly about who you know, so that you can at least get a meeting to pitch for the business. How are the Big 4 going to enable these people to network efficiently from what could be a standing start and possibly a zero, relevant, contact base? How are they going to make Director, let alone Partner, if they can’t win business?
My main concern is the elephant in the room – money. Is EY or any of these firms and companies, who are doing away with the need for a college education, going to pay the same salaries, as they have done in the past to college graduates. I think not. I was in Big 4 HR for too long and am very cynical about this PR stunt. I think with technology advances it is becoming increasingly easier to execute on audit and tax assignments than it used to be. Clients know this too, as their own internal accounting software is getting easier to run reports and make filings a doddle. They are querying their bills. I think the status of Accountants is going to decline fast, as AI speeds up. And I think the Big 4 are panicking and the partners, already badly hit in the last recession and a probable looming Brexit induced recession, have hit upon this as a good idea to cut costs, while hoping to preserve their fees.
I don’t think those without a degree are going to be paid the same. I think all the Big 4 see this as an opportunity to cut their salary bill, and probably by a good margin. Deloitte are paying according to Glassdoor Between £15,029 and 24,000 on their Brightstart programme for school leavers, depending on what year you are in and location. Considering a starting graduate salary in the Big 4 in London is over €28,500 (much less in regional offices) this is a big difference and a big saving when the work of the school leaver in their first 5 years on the structured training programme may well be very similar to a 1st year Graduate Trainee. If you look at the comparison between the two programmes, kindly shown on EY’s website, it clearly shows that the work is the same.
'Them' and 'Us' Mentality
I think it will breed a bit of a ‘them’ and ‘us’ mentality amongst the trainee intake, with those holding a degree begrudging, or worse, looking down on those without one. The degree educated will have the pain of paying off their fees from college for a good many years and they will, secretly, I am sure, think it is very unfair. How are the Big 4 going to recompense them? Promotions and bigger bonuses probably. I know firms are offering bigger interest free loans to graduates and much smaller ones to school leavers.
These non-college trainees will have to have backbone and resilience to prove themselves over and over again, not only to their peers, but to the management, partners and clients. EY suspects they have resilience and grit in bucket fulls, which they should have, on paper, if they fought their way up in a poor performing school to achieve 3 ‘B’s. But is EY generalising?
I went to a local Catholic, mixed gender, school. It wasn’t a particularly good school (though it is now), but we didn’t know that at the time and I didn’t get a rough ride. I enjoyed learning along with my cohort of peers in the top stream. I have two degrees to my name too. For my first degree in Business and Finance, I worked every spare hour to pay for just my living expenses in London. But my first degree was free! There were no college fees in my day, if there were I would probably not have gone to University.
I think there is a bit of dubious generalising going on for sure. I know the snobbery that goes on behind closed doors, about those who didn’t attend private school, can be particularly scathing. I never admitted to going to a non-fee paying school. I was lucky to have worked overseas for most of my career, so I rarely got asked what school I went to. But in the UK this is a common, elitist, question.
I have a rounded Surrey accent too and it has helped me to get where I had to get to in my career, otherwise known as a ‘posh’ accent, which I have tempered down over the last decade. This may be another hurdle to overcome for those from rural state schools, who may not have a neutral accent, because make no mistake, we still have a long way to go to accept people of all accents, as being equally intelligent, particularly at more senior levels. If you don’t think that is the case, you are living on another planet.
If you are going through College currently, don’t despair. I think there is a long way to go for this to be fully fleshed out and to be proven. Just make sure you network your peers and leave college with an impressive LinkedIn contacts number, aim for over 1000 contacts by the time you leave college and nurture your relationships with high-fliers after college too.
If you can’t afford to go to college now, and are weighing up options in Accountancy, this news will come as a relief. But as I mentioned, I think the route to Partner will prove much tougher without a college network to tap into. If I were in your shoes, I would try and get into one of the Big 4 now on their relevant Apprentice schemes for school leavers. Then do a degree at college for networking purposes, in your spare time (after your professional qualification exams) and build up a network for use in your thirties to accelerate your career to Director and Partner, if you choose to stay in a Big 4 firm. It can be done. I was working 60-70 hours per week at KPMG and Deloitte, while studying for my second degree in Law. They might even pay for the degree! And befriend every trainee you come across, because you never know where they might go next after qualifying.
I will be watching this space closely, as I expect other employers, in the corporate space and possibly law firms, to follow suit over the next few years. I look forward to seeing the results from the first intake of trainees. I hope they ace their CA exams!
#apprenticeship #big4 #ey #pwc #kpmg #deloitte #schoolleavers #brightstart
Have you ever wondered why not me? Why do I always lose out? Why don’t they base promotions on merit? Why can’t they see I am the most suitable for promotion? Well I am here to shine a light on why you may be getting overlooked and what you can do about it.
Having worked in HR in a host of well-known companies such as Deloitte, Intel, some mid-size and small companies, I have been on the front line in promotion decision making. In fact, I estimate I have been on the promotion internal interviewer panels of various companies about 450 times and still am today, as an outside advisory interviewer capacity.
I have been privy to the after-interview discussions on why they are selecting a particular candidate for the promotion, and often delivering the news to the lucky employee as well as the hardest part - telling the unlucky candidates that they have missed out.
I am separating the information that follows into non-rigorous competency interview and rigorous competency interviews
Here are the criteria used to decide promotions in non-rigorous competency interviews
Rigorous Competency Model Interviews
If you are working for a company or organisation that uses a rigorous competency model internal interview process it can be quite different to the above. I normally see this model used in state or semi-state interviews, which judge the candidate on their competency interview answers alone.
As a competency interviewer trainer I have trained hundreds of interviewers in how to interview internal and external candidates using a rigorous competency model.
Here is the criteria used to decide promotions in non-rigorous competency interviews
The reality with rigorous competency interviews is that it all depends on the interview - full stop. It doesn’t matter if you have worked the hardest, are the best performer in your area, support the organisation fully and have senior management championing you because if you can’t win the interview you are going to get leapfrogged. But the most important element in a competency interview is giving the best evidence about a time that demonstrates the competency. If you have only mediocre evidence and not 'wow' evidence you are not going to impress the interviewer.
I once 'interviewer' trained a group of public sector hiring managers and they had a hard time grasping that this is what HR wanted them to do – promote people just on the interview answers alone! But that is what they have to do, no matter how good you are at your job, you have to be able to prove it in the interview.
What can you do to Help Yourself Achieve a Promotion
Regular Non-Rigorous Competency Interview
For those not in a rigorous competency interview you must have planned the promotion strategy at least a year out from the interview, if you haven’t got most of those points ticked above. If you haven’t got them all ticked you will need a strategy fast, and I can give you the help you need in my Promotion Strategy Programme.
If you have most of the points ticked you still need to shine at interview and I recommend the Internal Interview Programme.
Rigorous Competency Interview Help
For rigorous competency interviews, unless you are ace at these, I suggest getting my help and booking in the Internal Interview Programme.
If you don't have plenty of 'wow' evidence, to make your answers impress at interview, you need an action plan to accumulate the right examples and a strategy to make sure you get promoted. I run a Promotion Strategy Programme that will equip you with the action plan and enable you to impress at future rounds of promotion interviews.
I am Clare Reed and I have over 22 years professional interview experience in various corporates. I worked as Head of Recruitment at Deloitte, KPMG and Intel as well as some SME’s. I set up Interview Ready 11 years ago to help coach people in how to interview brilliantly, at both internal and external interviews, and achieve their goals. I love interviewing so much that I am also an external advisor sitting on many interviewer panels throughout the world and I also train corporate interviewers on the most up to date interviewer techniques so that they can interview candidates professionally.
Did you know that 75% of employers will look at more than just your CV?
Employers have so much information at their disposal now that they can't help t
hemselves but take a peek at your Facebook page, Twitter comments, and of course your Linked In profile.
Your CV has to stand out from the crowd too and be picked up by their talent management software.
There is a lot to do before applying to a new job. Don't leave anything to chance. With this is mind I have created a short free online course for you to take that will give you all the necessary steps you need to take to make the right impression.
Onwards and Upwards!
Because I worked in both KPMG and Deloitte to Senior Management level I often get asked what the Big 4 environment is like from the Graduates I coach every Autumn. They do get the bells and whistles presentations at college and the fancy websites and brochures to read but we all know those are selling hard. The Big 4 enter a huge competition every Autumn fighting to attract the very best candidates to accept their offers. Many top Graduates with excellent academics and placement experience will have the pick of 4 offers if they attend all 4 interviews. So be under no illusion that these firms aren’t selling with every line they write and every word they utter on campus and in videos. So how do you as a Graduate read between the lines and really understand what it is like to work in a Big 4 firm?
Firstly, there are people like me who can give you an excellent and unbiased account of the firm’s dynamics and then there are the anonymous accounts on Glassdoor and other company review platforms, though they can be taken with a pinch of salt, as more often than not it is the grumbling review of someone who didn’t make the cut past their traineeship.
Here are my top eye openers for you to understand what environment you are targeting.
1. There are no guarantees you will make it through the traineeship. If you fail in your exams repeatedly and for no good reason you will not be kept on. If you are applying for an Audit position you will be sponsored to take the Chartered Accountancy exams, the ACA, if you are targeting Tax it will be the professional Tax exams. The Big 4 are a great place to study and work as they get the best exam pass rates. They have excellent training in place to support your studies and you get regulated study leave to give you plenty of time to grind before exams. But outside of study leave you will also be expected to work long hours and study in your spare time too. This can be quite taxing in the busiest parts of the year such as Winter for Audit and Autumn for Tax.
2. You will be expected to work in teams and to enjoy working in teams as the firms are keen on keeping high staff morale to prevent turnover. If you do not enjoy team work you will not enjoy a Big 4 environment.
3. You will be expected to work long hours when required. Sometimes Auditors find themselves working through the night into the early hours of the morning. If you are in the Corporate Finance team this can include several long nights of work in a row and weekends. There really is no such thing as 9-5.30pm in these firms. But saying that, in the summer, when it is quieter, a lot get to leave early on a Friday and holidays/time in lieu are mostly fully taken.
4. A Big 4 firm can be a political environment. The further you go in a firm past Manager level the more competitive it gets. Accountants bill their clients in time units so the more an individual is billing the more chance they have of getting to Director and then Partner level. But to get to Director is tough, in a high numbered team, and not everyone will get there, which creates a level of attrition at Senior Manager level when a lot opt out and move into industry roles.
5. Getting to Partner is very difficult in a Big 4 firm. Only the very best will make it. They will make it by bringing in clients at Director level by doing business development. That means hard core selling. They will engage in contacting companies by ‘cold calling’ them and presenting to them. They will be competing with other firms for this business, so it can also involve excellent charisma and charm and a good deal of contacts in the right decision-making roles. If you don’t like the idea of selling you will not enjoy being a Director and you will not get to Partner level.
6. Partnership is structured into different levels of hierarchy too. There are salaried Partners which is one step up from a Director and the work is very similar, it’s just that they are paid more money than Directors and will have bigger bonuses. Then there are equity Partners, not every salaried Partner will be invited to be an Equity Partner. You get invited to Equity Partner level by bringing in huge clients that generate more fees than salaried Partner employees. They ‘buy in’ to the practice by purchasing equity in the firm. Often a loan arrangement is organised, which they will pay off over a number of years from their earnings.They are technically self-employed.
7. Equity Partners also have a hierarchy depending on the firm and the different amount of equity put into the firm. They will have voting rights and decision-making rights on who gets promoted to Director and Partner level. But the most important thing to note is that if the firm incurs any significant losses the Partnership is expected to bail out the firm using their own funds.Equity Partner earnings differ greatly depending on the billings of the team and so it is vital for them to have large corporate clients and to keep them happy. A Partner will do a lot of entertaining of Clients at C Level after work and at weekends to help keep them happy and as clients. They will also work long hours but not as many as the lower levels in the firm.
Hopefully, some of these ‘eye openers’ will be illuminating. It is vital to enter any role after graduation with your eyes open and I know that at lot of the above is a mystery to most going through the milk-round, particularly those who have no family or friends in one of these firms to talk to.
Please let me know if you have any questions by emailing me
Here is more information on my Big 4 Graduate Interview Coaching.
Recruitment practices ebb and flow with the changes in technology. Sometimes they are organised brilliantly and seamlessly, depending on the intellect of the Talent Acquisition team but unfortunately, they can sometimes be a broken-down dysfunctional mess. A few years ago, that bastion of all that is ‘best practice,’ i.e. Google, decided to start a trend called ‘Pipelining’.
Pipelining, for those of you unfamiliar with the term, means that an internal corporate recruiter can see maybe up to 12 months ahead when particular teams will need to recruit. Their data analytics lets them know roughly how many hires will be required depending on promotional rounds, attrition rates and business growth. For example, a company can hypothetically predict in January that a Sales team will require 10 new hires in September, based on relevant factors so they start advertising roles way ahead of schedule. Before pipelining came along recruitment teams would have waited until maybe 6-8 weeks before hiring in September to begin their candidate search with the expectation that a candidate would have a month’s notice, that would give them another month to source and then time to interview and offer the candidates. Pipelining pre-empts that by sourcing the candidates maybe 3-6 months out, sometimes even longer. The recruiters in the sales hiring example above will start pipelining and sourcing candidates in February, advertising the roles on their website and Linked In and other platforms inviting applications. Then come July they will start interviewing the banked candidates that loaded into their database back in February, so they don’t have to do things at the last minute. It sounds like a good idea doesn’t it?
Why Pipelining Doesn’t Always Work
Unfortunately, there are good and bad pipeline practices everywhere. The main problem arises when the employer doesn’t notify the candidates that they are being pipelined. The candidate thinks they are applying to a live role that is hiring imminently and the candidate would logically expect interviews to happen in the next few weeks. But what is happening is they aren’t being contacted at all to let them know what is happening. Once they have hit send on the application there may be a 6 month wait until they are called to interview. In the meantime, the candidate gets frustrated and annoyed at the lack of contact. They may feel that the role has been filled so they give up their hopes of moving to that company and instead look at other roles, that may not be pipelining, in other companies, and they move on to a new job. All before the first company has contacted them about the ‘pipelined’ job! What a big mess!
Why is this happening?
The reason this is happening is that many companies forget they are not Google. They are not sexy in any way shape or form, Google is like a Super model in comparison to most other companies. Google can afford to pipeline candidates because people are desperate to work there. Also, most of the time, they let the candidates know that they are pipelining, admittedly mostly after the fact than before it, after all they want to create a buzz and get applications in. But at least they manage the candidate’s expectations that they won’t be back in contact for x months.
All the other companies have lost the plot in my humble opinion. They are operating an amateur version of 'Pipelining' and disrespecting their candidates through the lack of communication.
What can you, as a candidate, do about this?
If you are desperate to move jobs, or are out of work, don’t put all your eggs in one basket, you could be waiting a long time for that job. Don’t feel you don’t have a voice, ring up the recruitment team and ask the question, ‘am I being pipelined or is this role interviewing in the next few weeks?’ Few candidates bother to pick up the phone these days, so you won’t be hassling the recruiters to call them on this.
If you are being pipelined, then it is up to you whether to continue holding out for that job or continue your search elsewhere.
Be sceptical when applying to jobs at most large companies, pipelining is a huge trend now, so if you manage your expectations that you may not hear back for some time you won’t get anxious or paranoid that the job has gone.
For more help or advice on this and any part of the application and interview process please don’t hesitate to book in for coaching. All my coaching is completely tailored to your individual needs.
It is Big 4 graduate interview season and if you are fortunate to be invited to all Big 4 interview rounds, congratulations!
Clare Reed is a leading global expert Interview Coach with over 22 years global interviewing and coaching experience.