Interviewing for the Big 4 is a great opportunity. But since the competition is high and it's what many CPA Exam candidates strive for, having this opportunity can also be stressful. Luckily, we're here to help. In this article, we'll go through what a typical "office visit" looks like, what you can do to be prepared, and the 28 most common questions that Big 4 interviewers ask.
Before the office visit
An office visit is exactly what it sounds like it is: when the firm invites you into their office for the interview. When interviewees new in accounting hear "office visit", they typically think, "Nice! I'll get to walk around the office, see the place, see what they do, and they’ll tell me a little bit about the company." However, this is not the case. Coming in for an office visit is all part of the interview process, all of which can last up to 24 hours. It's important to understand how the dynamics of office visits work and to be ready to always put your best foot forward for the entirety that you're there. Otherwise, your resume could be pulled right out of the pile.
If you’re from another city, or live far away from the office, the company will arrange a hotel room for you for the night before the office visit. Many interviewees think that the official interview process doesn't start until they're sitting opposite their interviewer(s) and answering questions at the office. However, this is not the case. It's important to make sure you treat every situation as part of the interview process.
With that said, if you're staying in a hotel room, make sure you’re treating it as a business trip. You may also come across other interviewees, but we recommend avoiding having an all-night event with them. Remember, they are your competition and you don't want anything to jeopardize your chances.
Typically with office interviews, there is a social, or meet and greet, the night before you go into the office. Again, this is part of the interview. Don’t take this lightly and make sure you’re on your “A” game. Dress is usually more casual than a suit and tie, but make sure you reach out before to determine the setting, dress, location, and time the event begins. Presenting yourself professionally both in attire and mannerism is important for all aspects of the interview process.
The Day of the Office Visit
Be prepared for at least three interviews as that is how a typical office visit goes. You may also be waiting around for 15 minutes to an hour beforehand where you need to be ready to mix and mingle with HR without showing signs that you’re rattled.
The company will generally have you meet with manager level employees and above, usually a few partners. The interviews can last 30 minutes to an hour. Some interviewers will drill you on the checklist of questions and take it very seriously. Others may sit back and just want to have a casual conversation for an hour. Either way, you need to be prepared. If you’ve brought a portfolio/resume and want to show it off to the interviewers, be ready to pivot and just have a conversation if a partner doesn’t seem interested. Try to get a sense of how it’s going during the interview. Watch the interviewers’ facial expressions and gestures. If you’re seeing negative signs, try to change the subject or bring up the enthusiasm and energy a little bit.
The interview is not over at lunch. While lunch is meant to be more relaxed, you're still undergoing an evaluation process. The firm will usually send you out with the lower level staffers like Senior Associates, and Associates. They will be the ones who will be observing whether or not you're a good fit, and once that lunch is over, a decision will be made.
So it's important to keep your enthusiasm high, even if you’re exhausted. You need to still have several questions to ask: How long have you been with the company? Where are you from? Where did you go to school? For which clients do you work? In what industries do you specialize? You know, I was speaking with “X person” during my interview and he mentioned… what's your experience with that?
Questions they will ask you during the interview
Lastly, here are some of the questions you can expect the interviewers to ask you. Remember that it's important to try to stay calm and relaxed. Keep your shoulders loose, keep your back straight (no slouching), stay engaged, and have a light and confident smile. This is the time, more than ever, to have enthusiasm and curiosity. It’s okay to pause at any given time and say, “You know, that’s a great question, let me think about that for a moment.” One of the most important things you can do to prepare for the office visit is spending some time thinking about your responses to all of the questions below!
1. Tell me about yourself.
2. Why do you want to work at “X” company?
3. Why is “X” firm your first choice?
4. Describe a situation where you felt challenged and had to overcome it.
5. Do you have any questions for me?
6. Who else are you interviewing with?
7. Do you have any other offers?
8. Describe a time when you had to work exceptionally hard to provide great service to a customer or client. What did you do and what was the outcome?
9. What accomplishment are you most proud of?
10. Give me an example of how you successfully dealt with someone who was difficult.
11. Why are you interested in this particular area of the firm?
12. Give me an example of a time you failed.
13. Give me an example of a time you succeeded.
14. What’s the most difficult thing you’ve ever had to do?
15. Give me examples of how well you work under pressure.
16. What are you looking to get out of a job/internship with a public accounting firm?
17. Where do you see yourself in five years?
18. What city do you want to live in?
19. What are your strengths?
20. What are your weaknesses?
21. Why have you had “X” number of jobs over the years?
22. Discuss a specific accomplishment you’ve achieved in a previous position that indicates you will thrive in this position.
23. Tell us about a time when things didn’t go the way you wanted, like a promotion you wanted and didn’t get or a project that didn’t turn out how you had hoped.
24. What are your thoughts on the increase demand of quality by the PCAOB (Public Company Accounting Oversight Board) and how would you face such demands in your first year?
25. Tell me about a time when you had an idea but your team was not willing to accept it. How did you go about presenting this idea and trying to persuade them to accept it?
26. Why should I hire you?
27. Describe some situations where you’ve had to use technical writing skills.
28. What makes you stand out?
We hope you found this helpful and we hope you use it on your next interview, even if it's not with the Big 4!