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Public Accounting New Hire Fears That Application Fib Will Jinx The Big Job

Greetings, GC'ers.  Damn, it feels good to be back after a minor hiatus. Let's get to it, shall we?

Subject: Big 4 Dilemma

First off, I want to thank Going Concern for all of the public accounting insight. Now on to my dilemma. Last fall I accepted a full-time audit position with of one of the Big 4. While normally one would be ecstatic, I am concerned that my offer will eventually be revoked. On the application, I gave my correct overall GPA, but misstated my undergrad accounting GPA. Currently I am pursuing a Masters and maintain a strong GPA. So on to my question. Does the background search yield a grade by grade report? Will the firm actually verify my accounting GPA or will they focus on just the undergrad and masters overall GPA? Also, when does the firm typically conduct the background search? Thanks for any light that may be shed on this nerve racking dilemma. 

Concerned potential unemployed accountant

Dear Concerned,

Thanks for reaching out. I really don't think you have much to be worried about here.  Even barring a gross misstatement (i.e. – you earned a 2.7 but listed it as 3.7) on the application, I doubt it will be an issue.  Like you said, you're maintaining a strong GPA in your current Masters program, and I assume that the undergrad GPAs are listed accurately on the résumé you submitted.  The numbers that will matter come onboarding time is what is listed on your college transcripts. Prior to starting your full time position, you'll be required to do two things (among others): 1) sign a release form for a background check and 2) provide an official transcript for both your Masters and undergraduate degrees.  The application you filled out online will be buried in some HR file and probably never crosschecked.  The transcripts will be the official word on your grades.

Regarding the background check – you should be aware that most checks used by the Big 4 cover four areas:

  • Criminal history: As you can probably guess, the #1 reason that graduating accountants have an offer revoked is some sort of criminal record.  Something like a DUI can be enough to raise serious concerns if it is not shared with HR. Should you have something like this on your record, I suggest cutting the situation off at the knees and addressing it with your local office's onboarding rep (and your campus recruiter).  By being proactive, you're able to provide your side of the story before someone at your firm pre-judges (it's human nature) your particular situation.  In fact, I'll do a post on this topic later this month.
  • Employment history: Your summer jobs may or may not show up on the report, depending on how "legit" (read: legal) they were.  If you paid taxes on money earned from a summer job (especially if it was an internship at the same firm) I suggest listing it on the background form. 
  • Education history: Your GPAs will not typically show up on this.  This is more as a confirmation that you graduated. Graduation year and major are typically listed, and grades are confirmed from the transcripts you will provide. 
  • Credit report: Don't worry, your $30,000 in student loans will not affect your standing with the firm (accounting degrees do not grow on trees).   Most college graduates simply haven't had enough time to completely devastate their credit history, but it has happened.  I'm not going to sit here and preach a sermon on why credit history is important; we're mostly all accountants here.  Get your act together.

From a timing perspective, the background check will typically take place sometime between your completion of the release form and your first day.  All issues – if there are any – will be addressed before your first day on the job.  Good luck with everything at your new firm.