Accountancy and financial management

How savvy research will get you hired by an accountancy firm

What do you answer when a recruiter asks, 'Why do you want to work for us?'
Figure out who a firm's competitors might be by seeing which firms are working on similar projects or in the same areas.

When an accountancy recruiter asks you this at interview, or in its application form, what they’re looking for is evidence that you’ve done your research. The right type of research, that is.

Even if have a 2.1 and can boast a successful internship, an ill-prepared answer to this question can let you down big time. Finance recruiters cite lack of research as being the main problem in recruiting talented individuals. The regurgitation of an organisation’s mission statement from their corporate website, or appealing to their ego with ‘You’re the best accountancy firm in the world!’ is definitely not going to be enough. You have to show that you have fully understood not only the organisation but also the marketplace it is operating in, the problems it faces and who its main competitors are.

Where do you start? The employer hubs on this site are an excellent place. You’ve probably already had a look at them to help you to decide which firms to apply to, and then to find out what to expect during the recruitment process, such as the degree background, key skills and competences sought, and how your skills and experience match. Now it’s time to use them to be able to convey what it is about a particular employer that appeals to you. Start by putting some structure to your research – write down a list of basic questions you need to find the answers to about the firm.

1. What does the firm do?

Accountancy firms work in the same fields, but do not conduct their business in the exact same fashion. EY positions itself as a modern business guru with the know-how to steer a company to success in the global marketplace, for example, whereas KPMG prides itself on the expertise of its employees, ensuring it utilises sector-specific knowledge when dealing with clients so they can provide directly relevant rather than generalist advice.

2. How big is it?

Do you have an idea of the size of an organisation? Can you name the Big 4? Did you know that although BDO is often classed as a medium-sized firm, it is the world’s fifth largest accountancy network?

3. Where is it located?

Make sure you know where the organisations’s headquarters are located, and how many offices it has globally. Applicants to Dixon Wilson, for example, should be aware that the firm’s two main offices are in London and Paris.

4. What are the most important recent developments?

Have there been any recent mergers or developments affecting the firm? Office openings? Is it expanding, downsizing, reaching out into new markets or pulling back its activities? At interview with Deloitte, for instance, it would be good to demonstrate that you are aware the firm is investing £1 million of time and expertise to boost UK employability through its Deloitte Social Innovation Pioneers programme.

Be aware of any recent awards or achievements. For example, after a major refurbishment PwC's headquarters, on the banks of the Thames, opposite the London Eye, was rated the most energy efficient and environmentally friendly office in the UK .

5. What are the business areas?

A candidate will often be asked to explain what they think they will be doing in their first year on their chosen programme and service line. You can’t answer this without researching what business areas are on offer to graduates joining the organisation, and which appeals to you. At EY, for instance, within the four main streams of advisory, assurance, tax and transactions, there are 19 potential areas of work for graduates to join.

6. Who are its customers/clients?

Have a couple of key clients and projects in mind. It would be remiss, for example, to attend an interview with Deloitte not knowing that it was the official services provider for the London 2012 Olympic Games. Figure out who a firm's competitors might be by seeing which firms are working on similar projects or in the same areas.

7. What are its particular strengths?

Know what a firm is good at. EY's particular strengths lie in its assurance division, which in the financial year of 2010 generated almost as much revenue alone as the organisation’s three other main divisions – tax, advisory and transaction advisory services (TAS) – put together.

PwC is the largest firm by annual revenue of its type and a forerunner of the ‘big 4’ accounting group, spanning 151 countries with a recent focus on BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) economies.

KPMG is set apart from its main Big 4 competitors by the fact that it has a full-time team dedicated to helping employees gain qualifications – the Professional Qualifications Team (PQT). This amounts to a total of 17 employees who have taken a variety of these exams between them.

8. What is its culture like?

What are the company’s core values? What does its brand promote? How does it like to see itself? How is it viewed externally? BDO, for example, places particular emphasis on positive client relationships and sees positive relationships between staff as a cornerstone of excellent client service.

Grant Thornton stresses the need for good ethical practices and corporate responsibility, boasting a number of charitable and voluntary connections. Policy initiatives aimed towards encouraging transparency and professional conduct are in place.

Individual employees at Deloitte are expected to identify and seek to develop their own unique strengths and market them in order to progress.

Beyond the employer hubs

There are other sources of information you can turn to when preparing your answer to 'Why do you want to work for us?':

  • corporate websites, for press releases, and financial and market information
  • Inside Buzz reviews
  • university careers fairs and employer presentations provide a wealth of information and may give you the chance to talk to current employees and get a feel for the company culture
  • your careers service probably has a database of alumni who can be contacted for information about working for your chosen employer
  • news sources