How to Master your Interview with PWC, E&Y, KPMG, and Deloitte

Question:

I am sure you get many messages like this, but I would just like to thank you for all the materials and information on your website, as they have been instrumental in helping me secure my undergrad offer with Deloitte.

My story is somewhat similar to yours, in that I worked extremely hard in my first and second year of university, received an interview with PWC and was subsequently rejected. I can honestly say that I completely bombed the first interview (scheduled for 30 minutes, ended in ten minutes).

Then I began to study your videos, audios, articles, and even success stories as core preparation, with supplementary materials from the accounting firms recruiting site.

Though these were good, I felt your approach to tackling the BIG4 interview worked out much better because of its simplicity and flexibility.

Then your Accounting Interview Domination® Book and Video/Audiorecordings really solidified the principles and demonstrated how each should be applied in practice.

In two weeks, I went from having no knowledge about interviewing with the BIG4 to easily connecting my previous experiences, education, and who I am to demonstrate FIT for the position. Something, I had failed to do previously.

The Winning Interview Success Formula in your book really hit home with me.

Like you said, it is about forming a habit in consistently demonstrating your thought process to the interviewers, being more client-friendly, and other “intangible” factors that make up the difference between those who almost get the offers vs. those who actually get offers.

I learned this the hard way through numerous rejections.

But there’s an inherent gap between knowledge and practice, and you helped bridge that.

Ultimately, you have my gratitude. Your advice helped me to get my dream job, and have dramatically altered my career track. Rock on.

Hints for candidates: use one guide as your core preparation!

Don’t try to memorize BIG4 interview success approaches from all sources, as they will often confound your knowledge base and make it confusing. There is a frustrating amount of incorrect information about the BIG4 interview online that it is important you stick to one preparation method.

Find the one that fits well with your thought process and stick with it.

Then the next step is to “own” that particular approach by tailoring specific approaches to your thought process so it becomes natural rather than forced.

This is extremely important, since it will allow your creativity to flow, without appearing disorganized and/or unstructured.

Also, do as many sample PWC, E&Y, KPMG, and Deloitte questions as possible.

My Reply:

Nice job on the Deloitte offer, I do love the enthusiasm.

I’m glad that my materials and Accounting Interview Domination were helpful to you in getting your offer. You mentioned so many subtle, yet terribly important things, that I wanted to highlight those points for others… as they are often easy to overlook.

There are lots of little things that separate a candidate who does a good job in a BIG4 interview vs. an excellent job. While it’s not necessary to be perfect on every interview question, it is necessary to come pretty close most of the time.

As you mentioned, it is far easier to have a higher success rate and be more consistent if you have good habits and are using them in a disciplined fashion.

Basically I think of the recruiting process as a race against time.

The more your prepare and practice, the better you get – this is a given.

So the million dollar question is actually – When will you get better? By the time you master the BIG4 interview, will you have any interview opportunities left?

It is quite noteworthy (and quite common I might add) that while you ended up with an offer, you had many rejections along the way.

Basically, those earlier interviews were simply opportunities to help you improve your skills. When the Deloitte interview rolled around, you were finally able to get all the pieces to fall into place to deliver a great performance.

When people get rejected from a BIG4 position, they generally fall into two categories.

1) Those who are just not a good fit for the position (like forcing a round peg into a square hole); and

2) Those who are a good fit, but their learning curve timing vs. the number of interview opportunities available were in conflict, and they ran out of time before they finally reached mastery level.

I do get a fair number of emails from people who “miss” by just a little.

If you’ve been following the success stories in my emails, you will notice some of those people figured out what they did wrong, fixed it, and worked like crazy over the next 12 – 24 months to try again — and succeeded (though it is much harder the second time around, mostly due to self-imposed pressure, which really can be enormous if you don’t keep it in check).

I continue to feel that the best practice approach to BIG4 interview preparation is to use a 50/50 combo of Accounting Interview Domination® and live practice with a partner.

As you know from your own experience of getting pretty good in just two weeks, Accounting Interview Domination® gets you up the learning curve fast.

It helps you build good habits.  Once you have good habits, you use live practice with a partner to improve your consistency under stress.

Live practice simulates stress in a way the book can not. Conversely, just doing live practice without book is a slower process.

That’s because you don’t always pick up on all the little subtleties that would jump out at you when you are able to compare your answer to a “best practice” answer on a minute-by-minute basis in an interview.

Or unless your practice partner has formerly worked at the BIG4 or interviewer, your partner  is not going to notice the subtle mistakes you might be making.

Often these are the mistakes you don’t even realize you are making until you get a rejection from one of the firms you are interviewing with — but that lesson comes at a very steep price because now you are a (N – 1) firms remaining.

This whole idea of managing speed to competency is surprisingly important in recruiting because you are constantly working against the clock.

Which happens first? You master the BIG4 interview or you run out of interview opportunities?

By the way, this is the reason why those who start their PWC, E&Y, KPMG and Deloitte interview practice efforts early, particularly at an intensive level, have a huge advantage.

Trust me… in the days leading up to the interviews, those candidates are practicing like crazy because they lack time.

In contrast, folks just starting their recruiting process almost always assume they have a lot of time to prepare as the recruiting process unfolds, so their initial efforts are fairly modest. In many cases, this is a missed opportunity.

Here’s why.

If you think of the BIG4 interview mastery as a algebraic formula, I would argue here is what the formula looks like:

Talent x Intensity of Preparation x Time = BIG4 Interview Performance Level

You can’t control your own talent, so all you can control is the intensity level and time.

But, there is a very specific situation that many people sub-optimize.

It’s the situation where the person knows what accounting firms do, knows they want to do it, and are in a situation where their likely interviews are weeks away.

(The rationale is: why work too hard now when you don’t even know if you’re likely to get an interview? This is a valid point.

However, people forget that this is a competitive process for highly sought after jobs. If there is a way to get an edge and you don’t take it, then very likely, someone else will.

Don’t forget that.)

People in these situations have the opportunity to manage both: 1) prep intensity; and 2) time.

Someone in this situation has the option of having a major advantage.

They could prepare as if they had a final round in a week or two, and keep up this intensity for the several weeks preceding the likely time of their first interview.

It’s important to note that I did not say this is an advantage. I said: this situation gives one the option to have an advantage. It is still up to the individual to decide if he or she will exercise this option.

The rationale behind this approach is fairly simple.

By starting a very intense level of preparation extremely early in the recruiting process, you maximize your chances that your skills will hit their peak level before your first interview.

When you delay the intensity level of your practice efforts, you delay the time in which your skills hit their peak.  If you time it well, your skills peak just before your last interview opportunity.

The downside of this approach is you’re just as likely to have your skills peak after your last interview opportunity too — when it basically no longer matters anymore.

So the big takeaway here is: Time is your friend  but only if you take advantage of it.

Now moving on to some other points mentioned earlier. The idea of learning BIG4 interview skills from a single guide, school of thought or teacher is an interesting idea.

Let me explain my perspective on this.  What you have most likely seen me write about are topics related to the BIG4 interview practice process.

And despite the fact that I have written extensively on this topic on my blog, my knowledge of BIG4 interviews represents less than 5% of what I know about the business.

I don’t really ever mention the other 95% because it generally is not relevant.  But, it is useful to keep in mind how I learned the other 95%.

While much of it was from personal experience, I learned a fair amount of that 95% from other people.

So while many people reading this consider me a teacher of sorts, I see myself as much more of a learner/student.  And in that process of learning, I have come across many interesting insights about the learning process.

In closing, there is one thing you will notice if you have been paying close attention to my writings. When it comes to BIG4 interviews (as well as serving clients), each case has layers and layers of insights.

A BIG4 interview is like an onion. As you peel off one layer, you discover the next (which was not possible to see until the outer layer was removed first).

Whenever you hear interviewers giving feedback using words like “you need to drill down deeper,” “find secondary and tertiary drivers, not just primary ones,” “good structure, but lacking sufficient insight,” “good analytics but business acumen needs some work,” those are all code words for the same thing.

You didn’t peel off enough layers of the onion.

And the ability for one to do that is a function of BIG4 interview mastery… and mastery is a function of preparation intensity x time available to prepare.

All the best,

Aadesh

Additional Resources

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