I answered a Quora question recently that asked, “How do I prepare for an interview for tax at Ernst & Young?”

The question was a good one as many young and seasoned accountants aspire to work for one of the Big Four accounting firms. Those of you who are new to the industry, might be wondering, “What are the Big Four?”  Simply put, the Big Four are the four largest professional services networks in the world that handle the vast majority of audits for publicly traded companies as well as many private companies. Wikipedia reports that the Big Four audit is around 99% of the companies in the FTSE 100, and 96% of the companies in the FTSE 250 Index.

The Big Four companies include:

  • Ernst & Young
  • PricewaterhouseCoopers
  • KPMG
  • Deloitte

When giving advice to Ernst & Young interviewees, most people say to study the interview questions. It’s good, standard advice. However, my philosophy is to have a mix of good personality, knowledge of the subject matter, and a desire to work at the company—all of which should come through during the interview.

Ernst & Young is a client-based operation, so one needs to be personable with the team one works with as well as the clients. No client wants to deal with a robot. They want someone who is willing to work with them, so as they do not cross any lines.

You need to also show an eagerness and desire without looking desperate. All accountants want to start in public accounting especially in the Big 4. But there is competition. A lot of competition. If you don’t believe me, try googling “Working for a big 4” and take a look at all the results, most of which offer pros and cons, advice for breaking into one of the companies, and much more.

Ernst & Young, and other big firms like them, doesn’t want the individual who has been out of touch or isn’t seen as desirable by other places, too. You don’t want to appear like a candidate who’s stranded in the desert and willing to accept any glass of water dangled in front of them. The Big Four knows where they stand, but they want a person who also knows their worth. That means a real person. Someone who wants to work hard, learn hard, and at times play hard.

So if you’re interviewing with one of the Big Four companies, my opinion is somewhat contrary to what some “experts” say. My advice? Just relax, come off confident, and know your stuff.