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Why graduates are obsessed with the Big Four

Craig Shepherd

You’re studying hard towards that degree, but where are you planning to work when you graduate? Some people are happy getting any graduate position they can, while many others only have one goal - The Big Four.

What makes the Big Four so popular?

The powerhouse organisations of Deloitte Australia, Ernst & Young (EY), PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and KPMG are the subject of so many graduates’ career aspirations, and with good reason. Their global reach, training programs, variety of service lines, career progression and workplace culture sets them apart in the eyes of many students. Travel opportunities, the chance to network internally and externally with other influential businesses and of course the sheer size of the Big Four make positions in their graduate programs an exciting proposition. Let’s see why graduates are obsessed with the Big Four.

Size and reputation

You don’t come to be known as the Big Four unless you’re big - that part is obvious. What may not be so obvious is what this means for you as an employee. A large company brings with it a whole range of opportunities, whether it be an internal promotion or sideways movement to other departments. Daniel Malusa, Tax Graduate at KPMG says, ‘While I’ve been working here, I have seen numerous colleagues within my team move on to various in-house opportunities, or more senior positions at other Big Four or mid-tier firms.’

Reputation is also a big deal as your career progresses. Having one of the Big Four on your resume is an excellent way to impress prospective employers, particularly if you’ve worked there as a graduate. Other organisations know the types of training you get and the scope of projects you could work on at the Big Four, and that goes a long way towards staking your claim for that external promotion, should you choose to move on.

Diversity

Graduates rave about the diversity within the Big Four. These are massive, global companies and they are keen to hire people from all different backgrounds. Cultural diversity is celebrated by these companies. Tiana Podinic, a Consultant with PwC says, ‘The firm wants to celebrate what makes you different.’

Personal backgrounds aside, the Big Four also look to hire people with all sorts of degrees. Tiana continues, ‘Technical training is done on the job, and in this way, PwC doesn’t expect you to have any previous knowledge of tax law.’ Again, this is the size of the organisation at work. While the core function may be accounting, they still need graduates in IT, Law, and any other degree relevant to the huge scale of work they do.

Different areas of speciality and different cultural backgrounds are two of the things that make the Big Four so globally successful. ‘Our partner actually has a Commerce/Arts degree. It’s really important to have different perspectives of thinking so any degree or background is welcome!’ says Jasmine Te, Risk Analyst, Deloitte Australia.

Workplace culture

When asked about the culture of the Big Four, most graduates have good things to say. Workplace culture encompasses a lot of different things like teams regularly planning Friday night drinks or being invited to attend fully catered formal events. It’s not all about the social perks though, it’s also about how staff feel valued for their contributions and the opportunities they are given to showcase their talents. ‘The workplace culture provides an inclusive and collaborative environment that makes working in the office an enjoyable experience,’ said Rebecca Ferrraro, a Graduate Tax Consultant with KPMG.

One of the things we often hear about from graduates is the lack of hierarchy at the Big Four. Of course, it will exist in terms of the work you are allocated, but new staff aren’t looked down upon by their more senior colleagues. Graduates are regularly required to work closely with senior staff and sometimes even the executive. As Michael, an Accountant with EY said when talking about working closely with senior management on a project, ‘It really made me see that, even though I’m just starting out, my work is just as important and valuable as anyone else’s in the firm – at all levels.’

Variety of work

Again, we see the benefit of working for such a large organisation when it comes to the types of jobs you’ll be performing. From collaborating with different businesses, working off-site, and even travelling, the scope to be involved in exciting and interesting projects is definitely there at the Big Four. Chances are, you’ll be exposed to a whole range of different industries, businesses and projects you never imagined you’d be working on. Some quotes below from staff typify what it’s like working for the Big Four.

‘Since I started, I’ve worked everywhere from Geelong to Sydney, in sectors from manufacturing to entertainment.’ Lizke, Senior Accountant at EY.

‘I never thought I’d be working on justice issues and engaging with such a wide range of highly experienced and talented stakeholders. I’ve learned so much!’ Lukas, Consultant at EY.

‘As a graduate at EY, I’ve had more exposure to exciting engagements than I could ever have dreamed of.’ Matthew, Consultant at EY.

Career Progression

With an organisation so big, there is always going to be room to move around. Whether you want to climb the ladder into more senior positions and management, or if you’d rather shift around internally and work in different service lines, the opportunities are just waiting for you take them. As Vanessa Banh, an Associate at PwC says, ‘Your career is what you make it and it varies for each person. You could decide to specialise in a type of technology, go on to take up management roles, or even second to a different business unit or country.’

It’s not only the internal promotions available that make graduates want to work for the Big Four. The networking opportunities are immense. Being some of the biggest advisory firms, you can imagine the types of clients you’ll be working with on a day-to-day basis. You’re constantly making new contacts in every project you work on, and the benefits of networking are enormous, should you ever consider a career change.