Tuesday, September 29, 2009

"Big Four Accounting Experience Required"

A public service announcement from Captain Capitalism.

Along the same lines as "Fortune 50 experience required" or "5+ years required" when the system they're asking you to work on only has been out 4 years, this is another pet peeve, particularly of accounting and finance majors;

"Big four accounting experience required."

Beacause you see, if you weren't an accountant at one of the "Big Four" accounting firms (Peat Marwick, Ernst and Young, Price Waterhouse, and Deloitte and Touche) you obviously weren't doing "real" accounting work and you obviously weren't a "real" accountant.

You see, the secret is that there is this whole NEW world of accounting that you morons, you schleps that work at "faux" accountancies such as Grant Thorton, Boulay Heutermaker, etc. , are completely unaware of.

Oh sure, you may have worked on FASB, GAAP, SOX, but that was really just a front. A whole pseudo accounting system where you're duped into thinking that's how the real world of accounting works.

You see in the "real" world of accounting, you have to learn how to falsify your client's financial statements so that the financial statements look a heck of a lot better than what they really are. You need to be like the now-defunct Andersen Accounting where your job is NOT to follow GAAP, but rather subvert GAAP, find ways around GAAP so that Dotcoms and telecoms look like they actually have value, as opposed to the insolvent entities that they really are.

Rippe and Kingston?

JD Cloud?

James Volz?

Oh PUH-leeeeze.

Those are just posers in the "real" world of accounting.

So, to recap.

If you are going to go to school for accounting or are going to get your CPA, remember kids,

it's all for nought UNLESS you work for one of the Big Four accounting firms.

Practice your ass-kissing skills for those interviews!!!

This PSA announcement brought to you by Captain Capitalism.


ngthagg said...

I love the brazen admission by this company that they are lesser beings in the world of accounting. They are saying, in essence "We are unable to judge the quality of applicants effectively, so we rely on the Big Four to judge for us."

Billy B said...


I have worked closely on several projects with accountants & consultants from the Big 6 (oh, i am so last century!), and I will tell you they worry more about how many hours they are billing (playing solitaire 1/2 the time) to keep the "partner" happy versus doing a good job for the customer. Big 6, Leftover 4, it doesn't matter - all worthless in my humble opinion.

Anonymous said...

I interviewed with 3 of the Big 4 in the last two weeks. Two of them came off as human and normal, one was a cretin. However, what got under my skin the most was that our career services advisor basically told us to lie to them, because they don't want to hear the truth that we only want to work there because better places to work value their companies name on our resume. We also need to make up reasons that their accounting firm is so much better than the rest as the reasons we wanted to work there. Please.

As much as I want to work there solely because corporate HR schmucks that need to be fired think that you're a quality accountant only if you've worked at the BIG 4, if I don't get the job, I won't cry that I miss out on a job that pays 55k a year for 70 hour work weeks.

Dr. Bob said...

I think the Capt. makes a good point here.

The big four aren't really accountants in the sense of following normal (honest) accounting practices, they are "financial engineers" which push the accounting rules to the edge. Basically, they're hired to manipulate the financials to look as good as possible.

Of course, the driving force for this is to maximize executive pay based on short term stock price which is based on those manipulated, financially engineered and false accounting reports.

If you can't make the financial results you want because it takes too long, or requires more work/investment than you want to put in, you cheat and take the easy route, cheat and game the financials.

It just makes you wonder how many of the Fortune 500 or S&P companies' financial reports are unreliable and untrustworthy, and how unreal are they.

Billy B is also right. In the big consulting firms, all that matters is billable hours (and your rate). As a poster once said "If you're not a part of the solution, there's good money to be made in prolonging the problem."


codemonkey said...

Not to defend this practice too much, but in most markets, the best grads (high grades, leadership, etc.) know that a stint in a Big Name CPA firm will give you skills at varied clients.

Even at the crooked ones (AA comes to mind), the junior staff, even low-level management aren't cooking the books - that is at the partner level. At Enron, for example, the whole scheme to move liabilities off balance sheet was a "value-added" service (that independent auditors can't do anymore). This did not start out in any way fraudulent, but the scale grew until the tail wagged the dog.

In my opinion, the 2nd tier firms like Grant Thornton are just as good an experience, and employers should know it. (Most say this experience is a "plus", or "preferred"). If you graduate and take a corporate job, you will be doing something simple, without a lot of breadth, and in 2-3 years, your new boss will be someone in your graduating class who jumped on the fast track at a public firm.

I am an ex-accountant (with a Big 8/6/4 stint). Since, I've been an ERP consultant for years, preferring the technical side, and even there, there are credential-building jobs that say you are cut out for higher-level, more strategic assignments (ironically, at Big Consulting Firms).

Cap, you might update the names - they are KPMG not Peat Marwick, and Deloitte & Touche has rebranded to just Deloitte across its consulting, auditing, tax and other lines.

In this case, I do thinking working in an firm that does a lot of audits (not just regular accounting), you are exposed to a variety of systems and accounting practices, and get quite good at understanding them. They also provide first-rate continuing education and training for new hires that puts them several cuts above someone who has just been booking journal entries, or doing accounts payable.

I was surprised when I interviewed at corporate entities that were hiring my friends. They paid a little more than the then Big 8, but I generally didn't understand why they hired college grads for such simple work. After 2 years at a Big firm, working for a number of clients in intense, challenging environments, while my buddy did what looked to me like data entry, put me way ahead of him for the rest of my career. If I had been the Controller of that company (a large public company), I would have staffed with para-professionals and undergrad students for 70% or more of the work with a few experienced people (some of the para-professionals that finished their degrees) providing supervision and oversight. (The company rejected me, saying they "didn't have anything suitable for a man with my ambitions". - True that...)

Accounting as a discipline can range from a real understanding of a business, and making complex decisions and measurements and analysis, to just being a bookkeeper.

Sadly, there were a few excellent people who didn't know that a few years at a Public Accounting firm would be a giant career accelerator, and instead chose what turned out to be a slower track. (My friend was a Gas Revenue Accountant - good specific knowledge of an area, but not much portability of the skills to say, manufacturing, financial services, cost accounting, or anything else).

Some of this is due to lazy HR people limited down the jobs to "safe" credentials. Ironically, when a big firm lays someone off who is not totally deadwood, they try to get them a position at a client (keeps the relationship going), so the clients aren't necessarily getting the very best. Nevertheless, generally, you see a difference in candidates with this background.

Best of luck to your career change, cap. Be careful of some of the certification mills - people still want real experience, so if you can get some while you get credentialed, you'll be in a winning position.

Anonymous said...

Nevermind, that entry-level big X experience means some kids fresh of out college showing up at a client, and "trying to audit" (cough) the books of companies where there are ranks of senior accountants with decades of hands- on experience in a specific industry between them, and after a few years the new kids move on to a different industry they also don't understand.

Ya think old age and guile can't outsmart youth and "enthusiasm"?! The corporate accountants I knew used to joke that they could hide entire subsidiaries from most of the Big X accountants, if they were minded towards a little mathematical skullduggery.

Oh yes, and the "experienced supervising partners" their job isn't accounting - it's managing the client account - My previous public company we joked his job was to take the chief accountant to lunch.

Sparky said...


A few months ago, I was looking for a new job (I was on contract, and was looking for my next gig), when I came across a posting in my field, that listed almost two dozen different skills and knowledge "Key Requirements" and no other requirements save for a couple of lines to wherein I was to explain why I would be better than anyone else for the job.

Immediately, I knew that this was not a company with whom I wished to work, and actually sent them a letter explaining why. Needless to say, I did not hear back from them.

For those who may be wondering why I came to this conclusion ....
1. A well structured advertisement, may list skills, but will break them down in required, nice to have, and bonus point skills. As this listed only "required", and many were of the nature that typically reside in the "nice to have" or "bonus" sections, this told me that they are either unable to prioritize, and/or they are lazy, sloppy and/or incompetent. The ad is their first impression when hiring talent.

2. The request to have me explain why I am the best for the job is as far as I am concerned, a flat-out bullshit request. It is their job to determine who is the best for them, not mine. My job, at that point in time was to convince them that I was the person they both want and need. Furthermore, to answer to this absurd request honestly, requires knowledge of the strength and weaknesses of the other applicants (which no applicant is typically ever in). Thus, to answer it, the only way is to lie, or be intellectually dishonest. And I will not work for someone who encourages dishonesty.

That's just two of my job posting beefs.

rabbit said...

Speaking as a middle manager...

When it comes to hiring, the Human Resources department is an obstacle for both the manager attempting to hire and the potential employee.

HR lives and dies by cut-and-dry qualifications. I don't allow them to "screen" respondents for me. The perfect candidate could send in a resume, and HR wouldn't know it because it didn't quite match their list of requirements.

HR also loves putting in stuff in the ad such as "The successful candidate will be a team-oriented self-starter with excellent communication skills" and other useless blather.

herringchoker said...

Does that mean former Arthur Anderson employees can't apply?

First Mate said...

Bribes and / or death threats have always worked for me.

UC Berkeley has the Arthur Andersen Auditorium.

Missouri has the Ken Lay Chair of Economics.

I want the Henry Morgan Chair of Economic Piracy.


"Jews can't be pirates." Neither can Mexicans or Gingers.

"These aren't pirates. They're just a bunch of black people." - Cartman (in Somalia)

I love South Park.

Anonymous said...

There is a real reason they ask for this...my wife, an accoutant, worked there and they are slave drivers - no pay overtime and poor benefits. looks good on a resume, but you die at your desk on a Saturday night.....only fools work for the big 4.

John Popper said...

Working from the Big Four is such a great accomplishment for anyone. I'm aiming to get to the big 4 of trusted accounting firms in dubai.