Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

How Do I Get into a Big 4 Tax Specialty Group Without a ‘Preferred’ Degree?

Today in “fish my career out of the crapper,” a recent grad has started a masters program hoping to get into a speciality tax practice with a Big 4 firm. However, the reader is concerned that their program won’t be attractive the speciality groups. HELP!!

Have a question about your career? Worried that your porn star spouse might derail your path to partner? Need advice on broaching the subject of the shitty coffee in your office? Email us at [email protected] and we’ll be sure that you get the help you need.

Back to our accountant-to-be in jeopardy:

I graduated from undergrad with a degree in accounting in April of this year and immediately began a masters of accountancy program in the Boston area. I did not have an internship since I chose to study abroad instead. I am fluent in Korean, and am interested in tax issues encountered by expatriates and multinational corporations. I am also interested in valuations for M&A. I have wanted to work in a Big 4 or other large accounting firm in the business advisory or tax divisions. However, looking at the job requirements for the positions in these two divisions, the firms prefer students with degrees in economics, finance, taxation, and even JDs and LLMs. My program, on the other hand, is more of a general accounting program geared towards auditing and preparing students for the CPA exam. So, my question is, “how can I get a job in tax or advisory–preferably dealing with tax issues–without experience or a ‘preferred’ degree?” The simple answer would be to just apply and point out the interests that I have, but would this accomplish anything more than alienating myself from potential employers and positions in assurance that could get me in the door and eventually onto the career path that I desire?

While your advanced degree will help your chances with the Big 4, we are wondering why you didn’t go with a program that would have allowed you to pursue a tax concentration, since that is your primary interest.

But never mind that, the issue at hand is how you get into these specialty groups without experience or a preferred degree. The answer is: it will be tough. You do have the advantage of being bilingual which will be extremely attractive, especially for any international speciality groups. If you can land a tax position, leverage this strength and communicate your interest in areas of expats and multinational issues. If you’re feeling really ambitious and learning a new language is easy for you, consider picking up a little Mandarin or Japanese to give you an even bigger advantage over your peers.

That may sound crazy but it will make you stand out from other people competing for these sexier jobs in specialty tax and advisory and like you said, if you just have a plain-Jane Masters and not the ideal background, you’ll need to make yourself stand out somehow. These groups are small and they don’t take on many new hires and yes, they do prefer people with the degrees you mentioned.

You also ask, “would this accomplish anything more than alienating myself from potential employers and positions in assurance that could get me in the door[?]” Again, if you’re interested in tax, why are you thinking about interviewing for audit positions? It will make your path to the speciality groups longer and even more difficult. Only pursue this if it’s the last resort.

Get into the tax practice if you can and go from there; your interest in international groups will seem less self-serving. You’ll probably have to do some time in compliance but that will serve as a good foundation for your career goals.