Big 4 information sessions are the first events for those interested in a public accounting career. Most attending students are juniors and seniors, but it is never too early to go as a sophomore, or even a freshman.
Before we begin, I’d like to clarify a common misconception, that information sessions and career fairs are the same. What’s the difference?
A career fair is a recruiting event where you can meet tens if not hundreds of potential employers at one place.
An information session is a detailed presentation of one firm (or a small group of related firms) organized by your school. Students get a more in-depth look at the firm in different perspective; firms get to publicize the best aspect of their organizations.
In a nutshell, career fair is a mile wide and an inch deep; information session is the other way round.
The firm starts with an overview on market size, geographic reach, service lines and industries they cover. Honestly the Big 4 sound pretty much the same and you can get this info on the Internet. This introduction isn’t particularly value-add.
2. Local Presence and Industry Focus
It gets more relevant when they talk about local presence. For example, if your school is in the Bay area, the representatives are likely from San Francisco or San Jose. You will then learn about the industry niches and top clients in their offices. This is all valuable information to impress people when you have interviews in their offices.
Also, if you have an industry preference, you will be able to decide whether this office is your top choice. For example, if the San Francisco office’s niche is technology, and you’ve set your goal in financial services, you might want to look at opportunities in other places.
3. Unique Programs
The info session also highlights programs designed for students and young employees, such as internships for sophomores and juniors, and international assignments for senior associates and above.
4. The Hiring Process
Last but not least, the firms go through their hiring process, including the schedule of resume submission and campus interviews.
You are welcome to raise your hand to ask questions, or show your face with recruiters and representatives afterwards.
Info sessions vary from one place to the other. In top-target schools near a big office, the firm sends lots of associates and seniors to attend and therefore the staff: student ratio is pretty good. Also, there are many alumni which makes the conversation more meaningful.
At the other end of the spectrum, there are info sessions with only a few reps. Those are mostly for gathering info rather than making connections.
Many students find info sessions marginally useful (if not totally useless), because:
Having said that, if you fall in these two categories, info sessions could be very helpful:
1. Target the Associates, not Recruiters
The main purpose is to develop firm contacts as a source for advice, interview and case prep, and potential reference in the future. If you attend a big info session with lots of associates and seniors, it is the most efficient way to collect business cards.
Recruiters are helpful but you can get to know them in other events.
2. Don’t Mess Up
You don’t want to leave a negative impression. Dress sharp and don’t ask stupid questions.
3. Don’t Hang out with People You Know
It’s comfortable to mingle with your friends and catch up with the alumni you know. But back to point 1, your main purpose is to meet and collect as many Big 4 contacts as you can.
Follow this advice and you’ll never regret attending any info sessions.
But then, you will have an even better chance to shine at the campus fair…
I am the author of How to Pass The CPA Exam (published by Wiley), and I also passed all 4 sections of the CPA Exam on my first try. Additionally, I have led webinars, such as for the Institute of Management Accountants, authored featured articles on websites like Going Concern and AccountingWeb, and I'm also the CFO for the charity New Sight. Finally, I have created other accounting certification websites to help mentor non-CPA candidates. I have already mentored thousands of CPA, CMA, CIA, EA, and CFA candidates, and I can help you too!