The Aussie Corporate

Big 4 Grad FAQ

We trawled through the web and found these handy FAQs for the confused grad looking at landing a consulting gig in a Big 4 firm (PwC, KPMG, EY and Deloitte).

It's basically a copy and pasta from the Whirlpool forum with a few of our own updates, so credit where credit is due.
Recruitment and Preparation

I’m currently studying at Uni, and looking to get into management consulting. Do you have any advice so I can best prepare myself now for a future in the industry?

Early on try to get good grades (aim for 70s+ for Big 4 Consulting and boutiques and 80s+ for MBB strategy firms) and get involved as much as possible with student organisations and try to take on positions of responsibility. Try to also find part time work in a related field such as research or analyst jobs.

During your penultimate year you definitely should try and apply for one or more internships in an accounting, finance or management related firm (doesn’t have to be a consulting firm).

When applying for a graduate position, practice heaps lots with your friends and prepare for case studies, there are many good resources online, just google “consulting case studies examples”

Can you give us a run down on what Big 4s are looking for in grads?

It depends on the division, typically Big 4 firms look for candidates with relevant fields of study – commerce is generally a good to have (though in some divisions it is not required – e.g. consulting takes many engineering or other students and tax takes law students)

The recruitment system will look for various things other than just marks, though it is recommended to have at least a 65-70 average for most divisions and a 70+ for consulting. However, if you have excellent work or extracurricular experience then marks can be overlooked.

Try to get involved with student bodies and some volunteer experience, in your CV call out your responsibilities and what you achieved there.

In summary, Big 4 firms and most other finance industry firms look for balanced candidates with decent marks, some work / internship experience and also very importantly, good communication skills which will be tested during your interviews. They want to hire people who they can socialise with and are fun to work with, so don’t be too serious in your interviews, show some fun and character, be likeable!

I’m half way through university and my grades are not good – what are the necessary steps to take to improve my chances?

What I would recommend is to improve your grades and show drastic improvement during final years of Uni. If you can, extend Uni for an extra year by doing Honors.

If you can improve your grades during those years then your application will be viewed favourably as it shows willingness to improve.

If you haven’t already I would also try and network and meet people in industry and attend their events. Having a personal referral may help you bypass the CV screening process and get you an interview.

Perhaps also consider doing internships in smaller firms with slightly lower thresholds and gather as much work experience as possible.

Any tips for somebody who is about to do an internship in Big 4 consulting?

As an intern they will treat you quite well and let you go home early! Basically you are there to see how things are done and what they do on the job.

Typically when you first start there will be an induction of the office, and they will train you on how the IT systems work. You should try hard to set up meetings and speak to the partners, as they decide whether to hire you or not, so leave a good impression!

You will then be likely placed on a project with a team, and will be there to assist your manager and other members. They will assign you small tasks at first and if you are capable will assign you a small part of a deliverable. This really depends on the project – if you are on an intense project try not to ask too many questions as the team can be overloaded. If you are on a chilled project then ask questions and show your understanding and improvement.

Basically don’t do stupid things, they don’t expect you to know much but do show your ability to learn and always be keen! A positive attitude and dedication to your small tasks will help you secure a graduate offer.

Can I ask what type of person will do well in a professional services firm like the Big 4?

  • Be responsible for your work and for mistakes
  • Attention to detail and proof reads – don’t make too many mistakes
  • Ability to take stress and
  • Be a team player
  • Be humble and keep your ego at bay
  • Be fun and social – be likeable

How important is it to be involved in a student society?

Being a part of a student society can help demonstrate extracurricular involvement. However it is important to state what exactly your roles and responsibilities were. You can’t just say you were a member and expect to get brownie points for that. We look for leadership, teamwork experience and positions of responsibility. You have a limited amount of time so you can’t be involved in everything and do them well. I think if you have experience in ECs it doesn’t matter whether it is inside or outside uni, as long as you are able to demonstrate the responsibilities and achievements you had. Most people do ECs within Uni as those societies are easy to find and most are easy to enter into.

How are arts degrees viewed in consulting?

Depends what you specialised in your arts degree and which consulting firm. Generally speaking having a combined arts degree with engineering or commerce or even law will put you in a good position for consulting at the Big 4 (or any other consulting firm really) as arts students are good writers and writing concisely and persuasively is a skill sometimes people neglect when they do too much data analysis.

It is rare for a student with a single arts degree to have learnt the relevant quantitative skill set for consulting or other areas within the Big4. If you have work experience or ECs to prove otherwise then yes you can definitely have a good chance at applying assuming your grades are also good.

How important is it to be from a Go8 university?

Unlike smaller firms, Big 4 need to meet recruitment quotas and will recruit from non g08 Unis if you meet all the other criteria (grades, good ECs, relevant work experience and good culture fit).

Do companies allow final year students to apply for internships?

It is hard to apply for internships in your final year. I know some people even delay graduation by half a year just to be “penultimate” again. I would definitely recommend doing an internship in your penultimate year if you can.

For some firms it’s ok if you don’t have internship experience if you have good work experience. For some firms (a lot of IBs) they require / strongly encourage internships for you to land a grad role.

What’s your view on negotiating an earlier start?

If they offered you a job, most will allow you to start early if you wish. There are typically 2 graduate intakes for the Big 4 each year so you can start at the beginning of the year or mid-year.

At other times it may be a bit harder since they do their training during these times and it would be a big waste of resources just to train you only. However you may be able to negotiate to do the training when everyone else starts and just begin working…

Career Progression and Pay

What is the typical career progression and salary progression at Big 4 consulting?

Check our our latest Salary Guide!

What’s something you wish you’d known when starting your career?

How to deal with office politics and how to stay calm and react when things go south on projects. Also, a bit of Excel and PowerPoint would have helped too.

I’ve heard of one Big 4 paying bonuses in its consulting division. Is this common or would you say it varies firm to firm?

Bonuses at the junior level in the Big 4 tend to be smaller than MBBs and much smaller than IBs. Bonuses depend on the combined performance of the firm as well as your own individual performance. Bonuses tend to become larger once you hit manager level as you are partially responsible for sales and pulling in new clients.

In the Big 4, you are more likely to get a promotion if you do well at the junior levels. So if you are doing well (esp with sales) you can climb the corporate ladder quite fast in a Big 4 and with every promotion you will get a decent pay rise (esp at the more senior levels). Strong candidates can hit director/partner level in their late 20s or early 30s.

Would you be able to comment on how the main roles would differ from graduate through to director at a Big 4 consulting division?

  • Grad / Analyst (year 1) – mostly learning and do data analysis, responsible for part of deliverable, small presentations. Relaxing unless you’re on a crap project.

  • Consultant (year 2 to 3) – more stakeholder management and interviews on top of grad work. Can be stressful at times

  • Senior consultant (year 3 to 5) – lead a stream within a project, manage small teams, fully responsible for stakeholder management for that stream. Involved in interviewing and training junior staff. Stressful

  • Manager (year 5 to 8) – fully responsible for managing and delivering entire project, manages resources and storyboarding the end deliverable. Involved in interviewing and training junior staff. Highly stressful

  • Director (7-10 years) – responsible for sales and delivery of multiple projects with multiple clients. Highly stressful

  • Partner (10 years+) – responsible for senior client management, project sales and risk mitigation of projects. More relaxing than director and manager unless project delivery goes south, or if you can’t sell work then it is very stressful
What does the job involve?

Would you please give a rundown of what an “average day” would be like?

After 4 years I can say there are no real “typical” projects as each client and project is different. Basically at the start of a project your team will be briefed by the client as to the issue they need help with. This could be problem solving (where you help them find the cause of the problem via data analysis – more strategic) or it could be a task they want you to help implement (e.g. process mapping, or creating a cost allocation methodology).

Essentially what you do all depends on the project. For the problem solving projects as an analyst it is very typical that you will be given lots of data, attending interviews with stakeholders, and using both data and interview feedback to conduct analysis on Excel, then once you have some insight you will summarise this data into PowerPoint in the form of recommendations for your client.

What are the typical industries and types of engagements at the Big 4?

I don’t think there is any specialisation at the Big 4, the Big 4 tends to apply the “we can do it all for you holistically approach”, so we can do a bit of everything from strategy to implementation.

I personally have done a lot of cost modelling, restructuring, cost reduction, business model and operating model design pieces, for a Big 4 I’ve been doing the slightly more strategic engagements as opposed to more operational engagements.

I’ve consulted for universities, banks, defence dept, DEECD, insurance companies, a lot of utilities and power companies, mining companies and so on… After 3 to 4 years you will have gained a lot of industry exposure and that’s when you start to specialise in skillsets and industries.

Some interesting projects I’ve worked on include 1) restructuring a large company and changing their brand profile and reducing costs to prevent them from going insolvent. 2) analysing IT ERP systems and analysing what system is best suited for the Client, costing the project and then submitting a business case to the board of directors for a ERP implementation in the 100s of millions over the system’s lifetime. 3) creating an automated Excel scenario model to map and plan for a large mining company’s workforce, allowing them to understand what projects are coming up, what resources will be needed and when they need to start recruiting or laying off staff.

How much strategy work do you get at Big 4 in comparison to ops? Do people in Big 4 Consulting ever get into corporate development/strategy positions?

Unlike MBBs which are primarily focused on corporate strategy, you get exposure to a lot of other work at a Big 4.

Do you do corporate strategy? Yes there is actually quite a lot of corporate strategy work for practitioners who want to focus on that area and some practitioners solely do corporate strategy even at Big 4s (Big 4s poach a lot of senior directors and partners from MBBs to lead corporate strategy lines and if you work with them you will be doing a lot of strategy work).

However a lot of people find corporate strategy difficult or too theoretical and they tend to prefer operational improvement work, as it can also be easier to find jobs in operational areas in industry rather than strategy (which limit you to executive and strategy manager roles).

Big 4 firms have way more consultants than MBBs, so not everyone will be doing corporate strategy.

How do employees get allocated to particular clients? Do you tend to be in the same teams of people across different clients, or is there quite a bit movement in teams from client to client?

As a graduate you will be working in different teams most of the time. After a while people get used to your style and you start forming your own “preferred groups” and these people tend to work together on similar projects in similar industries. It is important you work with managers that can teach you and are also understanding (there are good and bad managers!)

Given that the Big 4 firms are quite big have most of your engagements been in your own city? Or is a lot of your work interstate?

In the Big 4 for all other service lines other than consulting it is rare for interstate travel. In consulting because the size of the firm is so large there are generally enough resources in each of the larger cities for localised projects. However, they do run out of resources at times so they look for people from interstate.

There is a preference for clients to use local resources as it is cheaper (they don’t have to pay for your hotels etc). However if localised resources are unavailable then they will look interstate.

Typically grads have more choice in terms of their travel. More senior consultants become “experts” in their fields are may be required to travel even if they don’t want to for the sake of the project.

Where are the majority of your clients?

The clients are all over the place, I would say maybe 50% are in the CBD and rest are everywhere else. Most finance clients (e.g. Banks, Super firms) are in the CBD, but if you are working for Government, Utilities, Mining firms, Agriculture, you can be anywhere.


Work-Life Balance

What kind of hours do you work?

On average hours vary from 37.5 to 50 hours per week; I have worked one or two 70 hour weeks. It really depends on the project, manager you’re working with, and client, and to some extent your own efficiency. Just pray you get onto well scoped projects led by competent managers then you will always have a decent time. Try to find good managers and get onto their projects consistently.

There are certain types of projects that will involve long hours. For example due diligence projects as a part of M&A transactions will almost always involve long hours.

Can I have other commitments outside of work?

It’s important to be upfront with your managers so they can manage expectations. You can definitely have your own commitments but it is probably not good to be pushing it (e.g. you probably can’t have commitments every day at 5.30pm for extended periods as staying late at work is quite common).

What are the travel commitments like?

Unlike MBBs, the Big 4 have enough resources at the junior level to accommodate for your wishes most of the time. If you don’t want to travel, there are always people who do. In terms of locations you can travel anywhere, I live in Melbourne but have done work in Brisbane, Adelaide, Sydney, and almost was sent to Thailand. Be upfront about whether you want to travel or not to your deployment manager.

Do many people maintain an active and healthy lifestyle where there’s time for regular exercise and eating healthy? Or are the hours just too long to be able to?

This really depends on your ability to take stress. I personally have found consulting to be not too bad and have time to exercise, people in IB have a MUCH harder job. However, I have met friends who manage it (e.g. I know a guy who is an olympic rower working at Goldman Sachs IB back in the days).

I also think it depends on your attitude towards work in general. If you are positive and enjoy what you are doing then you will find time to keep it. If you are down from stress all the time you will be a wreck in no time in these jobs.

Is this line of work best suited to someone that wishes to remain single for a long time?

Most of my IB and consulting friends have gfs/bfs, so I guess your relationship has to suit the work, you will find ways to make it work. However I must admit the hours in IB and the travel in consulting make it difficult to start a new relationship.

Exit Opportunities

When do people exit typically exit and why?

Due to the somewhat stressful workload, there is high turnover at the Big 4, and at most management consultancies or investment banks in general. Most graduates at a Big 4 will work here for 2-3 years then decide upon their next career goal.

For auditors and tax professionals this typically corresponds with the end of their CA exams or Law Exams where they receive a qualification that will make them have better exit opportunities.

For consultants, people start to get weary of travelling and instability, and apply for a stable 9-5 industry job after a couple of years.

If you are looking to stay and make partner, then you will need to make some fundamental changes to your lifestyle and family patterns, as to accommodate for the job’s lifestyle (travel, long hours, stress, etc).

What would you say is a typical exit path for someone in strategy consulting at the Big 4?

Most people will leave life at Big 4 sometime, mostly around the 2-4 year mark. As a strategy consultant your best opportunities are at the Clients you have worked for as a strategy analyst of manager for that Client. You may also be a project manager doing project management. Consulting is quite broad so it depends on what skillsets you have picked up and what clients you have worked for.

In general you will learn high in demand skill sets that will set you up well to be a strategy analyst/manager for a large organisation. After 3 to 4 years you can expect industry salaries of $110k – $150k. Some people can achieve higher if they left as managers and can get over $200k.

Where do operational management consultants exit to (as opposed to strategy consulting)?

There are many exit opportunities for operational consultants (much more than pure strategy) as operations encompasses everything that runs a business outside of corporate strategy, I’ve personally worked on OPs projects including supply chain, inventory management, process optimisation, procurement and vendor management, cost reductions, IT optimisation, asset management, people management etc… A lot of the time strategy and operations are much intertwined.

Do lateral hires into MBB happen in Australia? What about into boutiques?

It is much more common for MBB to move to a Big 4 firm and take on somewhat senior roles, though the reverse does happen from time to time and I do know people who have moved to BCG or Bain from Big 4 directly – these were quite exceptional candidates who have had great track records and would probably have been better for them to get senior roles in industry. It is easier to move into a boutique firm, though a lot of them are being acquired by Big 4s so you may not gain a better experience there (e.g. Monitor by Deloitte and Booz by PWC).