Big 4 firms are hiring fewer MBA candidates. 2 business school career counselors share their advice for grads looking for accounting and consulting jobs.

  • The Big 4 usually extends job offers to summer interns and then recruits additional MBA candidates in the fall to start work after graduating in the spring.
  • This year PwC says they're pausing fall recruitment efforts, although they remain committed to hiring summer interns.
  • KPMG, Deloitte, and EY said they would continue to recruit MBA candidates, but it is expected there will be fewer hires.
  • Business school career counselors say they're preparing for fewer recruitment opportunities this fall, with the hope that hiring will pick back up in the spring.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

For some MBA candidates, the path to a big accounting firm like PwC or EY just got a little more difficult.

PWC said they're pumping the brakes on some of its business school recruiting this fall, choosing instead to focus on job offers for summer interns while waiting to see how the coronavirus pandemic affects the economy during the next few months. 

The other three parts of the professional services network widely known as the Big 4 — KPMG, Deloitte, and EY — said they would continue to recruit MBA candidates, but it is expected there will be fewer hires.

Fewer Big 4 employees are leaving firms on their own, meaning that to manage headcount, firms will either have to lay people off or hire less in the coming months, according to Jeramy Kaiman, head of western US recruiting at the Adecco Group and Accounting Principals.

"There's a chance the Big 4 won't need to hire as much next year due to attrition," he said. "If students have some apprehension about finding a job they want in the coming year, it may make sense to extend their time in school to make them more marketable not just at the entry-level, but also as they ascent through their careers."

With tuition skyrocketing at top MBA programs — annual tuition at Harvard Business School is $73,440, according to the school's website — a job as an accountant, auditor, or consultant at one of the Big 4 firms can be key in paying off graduate school debt. Entry-level roles the firms can easily net employees more than $200,000 per year, taking into account base salary, bonuses, and relocation expenses, according to the US Office of Foreign Labor Certification's 2019 disclosure data.

Read more: 'Big 4' salaries, revealed: How much Deloitte, KPMG, EY, and PwC accountants and consultants make, from entry level to executive roles

What you need to know about the job market this fall

Typically, firms seeking MBA graduates kick off the fall recruiting season first by extending full-time job offers to summer interns and then returning to campuses to find more talented students who can begin work after graduating in late spring.

This year, with most colleges either partially or entirely remote for the fall semester, recruiting to the Big 4 will look different, with business schools now coaching MBA students through virtual networking and a remote job search. Adding to the challenge is an economic recession, where fewer current Big 4 employees are leaving their roles for new opportunities, and firms are being more cautious about navigating their business in a downturn.

PwC said it's pausing some of its fall recruiting efforts, the Wall Street Journal first reported. The firm told Business Insider that in the fall, it usually hires between 50 to 100 MBA students who didn't intern with the firm over the summer. But this year, PwC said it had a larger number of MBA student interns than normal: about 150 students, most of whom received and accepted full-time job offers. 

Read more: A young consultant's guide to landing a virtual internship at McKinsey, Bain, PwC, and other top firms that pay big salaries

Combined with the economic uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the firm said there were fewer gaps in the spring new hire class to fill with MBA grads, so at least for now, it's not planning to recruit them this fall.

EY told the Wall Street Journal its MBA hiring plans this fall are uncertain. In a statement, it told Business Insider it was continuing to recruit undergraduate and graduate students for internships and that they expected to convert many of them to full-time employees after graduation. The firm said that during the next year, some areas of its business would have "additional MBA hiring needs," but EY declined to comment on how many offers it normally extends to MBA students in the fall and how many it is planning to hire this year.

Deloitte said in a statement that its fall hiring plans were "generally on schedule" but that it is "pushing timing out slightly" on recruiting because many students are attending classes virtually or living at home will attending schools during a pandemic. The firm did not respond to Business Insider's inquiries about its fall recruiting plans for MBA candidates who didn't complete a summer internship there.

And a KPMG spokesperson told Business Insider the firm focuses most of its recruiting efforts on undergraduate students and hires a small number of MBA graduates every year.

Career counselors lay out what students can do to stand out

Business school career counselors and recruiters who work with the Big 4 point out that during the last few years, big firms have shifted to hiring mostly from summer intern classes, but the pandemic has created an even bigger roadblock for MBA students who didn't have a summer internship at a Big 4 but still hoped to land a full-time job offer with one. Still, they're hopeful that more opportunities could still open up.

"During the financial crisis, some firms realized they were left with not enough talent when the market got better, so we are seeing firms be cautious but also being ready to pivot when they need to," said Heather Byrne, managing director of the University of Michigan Stephen M. Ross School of Business's career development office.

"We are encouraging students to keep networking, so they, too, will be ready for the rebound and be able to quickly pick up with existing relationships."

Like at Ross, the career counselors at the University of Texas at Austin's McCombs School of business said that in an uncertain job market, they're encouraging students to make informal connections and coaching them on virtual networking skills to prepare for virtual recruiting and career fairs.

Read more: Jobs for thousands of young consultants are being upended. From delaying start dates to cutting internships, here's what 8 top firms, like Deloitte and McKinsey, are doing.

"We have converted to a virtual school interviewing model that includes virtual career fairs, employer information sessions, employer coffee chats and networking events," Janet Huang, the senior assistant dean of career management and corporate relations at McCombs, said in a statement. Huang also said that pre-pandemic, employers who worked with the school had begun shifting to virtual networking and recruiting, a trend that has accelerated in recent months.

Kaiman, the recruiter, said that after the initial shock of the pandemic-induced economic shutdowns across the country earlier this year, the Big 4's business has rebounded faster than expected, and most have been able to reverse salary reductions and shift their focus back to growth.

"That's promising for people hoping to enter the Big 4 in a challenging time," he said. 

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