What PWC, E&Y, KPMG, Deloitte and Other Top Accounting Firms Look For in Resumes & CVs

Even if you have already secured your interviews, you should still read this article, because it explains why you were selected, what biases the firms have, and what areas of concerns the firms may have that they will likely test you on during the in-person interview.

In other words, what follows is an explanation of how PWC, E&Y, KPMG, Deloitte and other accounting firms think about recruiting new accountants.

Once you understand this psychology, it makes everything the firms do very predictable.

In addition, my comments are largely true regardless of which level position you are applying to (analyst, associate, , experienced hire, etc..)

To start, let me dispel one myth: Resume Format.

Many people obsess over how the resume is formatted. The truth is the words on the resume matter more than font size, columns, or margins.

Simple example, if I see a resume that has the “wrong” margins but the resume says, “Harvard University, #1 in Class, Physics” (okay, I’m not even sure if Harvard ranks or has a physics degree)… I willnotice the resume.

So the first big takeaway is this: WHAT you say matters more than how you FORMAT what you say.

In screening resumes, I have seen dozens if not hundreds of formats. Many different formats can work. The most important thing is the major accomplishments are easy to read.

Here is what the big firms are looking for:

1)       Academic Performance (GPA)

2)      Evidence of Leadership and People Skills

3)      High Achievement Extra Curricular/ Career Experiences (Proportional to Length of Career or time in school)

Let me explain WHY each one is important.

1.       Academic Performance (GPA)

The top accounting firms want to know if you are smart. It helps to put your GPA on your resume. Moreover, if you are applying through campus recruitment you will notice that they almost always ask for a transcript.

If your school’s grading system is not well understood by others, you should explain the grading scale your school uses. Most US schools use a 4.0 GPA system – perfect marks is a 4.0 GPA out of a possible 4.0. However, I know some Canadian schools use a 12.0 GPA system.

If yours is different or you are applying from one country to an office in a different country, then you want to put on your resume some way for the reader to interpret your GPA (put your rank or put your %… like top 1% of class, something along those lines).

There is not a cutoff and the standard will vary by school. When I talk about “Academic Performance” I don’t mean you need to have a supremely high “Overall GPA” – although that would be nice. The recruiter could look at your poor transcript and notice an A+ in an accounting course and that would be enough to demonstrate academic performance.

For example, I knew a colleague who had a solid B- average but his accounting and business courses were above a B+. He got an interview and the job.

My GPA was a B+ at the time I applied to the major firms… so nowhere near perfect, but in hindsight it was “good enough” when combined with other factors to get many interviews.

2.      Evidence of Leadership & People Skills

Being smart is not enough to do well at PWC, E&Y, KPMG & Deloitte. You also need to be able to work with clients who sometimes will not like you or resent you.

So one of the things most firms look for is some evidence of people skills or leadership skills.

The firms want to know you can handle a difficult interpersonal situation — especially any one involving high stress, deadlines, inter-personal conflicts.

You will get asked about these kinds of leadership scenarios in your interview. They also look for it in your resume and cover letters too.

If you have these experiences, PUT IT IN THE RESUME. It is a big mistake if you do not.

These experiences can include:

* Extra-curricular activities.

* Specific experiences at a particular job (especially people-skill type accomplishments that might not normally be valued by other employers in that industry, but would be valued by PWC, E&Y, KPMG, and Deloitte.)

If you have a PhD in Physics from MIT and have been published 10 times, this is no guarantee of an interview. Here’s why.

With a PhD in Forensic Accounting from MIT, it is assumed you have the analytical skills to do the quantitative aspect of the job. But now the firms want to know if you can work with people… or if you are a brilliant but arrogant ass.

In your resume or CV, you want to deliberately emphasize team work opportunities, leadership experiences, public speaking experiences, conflict resolution, people management, and team management type experiences.

Now if you had a PhD in Forensic Accounting but also did sales jobs to pay your bills during school and you were the top producing sales person, that would be intriguing… and clearly someone worth interviewing.

In other words, you need to be the OPPOSITE of the stereotype for your area of academic study.

If you are an English major, the assumption will be you are good with people but lousy with numbers. On your resume, you need to prove the opposite to be true.

3)      High Achievement Extra Curricular/Career Experiences (Proportional to Length of Career or time in school)

For applicants of all types (undergrad, post-MBA, experienced hires), the firms are looking for an impressive (career trajectory vs. length of career) ratio. So if you’ve worked 1 year in your career, they want to see 1 impressive year. If you’ve worked 10 years, they want to see 10 impressive years.

Similarly, if you are in school – the firms are looking to see what you have accomplished during your time in school.

Things to emphasize in describing job experiences:

  • Emphasize OUTCOMES, not just responsibilities.
  • When possible, quantify your accomplishments with numbers.
  • Don’t write everything you did on the job, focus on what is most relevant to accounting firms.

For example, if you have a very technical degree, really good math test scores, 4 years of work experience in a very technical field in a very technical role, it is a waste of space to spend too much time emphasizing your technical accomplishments.

Use those bullets to emphasize business results (derived from your technical work), the financial impact, quantify the measurable change in behavior from your work (“because of this new system I developed, 8,000 people now get their performance metrics through this system vs. 0 when I started,” that sort of thing).

If you have a liberal arts background, a liberal arts major, lots of extra-curricular activities where you showed you were a “people person”… in your job descriptions, emphasize how you audited a small business and resolved their accounting errors while streamlining their balance sheet.”

So the key message here is this:

Pick your job description bullet points strategically.

You don’t have space to put everything you did, so you must focus on emphasizing those things you want to convey about each job to round out your profile.

Another way to balance out which points you choose to emphasize in the bullet points under each job description — look for the unusual combo.

I remember one classmate of mine who was struggling to get into the BIG4. She was a Human Resources major, but took several advanced math and accounting classes — well over my head as a Quantitative Economics Major — and got perfect grades in each of them. That’s an unusual combo.

If you have an unusual combination of skills, be sure that comes through in your resume. Bust the stereotype that you might get type cast in.

Thoughts on Resume Formatting 

Many different formats work, but a few general “common sense” rules of thumb apply:

* Put your education experiences at the top. Make sure the name of the school you went to is easy to read.

Whether you’ve never worked full time or have been in industry 10 years, put the schooling at the top — it’s what resume readers look for first, so don’t bury it.

* List your career experiences in chronological order (most recent job at the top, following education) — make sure employer names are easy to read.

* Keep the resume concise — 2 pages max

* Use bullets to save space. Keep the points short and to the point. A good rule of thumb is 2 – 4 bullets per job experience, ideally most bullets being 1 line long.

* Make sure the font size is easy to read. Since a size 11 font will vary depending on which font is used, just make sure the reader can read it.

* Make sure to bold all school names and employer names. No need to bold your job titles. Recruiters look at employer name first, job title second.

Emphasize the things that will catch a recruiter’s eye first, draw them into reading the resume, and then discovering everything else you have to offer.

If you worked for a “no name” employer, but all your clients were famous… list the client names (possibly bold them too… might be a little over the top, but at least it will get seen).

So you worked for “John Doe Accounting Firm”… but the client you worked with most was Bill Gates or the founders of Google, say that!

This is not resume writing, it is marketing!

* Do NOT include everything you ever did in your life. The point of a resume is NOT to write a personal biography. The point is to SELL YOU.

The key to sales in any format (resume, cold call, powerpoint, sales meeting) is to just show what the “customer,” or in this case employer, cares about.

* Use language and descriptions that the resume reader will understand. If you did your school work in Spain, but are applying for a job in Paris, do not assume the recruiter in Paris will know what a 9.5 GPA is… explain it is a 9.5 (out of 10.0) GPA.

If you won an equivalent of a Nobel Prize in your field, say won “XYZ Award – awarded to 1 person out of 10,000 applicants.”

These are phrases that any resume reader can understand.

YOU MUST UNDERSTAND THE AUDIENCE before you write your resume.

Do NOT assume they have the sufficient background to appreciate your accomplishments; you need to explain them on your resume.

Additional Resources

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Comments (1)

  • Jangir


    Hi Aadesh! As an undergraduate student applying for BIG4 interviews for next summer, I found this article incredibly helpful. Last year I didnt have any luck and I suspect my resume had a large part in preventing me from receiving an interview, I can see that I have been doing many things wrong.

    For example I have simply listed responsibilities, instead of talking about the outcomes. I have to look at my application from the hiring managers perspective, I neglected to do that.



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