Big Four accountancy firms hiring on employability
When hiring, the global “Big Four” accountancy firms (Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG, and PricewaterhouseCoopers) are now focusing on applicants’ employability rather than on academic history. They believe this new method, which runs counter to received wisdom about recruitment, will allow them to hire more effectively.
“Employability” trumps academic background
According to an article in the Financial Times about this new approach to staffing, more than 80,000 people apply for the firms’ graduate programs, with the number having gradually returned to the level seen before the financial crisis in 2008.
The approach of the recruiters differs greatly from that in 2008. It is now essential to secure staff with technology skills, and social mobility and diversity have a higher profile in the staffing domain. In the past, any graduate was seen as suitable, but that doctrine no longer applies.
The Big Four are now focusing less on academic background in their evaluation and are instead looking at candidates’ wider achievements during their student days. They say this makes it easier to spot staff with high level communication and problem-solving skills and with commercial awareness.
Sharon Spice, director of global student recruitment at the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, mentions that many businesses are prioritising “employability” when hiring, to an unprecedented extent.
Deloitte withholds university and name from interviewers
For example, since 2016, applicants to Ernst & Young no longer need a minimum of 300 UCAS points, (UCAS is the UK’s Universities and Colleges Admissions Service). Instead online and numerical tests are used to analyse applicants’ potential.
In the UK in particular, with its entrenched class system, children born into rich families “with a silver spoon with their mouth” have tended to receive a good education and get a job with a higher salary.
PricewaterhouseCoopers has also abolished the use of UCAS points, and its director of student recruitment, Richard Irwin, says the background to this change is that a student’s class is not a good indicator of whether he or she will develop into a good accountant or management.
Meanwhile, Deloitte focuses on the economic background and personal circumstances surrounding the candidates’ academic achievements. To avoid assuming, as in the past, that a candidate with good academic history is automatically a powerful contender, the firm has switched to a bold new interview method of withholding the interviewee’s school and university from the interview panel. Moreover, to increase diversity, the firm is also looking into withholding the candidates’ names.
Impartial application process highlights required skills
The new hiring process at the Big Four provides interviewees with an impartial environment, but it also provides the firms with the opportunity to unearth the kind of staff they really need.
As already mentioned, what many firms, including the Big Four, need is “battle-ready” staff with tenacity and the ability to cooperate, in other words, with employability.
We are entering an era in which having positivity, a sense of responsibility, and a growth mindset, as well as being goal-orientated and willing to work in a team, will be more important in a job applicant than academic achievement per se.
So, what hiring processes are major international firms currently using, in practice?
The Big Four accountancy firm with the most substantial new framework is PricewaterhouseCoopers. Its application process whittles 40,000 candidates down to 15,000 using online psychological assessments and numeracy and reasoning tests. After telephone interviews, 5,000 applicants are invited for face-to-face interview, with 3,000 progressing to a second interview with senior executives. Finally, some 1,700-1,800 were hired. The barrier to entry to these firms is high with 1 in 25 of applicants being hired by PricewaterhouseCoopers, 1 in 16 by Ernst & Young, and 1 in 28 by KPMG, according to the Financial Times.
However, the potential for improvement in the world of recruitment seems to have risen significantly.