Getting In at Ernst & Young

The Big Four auditing firm is one of the top employers of students and MBAs. Two of the company's recruiters talk about their MBA hiring program

Big Four auditing firm Ernst & Young, which ranked No.3 in BusinessWeek's most-recent Best Places to Launch a Career survey, is one of the top campus employers—hiring a total of 5,500 undergrads and MBA students annually.

Larry Nash, recruiting director of branding, communications, and market leadership, and Kristina Liphardt, MBA recruiting leader, recently talked to BusinessWeek reporter Sara Hennessey about what Ernst & Young is looking for when recruiting MBAs. Following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Can you talk a bit about company culture at Ernst & Young and about E&Y as a company?

Nash: We really strive to be a company that fosters an inclusive and flexible environment that encourages involvement in the community. We pride ourselves on our "people first culture," and there's a lot of opportunity at EY for learning and development, both inside and outside of the firm, and the career opportunities are rich and diverse. We're involved in a number of coaching and mentoring programs, including our Entrepreneur of the Year program, which is run in 39 different countries, and we're very aware of the fact that our business decisions impact those around us. Overall, we have a unique culture that's really robust and has helped garner us many awards. We've been ranked by Fortune magazine as one of the "100 Best Companies To Work For" for the 10th consecutive year, and we've ranked the highest in the Big Four for the past several years, which is something we're really proud of.

Can you characterize your recruiting program at EY?

Nash: Every year, we are consistently one of the top 10 largest employers on campus. We hire the most students from campus every year. We hire 3,300 full-time students and 2,200 undergrad interns, so about 5,500 per year. We spend a lot of time looking at schools that are producing the highest quality of individuals, and we take the approach of treating each school like a "client." We spend time getting to know the students and faculty, and we invest significant effort in getting to know undergrads as well as MBAs.

We've recently launched a new visual identity around achieving potential, and we're going for a more consistent look and messaging that's global.

We've received a lot of information from students via research and e-mails about how they want more information about our hiring process and we really listen to their wants and needs. We've added a suite of tools to our Web site called EY Insight that includes interview tips, videos, and materials candidates can use so that they're fully prepped for not just EY, but for an interview with any company. We have tools that can show you what practice areas are the best fit, depending on the kind of work you like to do, as well as an EY 360 tool that shows a day or year in the life of an EY employee. It's a people profile tool that's interactive and engaging as well as being very real and authentic. People may not be aware of all the opportunities available to them at EY—audit and tax are a few of our bigger practices, but we actually do a lot more. We have a growing advisory business, with a growing number of practices, and terrific opportunities for people with a variety of backgrounds.

Do you have any tips to offer job candidates who are looking for advice on getting through the interview process?

Liphardt: We're looking for candidates to be able to differentiate themselves and to be prepared to share experiences. We use both behavioral and case study questions, so it's all about how prepared candidates are and how they can best sell themselves.

So what are you looking for when hiring MBAs at EY? What kind of candidates would be noteworthy? What would impress you?

Liphardt: In terms of MBA candidates, we're looking for people who demonstrate strong analytical skills and problem-solving skills, business logic, presentation skills, and show good teamwork. At EY, we find that a large part of our success is driven by teamwork, so it's really an important skill set to bring to the table.

Once hired, what can EY employees best do to stand out and rise to the top of the ranks?

Nash: We're looking for people with positive, enthusiastic, go-getter attitudes. Showing the ability to work in a team with others, showing initiative, seeking out projects to take on instead of simply taking what's handed to you. We also look for technological proficiency and flexibility in different kinds of work as well as flexibility in travel plans. A lot of our client work requires travel.

Which schools do you focus your recruiting on?

Liphardt: We have a fairly focused recruiting program, and until the past year or two, it was mostly focused on undergrads, but now we're focusing more on MBAs and we're recruiting at 12 to 15 campuses, though we do take applications as well as referrals from other schools. Some of the schools we recruit at are Notre Dame, Indiana, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, the University of Southern California, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Georgia, Emory University, the University of Texas at Austin, and Texas A&M.

What can an MBA program do to improve the kind of employees they produce?

Liphardt: We're really pleased with the quality of the candidates at the schools we focus on.

Nash: We enjoy working closely with the faculty too; they allow us to come into the classroom and with their help, students are better prepared and know more about us and what we do.

Liphardt: We're incredibly happy with how students see us—among undergrads, we were ranked by business and accounting majors as the No. 1 place to work by Universum. Among MBAs surveyed by Universum, we jumped over 30 spots to No. 22 on this year's list. We're exceptionally proud of this and of how students are viewing us and our brand.

Has the economic slump affected recruiting at all? Do you think hiring will be as strong this year?

Liphardt: We're still growing our Advisory Services business, so this is a very exciting time for us, with opportunities for MBAs at EY.

Nash: I expect we'll see a slight increase in the number of MBAs we hire and the same if not more undergrads that we hire.

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