Big 4 Interview
Big 4 Interviews require a lot of research and preparation. We have prepared the the following 2020 big 4 interview page to be a complete resource to you on your big 4 journey. We want to help you be as successful as possible on your big 4 interview.
First let’s go over what the purpose of a big 4 interview is.
If you are going to go to an interview with a big 4 firm, it is probably good to understand what the purpose of the interview is. Most people just go through the motions with interviews. They think the interview is just another box to check off in the process of getting a job. That’s definitely how I was on my first big 4 interview years ago. I was so scared and unprepared for my interview, and that’s why I wanted to go over the purpose of a big 4 interview here today.
The big 4 know that you don’t have much experience, so they don’t expect you to be the most technical person in the world. You will be interviewing with a big 4 senior manager of partner who have been in the big 4 longer than you’ve been in college. But if they don’t expect you to be technical then what can they possibly be interviewing you for?
They are interviewing you to see if you will fit with their company. They are testing you through the interview. Yes they are going to ask you some technical questions, but they are mainly to see your thought process. They don’t think of the questions that they are going to ask you for days or hours in advance. Oftentimes they are provided the questions that they will ask you right before the interview or a day before the interview. They don’t really review the questions that they ask you either. They usually just ask you questions right off that sheet in addition to some other personal questions that they might want you to answer.
The big 4 are really trying to see how you are as a professional. They want to see that you can present yourself in a professional manner and answer questions in truthful and calm manner. How can you do this.
To be professional there are many things that you can do. You can register for your interview in a timely manner. You can get to the interview early. You can wear amazing clothes to the interview. You can have well polished shoes.
You can also go the extra mile and bring a professional folder to hold your resume, business cards and a notepad in. While in the interview you can take a few notes around the things that you find interesting to show that you are interested in what the person is saying.
You can also make eye contact and truly seem interested in the person you are interviewing with. Many candidates have trouble focusing if they think they’ve already landed a job at another firm. This isn’t good practice and it is always a good idea to keep all possibilities open. If you take an interview with a firm, you need to seem interested even if it is at a smaller firm that is not a big 4 accounting firm.
Ok, so those are the ways that you can seem professional in an interview, but how can you possibly answer interview questions in a calm and truthful manner if you don’t know the questions.
You need to practice some interview questions to help you understand what you will be asked. Even though you might not go through every possible question that the big 4 will ask you need to practice answering interview questions. If you practice answering big 4 interview questions then your brain will get used to preparing itself for many possible questions. You will begin to see a pattern in how the big 4 ask questions. You can also practice seeing how you respond. If there are certain questions that you pause for a long time on when you are practicing, then you know you need to go back and think a little more about those. And you do really want to practice them because you do not want to sit there and take a long pause during the interview. You want to be as polished as possible on the day of your interview.
In order to have success in your big 4 interview you are going to need to understand how to succeed at behavioral interviews.
This means that you will need to be ready to answer many types of behavioral interview questions.
The reason that interviewers ask behavioral interview questions is because it is harder to answer behavioral interview questions in an untruthful manner.
I can illustrate this by first going over some other types of interview questions. First there is the very common interview question of Tell me about yourself. This is a terrible interview question but still many big 4 interviewers will ask you this. It is terrible because it is vague and you might not learn anything about the interviewee by asking it. They might just tell you about what they’ve done in school or their greatest accomplishments and how they are a great person. That is why the big 4 tries to steer their interviewers towards more of a behavioral interview.
Another type of interview is situational interviewing. This is where the interviewer will ask you how you’d react in a certain type of situation. The problem with this type of interview is that the interviewer has no idea whether you’d actually act that way in a situation. For example if an interviewer asked you what you’d do if your staff person was overworked and you said you’d do their work for them and make sure they achieved the right worklife balance. How would they know whether you’d actually follow through with that. Additionally, if they ask you how you’d deal with a coworker that yelled at you all the time, and you say you’d spend the time to figure out what the problem was in a patient and calm manner when most people would probably get in an argument – you can begin to see how situational interviews aren’t the best.
That is why the big 4 try to use behavioral interviews. The thought is that it will be hard for you to be untruthful about the way you’ve actually acted in the past. As the interviewer asks you more questions about your past, they will pick up on certain behaviors that you exhibit throughout your stories.
They will begin to say things like:
What were you thinking at that point
Or What led you to make that decision.
This is why it is important to think of some situations that you’ve gone through in the past and how you’d construct those in a positive light going into your big 4 interview. You don’t want your answers to seem like you always pass the buck or that you work solo a lot.
Craft Your Story
At the big 4 accounting firms you will be tasked with a lot of responsibility and you will have to work in teams. Think of great projects that you’ve worked on in school or at a job where you took on a lot of responsibility or worked well in a team. Begin to craft a story around that that is positive so that it comes across well in an interview. If you can give your responses in the form of interesting stories that’s an additional plus because everyone likes a storyteller.
Another thing that you should try to do in your responses is give your responses in the STAR system.
If you’ve been to our site we cover the star system when we talk about putting your big 4 resume together but it is also good for interviews. It stands for:
Situation – Provide details about the situation you were facing at your previous job or in school.
Task – What tasks were you required to complete at the job or at school?
Action – What actions did you take in your situation to complete the task?
Results – What was the outcome of your actions?
This means that you need to provide your responses with the situation task action and outcome each time. For example if someone asks you to describe a time you worked well in a team, you don’t want to say I worked at dairy queen one summer and I had some coworkers who I shared shifts with. You want to say things like I worked at dairy queen last summer and we faced a staff shortage one week. I worked with another employee to cover multiple shifts while also increasing customer satisfaction through my positive. My manager told me that during my time at that dairy queen he saw an increase of 10% in sales versus other comparable periods. Essentially the more descriptive you are in your responses the better off they’ll be. Just make sure they put you in a positive light and are consistent.
Another thing to keep in my mind when interviewing with big 4 firms is to check out their values. As part of the behavioral interview the big 4 will try to ask you questions that line up with their values. If they are in need of hard working people that can work around the clock, they might ask you how you deal with working a lot and working in stressful situations. If you are in a group that has a lot of travel, they might ask you how you’ve dealt with new environments etc. Keep this in mind as you get ready for your interview because you could potentially use this to your advantage. If you know that you will be going to a group that works around the clock, then you need to make sure that your answers are in line with being flexible to late working hours.
In conclusion, if you are interviewing with the big 4 accounting firms you will most likely encounter behavioral interview questions. If you need help with this type of interview, you can check out our big 4 interview questions and answers book on amazon.
I wanted to provide some tips for everyone out there whether you are interviewing in school for an internship or whether you are an experienced hire.
Big 4 Interview Tip #1 Be Ready for This Question (Tell Me About Yourself)
First let’s get to the question that you are most certain to face and is the hardest to answer. One question that you should expect to answer is
This one always catches me off guard when people ask this.
I mean how are you supposed to answer that. Should you mention your deep love of cats or that you are afraid of the dark? I don’t think so, right.
Should you start from the first memory you ever remember happening, should you start from high school. It is such an open-ended question and it immediately requires a lot of thought. Since it does require a lot of thought, it can throw you off pretty badly in the beginning of an interview. That is why you need to start prepring for it today. This very instant!!!
I think you should answer based on which stage you are in in your career or life. If you are in school, you should answer by saying the school you are going to and why you chose that school and some interests you have.
For example, you can say that you chose to go to Notre Dame because of the strong academic background, job placement statistics and religious principles. However, you answer the questions, you need to make sure your answer ties into traits that the big 4 look for. If you say that you went to a school for the strong acadmeics, that is a good response. It is a good response because you need to constantly learn in the four big accounting firms. If they know you like learning, then it will show that you can transfer that to the job.
It would be especially great if you had interests that are centered towards accounting or being a better business professional. Some examples of this would be if you are a member of beta alpha psi, or if you are part of a toastmasters club. If you aren’t doing any of philanthropic or community activities right now, you should go get started today. This will help you to set yourself apart from other big 4 interview candidates.
Big 4 Interview Tip #2 Be Ready for Diversity
Don’t expect your interviewer to think or look like you. Whenever I prep for an interview I expect my interviewer or interviewee to look like me. Because I think that way, I automatically believe that I can establish rapport with my interviewer and that the interviewer will look like me.
Of course this is often not the case. You will definitely run into more diversity in big cities like New York and Los Angeles. There are many ways that your interviewer can be different than you. They can be a different race, ethnicity, gender or age than you.
Try to think of different scenarios with different interviewers. For example, your interviewer could be another gender than you, so your small talk should be not be about football if you are a man and you are speaking to a woman.
I know more women are watching football nowadays than ever, but I’m just trying to set an example to be mindful of your interviewers background and don’t assume they automatically think like you or have had the same life experiences as you. You will need to build rapport. You have to do this by making small talk and asking the person questions about themselves.
Big 4 Interview Tip #3 Practice Your Small Talk
That leads me to my next tip. You need to be able to engage in small talk on your big 4 interview. Many big 4 interviewers aren’t very good at making small talk. If you aren’t good at small talk, then that will make two people that are bad at small talk which equals complete and utter awkward silence.
You need to have some questions ready to ask. Questions are the easiest way to break silence and break the ice with your interviewer. Asking about your interviewer’s weekend plans is a good question to start with. I work in the big 4 on a daily basis. You have no idea how many times I hear this question and ask this question. Utilize my knowledge to your benefit. Your interviewer will be used to this as well and will feel at ease after you ask it.
If a holiday just passed, you can ask them how their holiday was. Another good question is to ask the person how long they have been working at the big 4 firm you are interviewing with and after they answer you can ask them what made them choose to work and what do they like about their job. These are all good questions to ask your interviewer and they are also good questions to help break the awkward silences.
Another way to make small talk is having a story ready. People love stories. Stories make people feel comfortable. Think of how you can craft a story about your weekend that is professional and puts you in a good light. This will help you develop rapport on your big 4 interview.
Big 4 Interview Tip #4 Dress for the Part
Another tip that I can offer that will help you get the job you want is invest in a good suit or dress. You don’t need to buy a whole wardrobe of suits or dresses, just one really good one. Looking the part is a huge part of getting a good job. People just feel good hiring someone that looks well groomed and professional.
Your interviewer might be a big 4 partner. Big 4 partners aren’t millennials, so they won’t necessarily appreciate a casual style. They will prefer a professional looking individual. This means black or blue professional attire along with brown or black shoes. It might be tempting to show some flare but wait until you have the job to bust out your own personal style.
Dressing professionally makes you appear trustworthy and consistent which is very important in business. If you want to go an extra step, I recommend buying a really nice folder to put your resume and business cards in if you have business cards. If you are well dressed and have an extremely nice folder with your resumes in it, you will blow people away in the optics department and be that much closer to your dream job.
There are many questions that you can ask a big 4 partner or recruiter. There are standard questions that you can ask such as:
- What is the worklife balance like?
- What is the firm’s current stance and initiatives towards diversity?
- How is feedback provided to people in the group?
- What is the first thing that you would like me to contribute to the group if I joined today?
- What is your vision for the group for the future?
- There are also other questions that will make you seem a little more sophisticated and prepared if you ask them. Those questions are below.
Questions for recruiters
The following questions are questions you can ask your big 4 recruiter.
- What would you say the culture is like at this big 4 firm versus other big 4?
- I recently saw a news story about (fill in the blank headline about the firm) what is the firm doing to address that issue?
- What group and line of service will I be assigned to?
- Do you have a list of expectations for me as an associate/intern?
Questions for big four managers/partners
The following are questions that you can ask managers and partners of the big four. The questions that you ask them should be more focused towards big 4 client work and group specifics. You shouldn’t ask them logistics questions like how much you will be earning or how long the internship will last.
- What values are important to you and your big 4 firm?
- What advice would you recommend to me that you wish you implemented early on in your career?
- Worklife balance is important to me as a young professional. What initiatives does your firm offer as far as worklife balance?
- What have you done to grow your personal and professional networks that I could implement today?
- What distinguishes this big 4 firm from other big 4 firms?
- Can you describe how you coached a new team member to successfully perform a challenging aspect of his/her job.
- We all have to make changes when the way we’ve been doing things is no longer effective. Tell me about a time when you’ve had to try a new approach to a task/project/assignment. What did you do? What were the results?
- Tell me about a situation in which you had to adjust quickly to a significant change at school or at How did the change affect you? What did you do?
- Describe a time when your workload in school was unusually heavy. How did you respond?
- Give me an example of a time when you were away for a long time. How did this disrupt your normal routine? How did you address it?
- New processes and procedures can be disruptive. What actions have you taken when you’ve been asked to significantly change a work process or procedure? What were the results?
- Tell me about the most challenging group or team of which you were a member. What problems did you encounter? What did you do? What happened?
- What have you done when you found out about an unexpected organizational change or were confused by an organizational change?
- Tell me about a time when an unexpected occurrence or unexpected absence disrupted the progress of a work task/assignment/project for which you were responsible, and explain what you did.
- Tell me about an important project you were working on that had an unreasonable deadline. How did you react?
- What did you learn from your experience? How did you use this learning elsewhere?
- What was the most difficult course you took in school? How did you master it?
- When learning a new subject in school, we pick up some things quickly, while other subjects take more time to learn. Tell me about a subject you learned quickly and one that took you a bit more time. How did your approach to the more difficult subject differ from your approach to the easier one?
- Describe how you identified and pursued learning opportunities in new areas.
- What did you learn from your (_____) experience? How did you use this learning elsewhere?
- In any new job there are some things we pick up quickly and other things that take more time to learn. In your last job, tell me about something you picked up quickly and something that took more time to learn. How did your approach to the more difficult subject differ from your approach to the easier one?
- Seemingly constant changes in processes, procedures, and technology can make it seem difficult to keep up with everything there is to know about our jobs. How have you determined which areas to target for your learning? How did you gain that knowledge?
- Tell me about a time when you were confronted with an unfamiliar situation. How did you respond to that situation, and how did you later apply what you learned from that experience?
- What did you learn from your (_______) experience? How did you use this learning elsewhere?
- Without telling me the content of the information or what company it was, tell me about a time when you obtained new information about a key competitor. How did you use that information?
- Describe a project, situation, or assignment that was new to you and significantly challenged your skills. How did you manage that situation?
- What lessons or best practices have you learned about (_____)over the years? Can you give me an example of putting one of those lessons/practices to use?
- Have you ever taken an unpopular stand on a topic in school? What was the situation and what did you do?
- Tell me about a time when you felt a peer demonstrated inappropriate behavior. What happened? What did you do?
- Give me an example of time when you proactively generated ideas or What did you do? What happened as a result?
- We’ve all had close friends or classmates come to us for help on assignments/projects they were expected to complete on their own. Can you tell me about a time when this happened to you? How did you respond?
- We may occasionally run across a person who is unethical or Give me an example of a time when an individual did something that you thought was inappropriate behavior. What happened? What did you do?
- Often there are people in an organization who deserve more credit then they r Tell me about a time when this happened. What did you do?
- Tell me about a time when your manager/supervisor asked you to do something that you didn’t think was appropriate. How did you respond?
- We may occasionally run across a person who is unethical or dishonest. Give me an example of a time when an individual did something that you thought was inappropriate behavior. What happened? What did you do?
- Often it is easy to blur the distinction between confidential information and public knowledge. Can you give me an example of when you were faced with this dilemma? What did you do?
- Tell me about a time when you took action to exceed an internal/external customer’s expectations. Specifically, what did you do?
- Tell me about a time at work when you objectively considered others’ ideas, even when they conflicted with yours. What did you do?
- Give me an example of an assignment you worked on that showed your knowledge in (_____) . What did you do?How did you apply your knowledge?
- Describe a project, situation, or assignment that challenged your skills as a (______) . How did you manage the situation?
- What is your specialty in (______) ? Describe the scope of your knowledge. Describe a situation where you were challenged to use that
- What have you done to stay current in your industry/area of specialty? How has this helped you?
- How did you balance your schoolwork with extracurricular activities?
- Tell me about a time when you faced conflicting priorities. How did you determine the top priority?
- We’ve all been in situations in which we couldn’t complete everything we needed to do on time. Tell me about a time when this happened to you.
- Walk me through a situation in which you asked questions of several people for the information you needed to make an effective decision.How did you know who and what to ask?
- Tell me about a time when you had to coordinate resources (e.g., people, processes, clients, equipment) to complete a complex project. How did you do it?
- What kinds of project planning or administration did you do in your job at (_____)? Tell me about one of the projects you planned.
- We are often too busy to plan future activities. Tell me about a time when you were so busy you reacted to situations rather than planned for them.
- Without sharing confidential or proprietary information, describe a complicated problem you had to deal with at work? How did you identify or gain a better understanding of that problem?
- Tell me about something that you’ve done to encourage peer/direct reports to take responsibility for improving their work standards.
- What business or performance objectives were you expected to meet this year? What steps did you take to make sure you were making progress or achieving all of them?
- What have you done to make your team more efficient or organized? Give me an example.
- Tell me about either a long or short-term plan you developed for your team. How was it carried out? What was the result of that plan?
- Describe a difficult decision you recently made at work. What factors did you consider? How long did it take you to make your decision?
- Describe a time when you were not satisfied with your team’s performance. What action(s), if any, did you take to improve the performance of the team?
- Tell me about a time when it was important to understand the requirements of your professor for a particular assignment. What did you do to better understand those requirements?
- How do you build collaborative relationships with peers or customers? Give me details about one or two of them.
- What have you done to understand a peer’s or customer’s point of view?
- Describe a time when you took action in response to an internal/external client request. What happened?
- Tell me about a time when you over committed yourself or your organization to meet a client request. What happened?
- How have you known if your internal/external clients were satisfied? Without sharing the client’s name or otherwise identifying the client, give me an example of a client you know was satisfied as a result of your efforts.
- Describe a time when your work group got off track in maintaining focus on the client and how you got them back on track.
- Describe a time when you obtained input from a client in order to improve a product or service. What did you do next?
- Clients can be very demanding. Tell me about a time when you had to manage a demanding client’s expectations in order to avoid an unreasonable commitment. What did you do?
- Tell me about a time when you had to reach out to others with whom you were unfamiliar for assistance. What did you do?
- Give me an example of using your personal network of friends and acquaintance to help you accomplish accomplish a task.
- When have you helped others around you without being asked? How did you know they needed your help?
- Give me an example of having identified an opportunity for your team/group/organization to expand its assistance to others. How did you identify the opportunity? And what did you do about it?
- How have you maintained the relationships in your personal and professional networks?
- What have you done to grow your personal and professional networks?
- Give me an example of having identified a new business opportunity for your organization. How did you learn of the opportunity? What did you do about it?
- When have you extended your assistance to others (e.g., peers, clients) without being asked? What did you do?How did you identify they needed your help? What was the outcome?
- Describe a time when you had to convince a fellow student or peer to use a particular approach to an assignment. What did you say?
- Describe a time when you had to work with a team to complete a project.What role did you play? What actions did you take to influence the outcome of your assignment?
- Describe a situation when you had to influence another student or peer to cooperate.What did you say?
- What techniques have you used to gain acceptance of ideas or plans? Give me an example of a time when you used one of these
- Not everyone agrees with our decisions. Tell me about an unpopular decision you made and how you gained acceptance for it from others.
- What are the most successful techniques that you have used to gain others’ agreement? Describe a specific situation where you used those techniques.
- Often we must convince others of the benefits they will realize from committing to an idea or plan. Describe how you’ve demonstrated the benefits of a plan or idea to gain someone’s commitment. What happened?
- When a group needs to come to consensus agreement about a new idea or plan, individual needs can interfere with the level of involvement and support. Describe what you have done to ensure involvement and support from all concerned.
- Tell me about a time when you worked with a direct report/peer to develop an idea or plan. Describe what you did to gain this person’s commitment.
- Tell me about a time when you influenced an associate to take on a difficult assignment that was beyond the scope of the person’s responsibilities. What did you do? What happened?
- Describe a recent coaching discussion you experienced where you were either the coach or the person being coached. What was the task? How did you involve the other person in the discussion?
- Tell me what you’ve done to help a peer understand what knowledge/skill areas to strengthen. Give me a specific example.
- Give me an example of feedback or coaching you gave someone who was having difficulty with an assignment.
- Give me an example of having received feedback or guidance and how you put the information to use.
- Tell me about a time when you gave constructive feedback to improve or reinforce someone’s performance.
- Tell me about a time when you conducted on-the-job coaching. How did you know if your coaching was effective?
- Describe a complicated task that you had difficulty teaching someone to perform. What were the difficulties? What approach did you take?
- Describe how you coached a new team member to successfully perform a challenging aspect of his/her job.
- Give an example of time when you had two direct reports who required different coaching styles. How did you adjust your coaching style to meet their needs?
- Tell me about a face-to-face meeting in which you had to give feedback for improvement to someone who does not take criticism well. What did you do? How did the person react?
- Tell me about a time when you had to modify your writing style to reach different audiences. How did you do it?
- Give me an example of a time when you had to persuade someone to do something solely through written communication? How did you persuade them?
- Tell me about a time when you were successful in a negotiation? What did you do that made you successful?
- Describe a situation from your past when you had to complete a task or assignment that required you to sacrifice your personal time. Did you find that experience to be satisfying or dissatisfying, and why?
- Describe a time when you had to determine your own career development needs versus when you have been directed toward development activities. Which did you find more satisfying, and why?
- When in the past have you received direction from multiple supervisors? What did you like or dislike about that experience?
- Tell me about a time when you’ve been away from home for long periods of time (or had to work long unpredictable hours) for work or school. What did you like or dislike about that experience, and why?
- Tell me about a situation in which you worked alone much of the time. How satisfied/dissatisfied were you with that experience, and why?
- Tell me about a time when you had difficult goals to achieve at work. How satisfied/dissatisfied were you with that situation, and why?
- Tell me about a job you had that required high attention to details. How satisfied/dissatisfied were you with that experience, and why?
- Tell me about a time when you had a lot or a little variety in your work. How satisfied/dissatisfied were you with the amount of variation, and why?
- Can you discern the emotions behind your colleagues’ word? If so, please provide an example.
- Can you provide an example where you’ve worked with employees or team members to generate alternate approaches or solutions that you’ve considered together?
The big four through the big 4 interview process are trying to see if you can fulfill all of the following requirements of the big 4 job.
- Client Service Orientation – It is important that you understand the significance of work and client demands recognizing that it will sometimes be necessary to put these demands over personal interests in order to provide service to clients.
- Career Ownership – As a big 4 professional you have to be comfortable with managing own career. Proactively seeks information, opportunities to learn, and seeks mentors/coaches to assist with one’s development. Comfortable receiving and managing direction from multiple supervisors.
- Work Schedule – Can you deal with any unpredictable and frequent long work hours and varied travel requirements and adjusts oneself accordingly.
- Relationships – Do you gain satisfaction from developing and maintaining ongoing working relationships requiring personal interaction and mutual support.
- Commitment to Achieve – Motivated by increasing work challenges. Possesses drive and motivation to succeed.
- Attention to Detail – Can you show that you enjoy working on tasks requiring great attention to details.
- Variety – Do you embrace opportunities to work on several different tasks and to deal with conflicting priorities.
You need to be able to show that you have all of these characteristics in your big 4 interview and in your interview answers.