One of the best ways to start your accounting career on the right foot is by working for a Big 4 accounting firm. These firms, Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young and KPMG, are perfect launching pads for your career, whether you want to work in public accounting or you want to break off and do something different in the future.

However, earning a position at one of theses companies right out of college can be extremely challenging. The competition is fierce, and those who earn positions are not only working hard when it comes to their accounting degree, but they’re doing other activities to make them noticeable. If you want to work for a Big 4 Accounting firm, we know exactly what you can do to develop the skills these firms are looking for and stand out as an ideal candidate.

Information technology and accounting

Today’s accountant, no matter their position, needs to be well versed in information technology. Entry level accountants are going to come into contact with automation, AI, data analytics, and a variety of information systems on a daily basis, and career growth is going to be largely based on technology related skills.

The audit field has an especially close relationship with automation and information systems. Many transaction level audit functions are being given to automation; on the flip side, auditors need to be aware of how to evaluate systems within the organizations they audit as automation is implemented to improve efficiency and boost growth.

Those working at the industry level in accounting or finance roles are probably working with automated systems, and they’re definitely utilizing data analytics as competition heats up and organizations search for any innovation to set them apart. Even smaller firms are likely using some sort of data analytics, likely Excel, to monitor hours efficiency or revenue per client.

Outside of automation and data analytics, every accountant is working with an information system in some capacity. Accounting, bookkeeping, and tax softwares are all a type of information system being utilized in the field, from large, multidisciplinary firms to small town CPAs.

The reality is that the accounting field has been rapidly adopting new technologies and slowly merging with the field of information technology over the last 30 years.

The dilemma for Big 4 accounting firms

Big 4 accounting firms have been in the accounting world for a long time and they’re constantly updating their training processes to efficiently bring on new hires. As IT grows within the accounting field faster than education can keep up with it, many firms are finding themselves in a tricky position. They’re either cross-training accounting grads in IT or hiring non-accounting grads to fill accounting functions. In fact, an AICPA survey found that non-accounting graduates made up 31% of new hires in public accounting – an 11% increase from 2016.

Because public accounting has become such a blend of skills, firms face the dilemma of hiring graduates with accounting backgrounds and training them in IT, or hiring graduates with IT backgrounds and training them in accounting. The reality is that IT skills may be more difficult to teach, leading a rise in the hiring of non-accounting graduates.

How you can set yourself apart

If working for a Big 4 Accounting Firm is something you’ve always dreamed of doing, you know you’re going to have to set yourself apart. These firms are always looking for the brightest minds in the field, and while all four have plenty of new hire positions available nationwide, there is a huge supply of applicants; new graduates need to have something that immediately proves they’ll be an asset to the firm.

Standing out to a Big 4 firm takes some careful planning from the beginning of your college career. Considering the impact IT is having in the accounting field, we recommend double-majoring in accounting and information technology to give you the best chance of getting hired at a Big 4 firm when you graduate. You’ll bring immediately implementable skills to the table with a double major in accounting and information technology; you won’t have to be cross-trained in IT and you’ll jump into your new role with an information system familiarity that many other candidates won’t have.

Not only will your resume stand out in a sea of candidates, you’ll also meet the 150-credit hours required by most states to sit for the CPA Exam or earn your CPA License. Big 4 firms want to know you’re serious about your career as an accountant, and it’s likely you’ll be expected to be on track to pass the CPA Exam when you start your new position. By double-majoring, you’ll prove you did your homework and you’re one step closer to attaining your CPA License.

Earning two Bachelor’s degrees also shows your degree of commitment to your career, your ability to work hard to achieve your goals, and your time management skills. While these soft skills may not seem important, most companies also take them into consideration when looking for new candidates.

Even if you’re in the middle of your college career, you can pick up a minor in information technology that will give you many of the skills required to work at a Big 4 firm and set yourself apart from the competition. This will also help you meet the 150-credit hour requirement necessary to sit for the CPA Exam.

And while there is no hard salary data of those with accounting degree versus those with a dual degree in accounting and information technology, it’s likely the dual degree will help you earn more over the course of your career because your skill set will be broad enough to work in both fields. As the field of accounting becomes more dynamic, Big 4 firms will be looking for candidates who can work within IT as well as help build information systems that improve efficiency and spark innovation within the firm. Since tuition at most colleges and universities is a flat rate over a certain number of credit hours, it simply makes good financial sense to get a dual degree in accounting and information technology if it’s going to help you earn more over the life of your career.

So you want to work for a Big 4 accounting firm? Now is the time to invest in information technology skills. Earn a dual-degree in accounting and information technology and stand out from the crowd as the ideal Big 4 candidate.

Megan Bierwirth graduated from the University of Kentucky in 2013 with a Bachelor’s of Science in Accounting and passed the CPA exam within six months of graduation. She worked in both public accounting and industry while becoming a CPA and now runs a virtual bookkeeping company focused on preventive, integrative and complementary medicine professionals.

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