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The Big Four – PWC, E&Y, KPMG, Deloitte: everything you wanted to know

For young people who are just starting their careers, one of the best places to work and grow quickly is the Big Four audit firms: PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst and Young, Deloitte and KPMG.

Among the advantages of working in them, in the first place is the fact that in them “a year counts for two.” In a relatively short time at the Big Four you will learn a lot and your value in the labor market will increase many times over.

Advantages of the Big 4 jobs

Advantages of the Big 4 jobs

Among the advantages of working in any of these companies, their employees call:

  • clear career prospects
  • huge valuable work experience
  • high demand in the labor market
  • a large number of corporate training and internships
  • prestige of work at PWC, E&Y, KPMG, Deloitte

The Big Four companies are considered one of the best places to work for graduates. The most desirable status for employees of these companies is the title of a partner of the company. This does not imply a salary, but an equity of the company’s income, and partners’ incomes are estimated up to average about 690,000 USD per year in early 2020.

In our article, we will look at the differences between these four companies: PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst and Young, Deloitte and KPMG, and try to make recommendations about the career path that is right for you.

In early 2019, the total number of all Big Four employees in the world was more than 1,100,000 people. In recent years, worldwide, the number of employees of the Big Four has been growing by more than 90,000 people per year. In a stable economy, these companies are actively recruiting new people, although, we must note that another major the reason such high number of new recruits is the high employee turnover in these companies.

Disadvantages of the Big 4 jobs

Let us briefly describe the main problems for new employees in the Big Four.

First of all, let’s explain why in the Big Four a year counts for two. This is because it is common to work in these companies not for 8 hours, as in most other companies, but for 10-12, and sometimes seven days a week. PWC, E&Y, KPMG, Deloitte have the concept of “busy season”, a high season for submission of audit reports from January to May, when these companies work almost around the clock.

Work in this mode does exhaust people. In the Big4 companies, audit and consulting firms, there are frequent cases of problems with blood pressure, heart, eyes, nervous system in people under 30 years old.

Disadvantages of the Big 4 jobs

Another serious difficulty is that the most tedious and ungrateful work in the Big4 is given to newcomers:  compiling documents, archiving, searching for errors. Such work may take 6-7 hours for the preparation and execution of only one document. Due to the general workload, there will be little help from other employees, and mistakes are often made.

Salaries in the Big Four

The first 2-3 years of work in any of the Big Four companies are the most difficult, the employees themselves call themselves cheap slaves. There will be a lot of work, but the payment is frankly small. In most large offices of PWC, KY, KPMG and Deloitte in 2019 for beginner positions, salaries start from about 1000 USD. On average, the average salaries in these companies are as follows:

  1. Trainee – 18,000 – 24,000 USD per year depending on department
  2. Specialist A1 – staff – 24,000 – 26,000 USD per year
  3. Consultant A2 – advanced staff – 30,000 USD per year
  4. Senior Consultant S1 – senior 1 – 32,000 USD per year
  5. Senior Consultant S2 – senior 2 – 36,000 USD per year
  6. Senior Consultant S3 – senior 3 – 39,000 USD per year
  7. Manager M1 – starting 40,000 USD per year
  8. Senior Manager – starting 47,000 and up to 80,000 USD per year
  9. Director of the department and partner – employees in senior managerial positions receive % of the company’s income and the payment rates increase dramatically.

Salaries in the Big Four

Of course, salaries vary considerably depending on your office location and department. In London or New York starting salary in 2019 is about 26,000 USD but in smaller remote offices beginners cannot count on more than 12,000-16,000 USD per year.

The highest starting salaries in the Big4 are in consulting compared to tax or audit departments. And qualified employees can get up to 20% higher salary comparing to non-qualified on the same positions. In general, you can have your salary raise 1-2 times per year and this is quite normal to receive additional bonuses especially for mid-to-senior positions.

Career ladder in the Big 4

The hierarchy of positions in the Big Four and the average terms for promotions are almost the same among PWC, Deloitte, EY and KPMG:

  1. Trainee (intern) – up to 6 months
  2. Specialist (Staff) – 1-2 years
  3. Consultant (Advanced staff) – 1-2 years
  4. Senior Consultant (Senior) – 3-4 years
  5. Manager (M1) – 2-3 years
  6. Senior Manager – 2-3 years
  7. Director of the department – top management position, this is a different level of remuneration and work. Only 3-4% of newcomers achieve this position.
  8. Partner – the highest position, the limit of career dreams for most graduates and most offices.

Career ladder in the Big 4

Due to the high workload of level 1-5 specialists, the Big Four always has high turnover.

The main problems in PWC, E&Y, KPMG and Deloitte regarding working conditions for junior employees are the following:

  • high responsibility – high cost of error
  • long working hours (70-80 hours working week with the declared 40-hour)
  • cramped offices in most major cities
  • the most thankless job is given to beginners
  • in almost all companies, vacation dates are determined not by the employee himself, but by his manager
  • low starting salary

To summarize the above, if you are young – up to 25 years old, ambitious and willing to work 80 hours a week for a low pay, you can grow quickly in the Big Four. For graduates by the age of 30-35, there is an opportunity (according to our calculations, a chance of 1 in 30-35) to receive the status of a department director and partner.

Comparison of the Big Four companies, Comparison of the Big Four accounting firms, comparison of pwc, ey, deloitte, kpmg

Comparison of the Big Four companies

What is the difference between PWC, Deloitte, EY and KPMG? This question is relevant for many graduates who are considering these companies. Below we present the result of our analysis of the features of these four audit companies:

Highest chances to get employed in: Deloitte

All the Big Four companies conduct a rather complicated pre-employment process of picking the bests candidates and it’s not easy to get hired. However, the company that hires the highest number of employees and the job opportunities to which is slightly higher is Deloitte. In addition, Deloitte is the largest company in the world. In 2019 is employs 290,000 people all over the world.

Most prestigious company: PricewaterhouseCoopers

PWC ranks first in the Big 4 employer ranking. EY is in second place, Deloitte in third, KPMG in fourth. If you say: “I work at PricewaterhouseCoopers as an auditor (consultant, at least a cleaner)”, they will look at you with delighted eyes in certain circles.

Best starting payment: Ernst and Young

Everywhere among these companies, the starting payment is low, but at EY it is slightly higher and its growth rate is relatively higher. Lowest payment is at PwC. Among managerial positions, the highest pay is at KPMG. With 4-10 years’ experience the salary is higher at Deloitte.

Fastest career growth: KPMG

All Big Four companies have approximately the same time frames for career growth, but at KPMG they are slightly shorter. KPMG also has a more competent mentoring system: you will have a development manager assigned to you who will help you enter the work process. He can help you move faster in the company and this is a considerable advantage.

Most comfortable working conditions: KPMG

As we wrote above, in all these companies the employees of junior positions are slaves. But KPMG is the only company where longer business hours are paid, it is possible to work remotely, and where the company at least tries to retain new employees. In addition, KPMG usually has the most comfortable and spacious offices in most locations.

How to get a job in the Big 4

How to get a job in the Big 4

The Big Four companies are a very prestigious place of work and the competition for 1 vacancy can reach 500-600 people. According to statistics, only 2.5-3% of applicants receive a job offer.

Applicants at PWC, E&Y, KPMG, and Deloitte are expected to demonstrate:

  • high motivation to work
  • determination
  • leadership qualities (it’s difficult to grow without them)
  • developed communication skills
  • professional knowledge
  • responsibility
  • ability to work both as a team and independently

Candidates for vacancies in the Big Four are required to have several practical skills:

  • the ability to confidently use EXEL and other office and accounting programs
  • ability to thoroughly understand the basic economic terms, the basics of macro and microeconomics
  • the ability to explain these things so that any people can understand them. For example, a team of auditors or consultants can be hired to a factory or farm – you must be able to explain to a person of any level the main financial indicators and methods for improving them.

Candidate selection process in the Big 4 companies

Pre-employment process is all Big Four companies includes 4 standard steps:

  1. Filing an application on the official website of the company
  2. Psychometric aptitude testing – online or in-person
  3. Initial interview
  4. Final interview

Filing an application

All PwC, E&Y, KPMG and Deloitte vacancies are posted both on large HR portals and on their own websites. We recommend using the company’s official website: this way you will increase the chances that your profile will be noticed.

You need to register on the official website of the company you are interested in, create a personal account and enter the data about yourself: education, work experience, personal and contact details. At this stage you must:

  • make sure you meet the requirements of the vacancy you want to apply for. The initial selection of profiles and resumes is carried out by the program – ATS (applicant tracking system). If your set of competencies and experience is at variance with the requirements, you should not even try to send a resume since your application will not pass through ATS;
  • fill in all the fields of the form, they are all required;
  • attach a resume and a cover letter with full information about you: your university, work experience, professional qualities, projects in which you participated in a university or place of work, achievements in sports, participation in charity and social projects;
  • check your resume and cover letter for literacy, mistakes are not tolerated and punished by sending the application to the trash.

We recommend reading our articles in the Preparation section on how to write and make your resume and cover letter visible.

How to look for work on the Internet

6 details of a successful resume

When analyzing your resume, much attention is paid to your place of study, if you are a graduate or still a student, and previous work experience, if you are a specialist. Graduates of the top economic universities or business schools are given a significant priority. It is important for graduates of other universities or colleges to show experience working on case-studies, participating in economic or social societies or circles.

The Big 4 accounting firms

Internships in the Big Four

Important tip: many audit and consulting companies have summer internships for students. For example, Deloitte invites students for 3-6-month internships as an assistant manager. Participation in such internships is a huge plus for your career growth. Firstly, it is almost a guarantee of subsequent employment in any of the Big 4 companies. And secondly, such internships are a very interesting and valuable time. All Big4 the companies conduct a lot of training for intern students, as well as a lot of entertainment events. If you are still a student, we definitely recommend that you take part in an internship from any Big Four company.

It should be noted that to get accepted for an internship in the Big Four is not easy. The selection of participants includes all the same steps as for job seekers: submitting an application on the official website, passing online psychometric aptitude tests and interviewing. And just as well, only 5-6% of applicants reach the end of the selection and receive the invitation to the program.

Psychometric aptitude testing at PWC, E&Y, KPMG and Deloitte

The Big 4 uses tests from SHL and Kenexa. Each department uses its own set of aptitude and professional tests, consisting of questions to test professional knowledge (accounting, finance, taxes), the level of knowledge of the English language, personality, numerical, verbal and abstract reasoning tests. In some departments, only some of these tests are used (for example, most often, abstract reasoning tests are NOT used – only numerical and verbal), but some of them can be supplemented with additional tests of a professional orientation.

Important: some Big 4 companies provide aptitude tests only in English. That is, all tests will not be in your language if you are not from an English-speaking country, but in English. To work in all companies of the Big Four, a very good knowledge of English is required at a level no lower than Upper-Intermediate by TOEFL.

Questions for the English language test are also taken from the TOEFL questionnaires. It also happens that the initial interview at the office is also conducted in English, but most often in local languages.

As we indicated above, you may be required to either pass online aptitude tests via a link, which will be sent to your email address, or have an in-person testing at the office on the company’s computers as part of a group of applicants.

For exact types of aptitude tests used in the Big 4 companies, see the corresponding articles following the links at the end of the article. But for most departments the following tests and assessments are used:

  1. personality and situational judgement test about you work preferences
  2. abstract reasoning test
  3. combined numerical and verbal reasoning test
  4. English language test
  5. essay about yourself and your goals of work in your company in English (Motivation letter)

A separate professional test includes (for example, the tax department):

  1. Close-ended test for taxation of 20 questions (corporate taxes)
  2. Open-ended questions of the following nature: the main difficulties with calculating the payment of taxes for export; list the sections of the accounting (form No. 1); describe the types of tax audits and their differences; the amount of fines for non-payment of taxes; who pays property tax, and who does not; VAT deduction items; what taxes are replaced by UTII (unified tax on imputed income), etc.
  3. Short essay (30 minutes): for example, “Common tax mistakes of companies and how to avoid them” or “What is my dream?”

Psychometric aptitude testing at PWC, E&Y, KPMG and Deloitte

Psychometric testing for abstract, verbal and numerical abilities is the stage of testing your skills to quickly and correctly read and understand texts, graphs and tables. According to employee reviews, aptitude tests at the Big 4 are not difficult if you prepare for them.

Regarding the complexity of aptitude tests in specific companies of the Big 4: numerical and verbal reasoning tests in Deloitte and Ernst & Young are relatively simpler than in PwC and KMPG, since there are fewer questions (15-16 comparing to 25-30 in PwC and KMPG) and you do not get tired so much. Deloitte and Ernst & Young have fewer advanced complex questions than PwC. In EY, the professional test (audit or tax) is also simpler, but more attention is paid to knowledge of professional vocabulary in English. The English test is the most difficult in E&Y.

Numerical reasoning tests at the Big 4

Numerical reasoning tests in all audit companies always contain graphs, tables, diagrams and charts. You won’t need to solve complex calculations but only four basic actions: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, as well as finding ratios, percentages and relations. We recommend repeating the principles of finding ratios and relations. If you have not solved math questions for a long time, this can cause difficulties.

Almost always, numerical reasoning tests include questions for converting currencies and measures (currencies, measures of weights, distances), so you should pay special attention to this when preparing. Usually you will have 60-90 seconds to find the answer for 1 question, and usually you will have 15-25 question in a numerical reasoning test at the Big 4. In SHL tests you may switch from one question to another and vice versa. Therefore, if some question is too difficult and you cannot understand how to solve it, leave it and get down to other questions, so you can return to it later if you have time.

Please see a numerical reasoning test example used in PWC (provided by SHL):

Numerical reasoning tests at the Big 4

Please see the end of the article for the correct answer and full explanation of this numerical reasoning test. First try to find the answer by yourself to assess your abilities. You have 60 seconds to finds the correct answer.

Verbal reasoning tests in the Big Four audit companies

Many applicants find verbal reasoning tests at the Big 4 very complex. Indeed, if you have not seen such verbal tests before, it will be difficult for you to find the correct answer within the given 30-60 seconds.

Remember that often these tests are given only in English even if you are not from an English-speaking country.

The Big Four uses two types of verbal tests:

  1. verbal tests “true – false – cannot say”
  2. verbal analysis tests (multiple choice)

Both of these two types of verbal reasoning tests have their particular qualities. Questions of “true – false – cannot say” verbal tests usually use the same text for 3-4 questions, this way you can have the same passage for 3-4 questions. This is much easier comparing to the verbal analysis tests which have a unique passage for each test and 5-6 answer options. But “true – false – cannot say” tests usually have a time limit of just 30 seconds per 1 question, while verbal analysis tests have a time limit of 60 seconds and more.

See below an example verbal reasoning tests used in one of the Big 4 companies. This is a complex verbal analysis test with multiple choice answers.

Verbal reasoning tests in the Big Four accounting companies

First try to find the correct answer by yourself and only then see the correct answer and explanation below at the end of the article. You have 90 seconds to find the correct answer.

Abstract reasoning tests in the Big 4 firms

Abstract reasoning tests, as we wrote above, are not used in all Big 4 companies and not in all departments. Therefore, we recommend you to find out in advance what specific tests you will have to pass.

In abstract reasoning tests, you will need to find logical rules common for a group of abstract figures and find the answer depending on these rules. Unlike numerical or verbal tests, abstract tests can have a vast variety of types and forms and they can look very different. So, if you know that you will have to pass pre-employment abstract reasoning tests you should prepare for at least 3-4 days and take as many abstract tests as you can. On Aptitude-Tests-Practice you will find the following 3 types of most popular abstract reasoning tests:

  • Matrices
  • Odd One Out
  • Next In Series

Please see below an example of a “Next in series” abstract reasoning test used in the Big Four.

Abstract reasoning tests in the Big 4 firms

Try to find the correct answer by yourself prior to check for it at the end of the article. You have 60 seconds to find the answer.

Personality tests and questionnaires, situational judgement tests in the Big Four

PwC, EY, Deloitte and KPMG widely use situational judgement tests and different personality tests and questionnaires. SJ and personality tests are designed to assess your compliance with the basic rules and corporate values of the company where you apply. Unlike numerical, verbal or abstract tests that assess your intellectual abilities, situational judgement and personality tests measure your psychological qualities like communication skills, responsibility, focus on result, company loyalty, integrity and others. Situational judgement tests and personality questionnaires are an obligatory part of the Big 4 pre-employment process and you should prepare for them as well.

Below you can find an example for a SJT for office personnel used in the BIg Four companies.

Personality tests and questionnaires, situational judgement tests in the Big Four

This test is NOT limited by the time when you need to give an answer. But we recommend to use 90-120 seconds to find the answer. Try to find it by yourself before checking for the correct answer and explanation below at the end of the article.

You can see free examples of aptitude tests of all these types following the links below in our separate articles about each of the Big 4 companies. In these articles you will find a complete analysis of the pre-employment process in PWC, E&Y, KPMG and Deloitte, features of testing in these companies, tips for passing interviews and assessments.


Remember: only preliminary preparation will give you the knowledge of what awaits you in tests and interviews at the Big 4. After preparation you will be much calmer and more confident during the aptitude testing and interviewing, and your chances of success will increase many times over. It is better to spend 4-5 days preparing now than to regret a missed chance for a long time. We wish you a good luck and a prosperous career!


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Numerical reasoing test

Numerical reasoning tests at the Big 4

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Verbal reasoning tests in the Big Four accounting companies

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Abstract reasoning tests in the Big 4 firms

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Personality tests and questionnaires, situational judgement tests in the Big 4

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