Four Proven Big 4 Networking TipsA Comprehensive Guide on Networking Better Than Your Peers
If you’re from a non-target school or don’t have any immediate Big 4 contacts, you’re going to have to become rather good at networking.
There’s a reason you will hear this from everyone:
Networking with the Big 4 is incredibly important.
If you don’t do it you won’t get in. Simple as that.
And even if you’re from a target school, standing out amongst your peers is going to be key.
Networking is a topic that could be talked about for hours on end, and it’s something you will have to keep working at to stay good at it. In fact, this is just a taste of the information we go through with our private students.
This guide will help explain one of our most asked about topics. It’ll help you get the ball rolling and get your feet wet in the world of networking.
Networking is “a socioeconomic business activity by which business people meet to form relationships and to recognize, create, or act upon business opportunities, share information and seek potential partners for ventures” (thanks, Wikipedia).
Ok, but how does that apply to you, the next Big 4 recruit?
Well, let’s break down the situation for a second. A Big 4 firm is a giant organization of hundreds of thousands of staff and billions of dollars of revenues.
You are Jonny-Business-Major or Sarah-CPA-from-a-small-audit-firm. To the Big 4 you could be anybody.
Networking helps you bridge that divide through the forming of relationships.
Finding, connecting with, and retaining Big 4 contacts demonstrates that a candidate has sustained interest in a Big 4 career.
This is really important to the Big 4.
“Why do the Big 4 care about sustained interest and how do I ensure I do this?”
They care because sustained interest shows commitment. This is a very important personality trait for an employee of a client service organization. It’s also difficult to determine from a resume (or even an interview).
For starters, you have to make a connection with someone before you begin to build and form relationships with them over time. You can do this either online or in-person, with the latter typically being the most effective.
Forming relationships is the heart and soul of networking. Our aim is to teach you how to do it authentically so you stand out amongst other applicants.
How to form relationships is what we’re going to dive on into next.
Oh, and one last thing: don’t forget to give a firm handshake, smile, and be polite.
Connecting Effectively Through LinkedIn
Only a few years ago, networking primarily required going out into the real world and real meeting people (what a concept!).
While you definitely still need to do this (see below), it’s a pretty scary thing to do. The internet has made connecting with others far easier.
Even if you do nothing else, this is where you should initially focus a lot of your effort because it can be so effective.
If you attend a non-target school, are going the experienced hire route, or are coming from a unique background, connecting online is imperative for your success. In fact, the scenarios are so unique we wrote an entire guide for you here.
If you are coming from a target school, consider this supplementary. This is because you will have the opportunity to meet the firms and network plenty in person (that’s where the Big 4 are actively seeking recruits).
So what are the best ways to connect with someone at the Big 4, and specifically someone that can help you?
There’s only one: LinkedIn
…and you already knew that.
But the real question on everyone’s mind is, “How do I use LinkedIn to succeed?”
Using LinkedIn to Win
Sarah and Sabrina are seniors at the same University, on the same path, with the same GPA. They both want to join the Big 4 in the business tax service line.
They know they will have to use LinkedIn to network with the Big 4 to get an interview. Both decide to start networking on LinkedIn before Fall Recruiting Season gets into full-swing.
What do they do?
Sarah makes a profile. She’s quite tired as she was up late last night. She spends about ten minutes creating it. She doesn’t bother including some of her relevant coursework, as she can’t remember the names. Her profile picture is from Facebook with her boyfriend cropped out (yeah, you can see his arm).
Then it’s time to “network”. She types in “PwC tax” into the search bar and then proceeds to attempt to connect with everyone she can find.
Now let’s look at Sabrina. She also makes a profile. Her first step is to make sure she has a professional headshot, which was taken at the school careers center (on a good hair day). She then spends the time researching pro LinkedIn profile tips.
Her profile matches her resume and in some cases goes beyond. Sabrina details exactly why the skills acquired during her internship at a local multinational would be a great fit for the business tax position.
She then decides to network. Firstly by using the LinkedIn alumni finder she searches for relevant people. She finds a couple people in her target position who attended her school and sends them a courteous (and tailored) email with each connection request.
She then searches more deeply for individuals that appear to have recruiting experience or are actively involved with their Big 4 recruiting initiative. She then sends them a courteous (and tailored) email. She emails and requests contacts from only 7 relevant people in total.
In the morning, she wakes up to find that she has 3 accepted requested and one reply to her email.
Great start Sabrina!
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This Happens in Real Life
This is exactly the kind of person I’d like to get to know. I can even tell exactly what the underlying profile will look like (and I can assure you it did).
This is a great networking strategy.
This is the level you need to be at. While there’s a lot of people around on LinkedIn, it’s pretty easy to stand out.
Note: This is the default note that gets sent when you connect.
Guess whether or not I accepted this request.
Confidently Connecting In-Person
Networking in-person is by far the most effective and fastest way to build lasting personal relationships. What online has in terms of ease, in-person wins out every time in terms of effectiveness.
It literally (and I’m not exaggerating here) takes one good conversation with someone in a position of influence to land you an interview, if not a job.
To keep things simple, let’s focus on the two main areas when it comes to networking:
- Finding the conversation
- Having the conversation
Finding the Conversation
Well, this is actually the challenging part of the process:
Identifying the right people to speak with.
In any event, talking to someone that works at your target Big 4 or service line is going to be helpful. You will understand the role better and may even gain some insights which will look great in an interview.
It’s important to note that not everyone you meet will be a decision maker in the recruiting process.
Your job is to identify the decision makers. That’s why we advocate some alternative methods of finding the conversation and ultimately getting that Big 4 interview.
The standard (non-alternative) method is the careers fair. It’s a great place to start, but it’s pretty difficult to stand out from the crowd, and especially difficult to even attend if you’re not from a target school. Plus the primary downside is that careers fair recruiters are not usually the decision makers.
Sure, if you can get their email address and strike up a meaningful relationship that’s really great and we encourage that, but at a career fair everyone else is trying to do the same and so it’s not always the most effective Big 4 networking strategy.
What you really need is to be where the decision makers are.
And where are the decision makers? That’s the fun part.
- University Staff: Now I don’t mean go to your career center because you’re already done that, right? Go straight to the big dogs. If you’re in an accounting program, ask your program lead if he/she knows anyone in the Big 4. Accounting professors are usually either ex-Big 4 or know someone who is there. And the people they know will be very senior indeed. If your professor likes you and they recommend you to a senior partner, say hello to a potential way into the Big 4.
- Society Events: These can either be formal (such as getting involved with your local CPA chapter) based on some other personal factor (like NABA) or informal events like this one. Get involved and see who you can meet.
- Personal Connection: Asking everyone you know for a personal connection. It is likely that someone you know will know someone that works at the Big 4, and if they’re senior enough then it really doesn’t matter what field they are in, you will get an interview. People often don’t like asking for favors from family, friends, or mentors. Please don’t be one of them.
- Sponsored Events: A marathon or walk, sponsored by a Big 4. This is classic. There will be many senior people in attendance at a sponsored event, usually with their Big 4 branded t-shirt on to make it easy for you! These events are rare though and not always easy to find.
Having the Conversation
In reality it’s the most rewarding part, especially once you’re good at it. And you will be after doing it a few times.
If I could give you only one tip to succeed it would be this: Don’t be weird.
Talking about work is fine, but make it interesting.
A good question might be: “I understand that KPMG recently advised on a large merger between X Corp and Y Inc. It must be interesting working on a project like that. What are the kind of challenges you might face during that type of project?”
A bad question would be: “What’s the intern application process like?” or “What are the GPA requirements for tax? or even worse “How do I get a Big 4 interview.”
But you know what? The #1 thing that you have to get right is your elevator pitch.
Let’s dig in.
The Importance of Selling Yourself
It’s a way to tell someone about yourself quickly and concisely, while still making an impact.
They’re quick to create, easy to memorize, and flexible enough you can use them in various scenarios. A pitch is also a fantastic opportunity to make a strong first impression.
In short, they’re the ideal way to begin the process of selling yourself.
Why You Need One and When to Use It
As soon as you step into the elevator, a partner you recognize from Meet the Firms gets in right behind you. She doesn’t recognize you – she met over 300 people at that event. Nevertheless, she still introduces herself and asks if you’re recruiting with the firm.
You confirm that you indeed are, just as you press “31” and the doors are closing. She turns to you and says…
“So, tell me about yourself.”
You know you’ll be arriving to your destination within 15 seconds or less, so you start giving her the shortest version of your pitch. It’s one of three versions you made in preparation for recruiting season. Capitalizing on this opportunity, you get a business card with the intent to follow-up with her when you get home.
You need an elevator pitch so you don’t get caught off guard (or have a panic attack) in a situation like that.
Typically in an interview, you’ll be asked, “Tell me about yourself” or “Walk me through your resume”. Both of which are an opportunity to give your pitch or a little longer version of it.
At networking events, I’d say you reasonably have between 30 seconds to 1 minute to deliver your pitch. At a dinner party or more formal setting, continue to condense it down.
All of these situations lend you with the strong opportunity to conclude with a follow-up question as well.
This is valuable because you can ask something to be remembered by, or simply ask something you’ve really been wanting to find out. Your time at networking events is valuable and limited. This is a crucial part of the process.
The Goal is to Come Off as Natural as Possible
My goal is always to tell the person that I have a skill they need and a desire to fulfill that need.
I almost always end with an intent and/or a question. You’ll see what I mean when we get to the example below. The key here though is to have a plan and become comfortable selling yourself.
Remember, authenticity is key here.
You are reciting from a script technically, but you want to pitch yourself in a way that’s natural and not robotic.
Plus, you’re going to become flexible with your pitch. This means you’ll be able to change up the details of what you say based on the person you’re speaking with and the situation you’re in. That comes with experience and the more experience you have the less of a “script” you’re reading from.
I’ve been in plenty of situations where you sort of know something about the person beforehand (like they work in Tax for instance). This allows me to tailor the question to the person I am talking to.
Another example of this is if you overheard that someone was part of the same student organization as yourself, or is interested in the same hobby as you. This is an opportunity to connect with another person on an informal level and build a strong connection. My first peer mentor and I connected through a love of motorsports.
Now that you have a better understanding of why you need one, let’s delve into how to make one yourself.
Crafting the Perfect Elevator Pitch
Begin the pitch with either your name or where you’re currently working or going to school at. It just depends on your situation, meaning this is subject to change year by year.
Next, if you’re in school, include something along the lines of where you’re at in your studies (junior, senior) and what University you go to (if it’s not at a University event).
Then I like to throw in the student organizations (if it’s not a student organization event), any past work experience or internships and leadership experience. Here you can add in a future goal, like obtaining your CPA license, if you desire.
If I am going for a longer pitch, I’ll include interests and hobbies or a quip about them at least.
Then as I said earlier, I always end with an intent or a question. An intent would be, “I am hoping to find out if you are hiring for this position?”, where as question would be, “Tell me your favorite and least favorite thing about working at KPMG”.
If you’re an experienced candidate, begin with your current role and briefly tell them what you do. Then essentially the rest is the same from there.
The key for you is to highlight your CPA license (or relevant designations) if you have it, or any other relatable skills. Like you being an audit intern or staff when applying to the role of an auditor.
If you’re coming from a unique background, this is your opportunity to tell them what you’ve done in the past and why you want to move into public accounting.
Since you’ve never done tax or audit work before, take this opportunity to tell them about how you’re a leader or you meet deadlines or something along those lines.
You have to highlight your soft skills because those are what’s transferable.
These instructions will help you to craft your perfect first pitch. As you become more experienced and comfortable, you’ll begin to develop your own style. In our guides we delve deeper into the more advanced ways to sell yourself through elevator pitches.
Let’s pretend I’m at a networking event and I am next in line to speak with a Senior who works in Big 4, specifically at Deloitte for the sake of simplicity.
Lindsay, Deloitte Senior: “Hello, my name is Lindsay. How are you doing today?”
Me: “Hi Lindsay, I’m Seth. It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m doing well today, thanks. How about yourself?”
Lindsay, Deloitte Senior: “I’m great! It’s been a busy day with work and the event, but it’s going well. So, why don’t you start by telling me a little bit about yourself?”
Me: “Sure thing! I’m a junior here at the University and I plan on graduating within the next two years with my Masters. After that, I plan to get my CPA and work in the Big 4, specifically in Tax. Currently, I’m a Vice President with Beta Alpha Psi and I’m an intern at Invesco where I help prepare various financial statements. I also really enjoy competing in martial arts tournaments in my free time. My aim here today is to find out more about you and get some insights into what it would be like to work at Deloitte. Could you tell me more about what you do and what made you choose Deloitte?”
My example isn’t perfect, but it’s a strong starting point. It’s also very straightforward (31 seconds when I timed it).
I’ve successfully construed:
- When I’m graduating (they’re going to ask probably to see whether or not you are trying to intern or be a full-timer)
- That I plan to get my CPA (they will definitely want to know this)
- What general service line I want to work in (hopefully you’re already speaking with someone in the service line you want to work in, if not they can redirect you right away)
- That I have some leadership experience (VP in student organization)
- I have some work experience via an internship (wow, this guy balances a lot and a reputable company has hired him already)
- That I have interests outside of school and work
- I have some intent with being here at the event (“my aim here today…”)
I also made it personal by redirecting the question to their personal experiences. Remember, people love talking about themselves.
Now that you have a general framework, let’s take a look at what most people end up messing up on.
When helping people with their pitch, I always end up having to help them cut it down to the really important bits. I’m talking people have pitches that are 3 to 5 minutes in length.
No matter the scenario, you need to gauge the situation and feel out how long you want to speak for. It’s absurd and rude to give a 5-minute pitch at a networking event. Not only are you wasting your valuable time, you’re wasting the recruiters time.
Plus, no one is going to hold their attention for that long. The easiest way is to time yourself when you practice so you know it’s around 30 seconds.
While being short and to the point is ideal, being vague is a common problem I’ve encountered. Something like, “My name is Seth, I’m a student and I really enjoy watching sports. Currently, my GPA is a 3.7265 and I’m really interested in working for your firm…”
Be intentional with your pitch!
Saying your name a second time, after already mentioning it once. Or, saying you’re a student at your University. Instead say something like, “I’m in my junior year here at the University”. If the event is at your University, it’s safe to assume they know you attend school there.
Not following up with a question. True, it’s not always appropriate to do so, but most of the time it is, so make sure you don’t miss out on asking your top question.
Sounding like a robot. Bleep, bloop! You have to practice your pitch and be natural and confident. Which brings us to our next section…
After You Create Your Pitch
I can’t stress this enough. Practice, time yourself, video yourself, watch your expressions, watch your body language, listen to your tones.
Try to get feedback on this from your mentor, your mom, your dog, literally anyone to help you practice. It’s going to be awkward, but that’s completely normal.
The key here is to do it anyway and then do it again.
And now we’re going to come full circle to really put everything together.
The Art of Following Up
Yet, nearly all of those that did send a follow-up were offered a job.
It makes a big difference. Therefore, this is non-negotiable.
You asked for a business card when you were done talking with the recruiters, right?
Here’s my stack of 95 business cards from a year’s worth of recruiting:
To make your email follow-up as impactful as possible, it must be S.I.T:
Keeping it Short
What you’re aiming for in your email is to elicit an, “that was thoughtful” feeling in the mind of your interviewer.
That’s it, nothing more, nothing less.
The note will not get you the job on it’s own, but if you’re a borderline candidate and the other person did not send an interview follow-up note, it will put you at a definite advantage.
Make sure you stick to one paragraph. That is all you need.
Bonus points to you if you do a handwritten card. Talk about standing out!
Send it Right Away
Without fail, pretty much every Big 4 thank you note I have ever received from a candidate arrives at least a day after the interview.
But guess when most of the decisions are made?
Yep, almost immediately after the interviews have finished.
When you have your next interview, make sure you send that immediate thank you email as soon as you are done.
Better yet, prepare it before you even arrive for the interview. But don’t fall into the trap of not tailoring it.
Tailor Your Thank You Note
Here’s an example of a non-tailored email that one of our mentors received recently. It couldn’t be any more generic if it tried.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today about the Consultant position. I really enjoyed learning more about the program, and I am excited about the prospect of working for this division!
I look forward to staying in touch.”
How much would you like to bet that all the interviewers received the same email and it was written weeks before the interview even happened. We know!
On the flip side, here’s an example of a much better follow up note:
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to me. I had a great time talking to you about my financial experience working at [company] and my other interests. I loved how passionate you were when you talked about [Big 4] and the Charity Day. It really showed how great the company and its culture are.
I would love the opportunity to be part of this company that invests so heavily in their employees.
Thank you again for your time.
See the difference?
Taking that extra few minutes to tailor your response makes it so much more thoughtful.
This leads on to another point… remember that business card you asked for earlier? Don’t be afraid to take notes on paper or on the back of that business card. Did this person mention something specific? Don’t forget!