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Recruiting Season: It’s Decision Time; Dealing with Radio Silence; Stalling That Eager Firm

Welcome to the latest Recruiting Season Q&A. This is where we answer several questions from anxious accounting students. Remember, you won't know if your question is stupid unless you ask. Email your query to [email protected] with "Recruiting Season Question" in the subject line.

Just a reminder – we're compiling the starting salaries for new associates from public accounting firms large and small in order that you gloat or envy accordingly. Email us yours and include your location, service area, signing bonus (if applicable) firm, and any other applicable information. Now, on to your letters.


I have two entry level full time associate offers so far this recruiting season one from McGladrey in Washington D.C. and the other from KPMG in Norfolk, VA.  My question is, given my options, would it be more ideal to start out in a smaller firm in a larger market that is Washington D.C., or start at a Big 4 in a smaller tertiary market that is Norfolk, VA?

This will undoubtedly make me sound like a homer Big 4 whore, but think about this way – if you're a baseball player that has the option of starting on team like, say, the Pittsburgh Pirates or riding the bench with New York Yankees, which would you choose? You'd choose the Yankees because, love 'em or hate 'em, they're the Yankees. Now, it's probably unfair to equate McGladrey with the Pirates and God knows that KPMG is more like the Cubs (popular team/throws a lot of money around/perpetual losers) than the Yankees but you get the idea. 

Unless you're dying to live in the nation's capital, I don't see how you conclude that taking the job with McGladrey is the better option. Plus, it's not like you're in El Paso or some awful place and opportunities within KPMG could have you winding up in DC anyway.

"Heard Nothing Back":

I have put in applications to a couple Big 4 offices in my area, but neither actively recruited on my campus this year. I really want to get out of this area so I've been putting alot of hopes on these two submissions. My question is: Do they even look at those online applications through their website? Cause I've heard absolutely nothing from either firm and since neither one gave a time frame for a response (or any hint that a response would come at all), I'm wondering if I should give up hearing back from them. It's not like I'm a terrible student (3.9 GPA), and I have some prior relevant work experience. You would think I would get at least a courtesy e-mail saying, "Hey, we looked at it your info and we don't think you'd be a good fit." or "Hey, we drew smiley faces on your application and threw it in the trash." Something. ANYTHING. Am I worrying too much?  

Yes, you're worrying too much. And yes, you should give up on hearing from them. And yes, a courtesy email would be nice, but that's not really how the online application process works at the Big 4. Unless there's something on your résumé that flashes like a neon sign, it will plunge down a dark hole never to be seen or spoken of again. You have to get in front of someone at these firms to have any kind of real shot. Back to the drawing board, friend.


I received an internship offer from a firm that was ahead of the others in their recruitment schedule. So much so that they asked for a response before the date of the second round for another firm I'm recruiting with. I think it would be unreasonable for them to deny me more time to evaluate my options and make the best decision. That being said, do you think I would be better off sending a tactful email explaining the situation and request an extension or should I accept the offer and continue to the interview anyway so that I don't risk having the offer retracted. Option B seems unprofessional but I suppose if they have the option to retract my offer and extend it to an array of other students waiting in line behind me, I should protect myself as well. They're both similar firms so I don't want to piss anyone off too bad, I'd just like to have options before I make the decision.
Actually, I think you'd be better off sending an email with the subject: HOLD YOUR FUCKING HORSES.
On second thought, don't do that. And don't accept their offer only to interview with other firms. That will make you a loathsome person. Sending an email to them requesting an extension will be fine. There is a risk that they may rescind the offer but like you said, you'd prefer to have some options. A smart firm would respect that and not put a gun to your head. Buncha eager beavers.
"Mystified Intern":
I just received my internship preference email, asking whether I wanted to be placed in Core Tax or Private Company Services. The email mentioned a few examples of Core Tax (financial services, SALT and Industry services) but I'm still a bit fuzzy on the differences between the two. What should I know? Are there any similarities/differences that should weigh heavily on my decision? Is one more in-demand right now? Would one be better for career advancement if I get and accept an offer after my internship is through? Do they both have the same busy season end data?
Honestly, you're in a good position here because both groups will offer you very interesting work, IMHO. Private Company Services will have you serving…YEP! private companies and their owners. Taking a quick peek at Deloitte's PCS page, for example, shows you that you could end up doing everything from compliance to wealth/estate planning to international work. Very cool stuff. My guess is that you'd start out in compliance, like most people do, and then would have more opportunities as you progress with firm.
In Core Tax, it's also likely that you would start in compliance, but you'd be serving the firm's larger, publicly traded clients. In financial services you could be working on anything from banks to real estate companies to alternative investment funds. SALT would address clients needs for…yes…state and local tax planning. There's real potential to see very complex and interesting issues and, if you make it known, the chance to work on big deals down the road.
There's no easy recommendation here because there is constant demand for services in both areas. Personally, I think you'd get more diverse experience in PCS but your career won't be a dead-end in Core Tax.
And someone should tell you now – it's always busy season in the tax practice. 
Freak out of the week time from "First World Problems": 
Subject: HARDEST DECISION IN MY ADULT LIFE. Literally. Please help!
I'm a senior at a top ranked accounting school who just finished up with the interview process. The first is a very strong local firm with less than 1,000 employees for a smaller city office. The second is a Big 4 firm for a tax position in one of two offices. I interviewed with them a month ago and only heard back from the small local firm so I automatically signed with them, but I was very excited about it even though I had only one choice.
The Big 4 firm gets in touch with me a week after I signed with the smaller firm, however, and presents me an opportunity to do tax on financial institutions in New York, the biggest city for business in the world. I heard back late because New York was my second option and they had to go through the first office before offering me a position. Most accounting students would die to have this opportunity but I'm incredibly torn.
Not only have I signed with a smaller firm at which I like the people very much and would have incredible mentors, but the smaller firm also has an outstanding M&A tax, due diligence and advisory practice – one thing I really want to work in. Furthermore, I'd actually get to have a life at the smaller firm and the cost of living in this city pales in comparison to New York's. Likewise, this city is where I want to live the rest of my life.
On the other hand, the people who run the show at the smaller firm have all been partners at Big 4 firms working with financial institutions. I would be working with the type of financial products at the NY firm that puts companies like Goldman and JP on the front page of the Wall Street Journal – not a bad field to have some exposure with and is the other field I'd like to work in besides M&A. However, would I really do anything exciting or valuable for the first 2-3 years in New York? Wouldn't I just be a slave working 70 hour weeks half of the year, doing nothing but excel spreadsheets? Building a resume and having a flashy office on my record is not my top priority – learning skills that will put me in important positions down the road is what I care the most about. Also, is going to New York worth it if this smaller city is where I want to settle down in 5-10 years?
Also, even though I have this awesome opportunity it's because I'm a hard worker rather than a 4.0 scholar. I have a lot of common sense and leadership skills but my technical skills are not quite the same as a Wall Street quant who designs the stuff I'd be working on. Even though I signed with the smaller firm, if I had to ask them to release me I think they'd understand why (especially since their partners all worked in offices like the New York office, too) and could live with that if I tell them soon. However, the larger firm wants to know my decision in the next few days.
This is the kind of decision that will impact me for the rest of my life.
What the heck do I do?

Taking a couple of deep breaths would be a good start. Done? Good. Now take a couple more. Run to the nearest nursing home and steal a resident's oxygen tank if necessary.  [drumming fingers, looking at my imaginary watch] Now. "HARDEST DECISION OF MY ADULT LIFE" is a slight overdramatization since I'm guessing you're under 25 years of age. You made a compelling case for the small firm. New York sounds like a crapshoot for you. Stay put. And try to relax a little.

Good luck, everyone.