Sep 11 2009

PricewaterhouseCoopers and Rivals are Recruiting More M.B.A.s

By gayathri vaidyanathan

PricewaterhouseCoopers is ramping up its hiring of M.B.A.s, with plans to recruit 75 to 100 business-school graduates in 2010.

The Big Four accounting firm planned to bring on 60 to 90 graduates from master's degree in business programs in 2009, up from 40 last year.

"We've found that we have excellent return value from M.B.A. hires," said Margaret Burke, human-resources leader for the advisory practice based in New York. "They are able to make an impact quickly."

While most accounting firms, including PWC, do the majority of their recruiting from bachelor and master's degree in accounting programs, more are beginning to pick up M.B.A.s, according to Keith Feinberg, director of permanent placement at the New York branch of staffing firm Robert Half International.

An improving economy and the need to make sense of new regulatory guidelines in the financial sector are what's driving the trend, he said. A small but growing number of accounting firms are starting to seek professionals with broader and deeper business experience with strong analytical skills. "They are looking for people with well-rounded backgrounds," he said.

Big Four rival Ernst & Young is hiring about 20 b-school grads into its performance-improvement practice this year, dipping from a peak of 25 in 2007 when it began hiring M.B.A.s.

"The nature of the work is driving the recruitment," said Kristina Liphardt, the firm's M.B.A. recruiting leader who is based in New York. At Ernst & Young, they work primarily in finance, performance improvement, supply-chain management and customer service, she said.

At PWC, most M.B.A. recruits have three to seven years' experience and fill senior associate posts in its advisory practice. The M.B.A.s that it hires are recruited to work in finance, operations and supply-change management and human-capital management.

While KPMG does not actively recruit M.B.A.s since its consulting practice spun off in 2002, it does targeted M.B.A. hiring, according to Malana Sanders, a KPMG recruiting director, who is based in Chicago. Deloitte does hire M.B.A.s, though, said Diane Borhani, head of U.S. campus recruiting for Deloitte in Chicago, who declined to provide specifics.

Just 7% of master's degrees in accounting-related disciplines were M.B.A.s in accounting, according to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. Most accounting-industry professionals headed to graduate school tend to pursue a master's degree in accounting, which typically leads into audit and tax work. The reason: There are more jobs in this area than in front-office work, although the number of positions for experienced graduates is opening up slowly.

Recruiting at all levels in the field has begun to pick up again after a drop in 2008, when hiring was down at most firms, said Feinberg.

"We are not out of the woods yet, but we are trending in the right direction," he said.

The hottest areas for hiring in accounting are financial services and health care, according to Feinberg. Also in demand are professionals with experience in insolvency, bankruptcy, litigation support and International Financial Reporting Standards. There is also some demand for candidates in senior-level roles.

"M.B.A.s or no M.B.A.s, people need to remain positive and continue to network," said Feinberg. "In the current market, you need to show your most well-rounded attributes."

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