The Pre-Interview Banquet/Meet the Firms is arguably one of the best opportunities to make sure you get a job with the Big 4. If you have been following my advice, and have been networking with the Big 4 recruiters and employees on a regular basis, you will probably be ahead of the curve. If you haven’t been networking, all is not lost. Just know that you will have to work a lot harder now for an interview than your peers.
The Pre-Interview Banquets or Meet the Firms are usually bi-annual events. One takes place in the fall to recruit for full-time employees, and another one takes place in the winter or early spring to recruit for summer interns.
Usually your college’s accounting club or fraternity will organize this event, and may take place at a swanky resort (as was the case with my school) or it may be held in a school facility. Regardless of the venue, this is probably the most important event if you want to get recruited by a Big 4. If there are drinks and snacks at the event, then great! If not, then make sure you take some water with you and leave it in the car. Since you will be doing a lot of talking, and you will definitely get the worst dry-mouth of your life. Additionally, your attire should be business professional and you should look your best.
Buy yourself a nice portfolio to hold copies of your resume (which better be printed on resume paper), and give your resume to every single person with whom you speak. Your resume is the student-equivalent of your business card. You need to have more than enough copies to go around.
There could be as many as 25-50 firms recruiting at these events. Your job is not to talk to every single firm. Research ahead of time, and pick four to six firms that interest you the most. Spend most of your time talking to the partners and employees of these firms.
A lot of the candidates going to these events are nervous, and rightfully so. A slip-up now could mean that you never get an invitation for an interview. So, my advice to you, if you get nervous, would be to talk to at least one or two firms that you don’t want a job with as soon as you walk in the door. Talking to the employees and partners of these firms will have a calming effect on your nerves. Once your nerves are calm enough, you can proceed to the firms that you do want to talk with.
The more “competitive” students will try to screw you. They will try to hijack a conversation into their favor. Some are even bigger assholes. I have seen candidates effectively shut another approaching candidate down by tightening the circle in which the conversation is taking place. They will pull other tricks too. These tactics can be very frustrating to other candidates, and I personally hate it when anyone does something like that. However, as a candidate when this happens to you, do not show your frustration or aggression. Just pretend that you are oblivious to their cock-blocking moves. You are going to this event to secure an interview position, so forget the assholes and work on getting that interview.
As a general rule, most of candidates tend to gravitate towards the senior management present at the Big 4. I think the mindset is that “This person is important, he must have a bigger say in things, I need to impress him.” Fair enough.
However, if I were you, I would start from the bottom up. I would engage the lower-level associates first. They are easier to access because a lot of the candidates are busy focusing on the managers and the partners. They are also more likely to be pretty close in age to you. I would talk to them about their experiences, challenges, and rewards at the Big 4. I would get as much knowledge out of them as possible. It’s very important that you do. To end the conversation, ask them permission to contact them in the future for any questions, get their business cards, thank them for their time, and politely ask them if they could introduce you to a senior manager or partner.
Congratulations, you have effectively by-passed the twenty or so people waiting to talk to the partner or manager. The psychological effect of being introduced by someone who is already working for the firm is big, and is not lost on the partners. In a way, you have been pre-screened and you carry a subliminal stamp of approval from the associates.
At this point, talk to the partners and managers, about why you want to work for the Big 4. Talk about everything you discussed with the associates you were speaking with earlier. Tell them how helpful the associates were at addressing the specific questions you had regarding the Big 4. Ask the partners and managers for advice. Once again, when you wrap up the conversation, keep a door open for future questions, get their contact information, thank them, and walk away.
Rinse and repeat!
Once you are done talking to the people of one particular firm, don’t move on to the next one immediately. Takes notes about the conversations that you had with the various people from that firm. An effective way is to do this is to jot down some main points of the conversation on the back of the business cards that you just picked up. This will come in very handy, when writing your thank-you notes.
Also, when you are speaking with the recruiters and employees, you would be well-advised to drop names of people in other firms. For example you could say something along these lines when talking to someone from Deloitte:
I am quite interested in international business and John (use only the first name) from EY, said that their firm has one of the best work abroad programs – they allow you to work in another country of your choosing for a year after three years of service. Does your firm offer something similar?
The name-dropping usually makes it look like you are on first-name basis with the other firm, which means they definitely want you. And one thing that Big 4 recruiters like doing best is poaching candidates leaning towards the other Big 4 firms.
As the event starts winding down, do one quick round and thank everyone you spoke with. This allows them an opportunity to invite you to the post-event dinner or drinks. If you don’t get an invite to such an event, don’t fret too much about it. We only invite students out rarely, mostly because then we have to behave ourselves and can’t really let loose.
Once you get home, your first urge will be to hit the liquor. Hard. I would advise you to not do that, but instead start writing thank-you emails. Thank-you emails are best written when the conversations are the fresh in your head. Personalize each email and include bits of conversations you had with the said recruiter or employee. This shouldn’t be too painful, if you kept notes with the business cards like I told you to do. Once this task is taken care of, you’re done. Congratulations. Treat yourself to some sub-standard college alcohol. You deserve it.