Big 4: Breaking in, Types of Roles, and a Little Bit of Hollywood

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Have you ever wondered if anyone checks to make sure the Academy Awards aren't rigged? As it turns out PricewatershouseCoopers (PwC) has been auditing The Academy Of Motion Pictures since 1934. Every spring, during the prestigious ceremony, before any Oscar award winner's name is announced a PwC accountant first delivers the envelope containing the name to the stage. This particular piece of trivia has become common knowledge since a December 2012 interview with Actor Hugh Jackman, by The Sun. Jackman describes his childhood experience watching the Academy Awards with his accountant father to see the accountants not the actors.

This provokes two questions for any non-CPA aspiring to work for one of The Big Four accounting firms (PwC, Ernst and Young, Deloitte, and KPMG). One, what qualifications do you need to do this kind of auditing? And Two. What other kinds of positions like this are out there?

Before these questions can be addressed it is important to understand that The Big Four segregate their service lines into three segments Audit, Tax, and Advisory. The Advisory department, usually, handles these kind of irregular audits. Advisory branches are in the business of consulting and consequently being a CPA is not a requirement. Although having your CPA license never hurts when you are knocking on the door of a CPA firm for a job.

Advisory careers can range from regulatory and compliance advisory to transfer pricing to everything in between. Somewhere in that in between are non-financial audits. So, what kinds of projects could you wind up working on? The beauty of a career in non-financial audits is that there is an increasing demand for them in almost every sector. For example KPMG frequently works with hospitals doing audits to ensure facilities are in compliance with new HIPAA regulation. Ernst and Young audits The Nielsen Ratings, and Deloitte regularly does audits pertaining to Aerospace and Defense.

It is important when you are job-hunting at a firm like this to know exactly what it is you want to do and exactly what kinds of qualifications you need to do it, because they know exactly what they are looking for in a candidate. So you're not a CPA, or you are, [your last name] comma what will get you a gig like this? After talking to a manager at Ernst and Young about a position auditing The Nelson Ratings the answer is ISACA.

ISACA offers a variety of credentials that do not have any prerequisites beyond a bachelor's degree. The most widely recognized of these is the CISA (Certified Information Systems Auditor). The CISA exam tests you on information systems, but more importantly it tests you on audit guidelines, standards, and techniques. It is for these reasons the CISA is so coveted by employers. ISACA says "CISA is to audit what CPA is to accounting".

Once your resume is set to land you an interview it is important to remember these firms have a big focus on culture. Expect more behavioral interviews as apposed to technical interviews, at least at the entry level. It is extremely important to them, as it should be to you, to make sure they are as good a fit for you as you are for them. It is also worth mentioning that numerous other middle market accounting firms, like McGladrey and Grant Thorton are branching out into these fields of practice. If a big four environment isn't what you're looking for you it would be well worth your time to get in touch with a recruiter at one of these firms.