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Is TikTok a threat to Big 4 recruitment?

Nov 24, 2021 - Tax, Sourcing Talent, Recruitment Room

Those familiar with the app will be aware of the ‘For You’ page and the accuracy of the algorithm used to bring you tailored content. It shouldn’t have surprised me that, shortly after joining Harvey John, I stumbled upon many recruitment-related videos as well as what I’ve dubbed as ‘Big 4 Tik Tok’.

Intrigued, I investigated #Big4 on the app and was astonished to see the level of engagement this hashtag has been generating. At the time of writing this, engagement figures stand at 54.8 million. Many creators utilising the platform to speak about their ‘Big 4’ experiences have found viral fame, one of the most viewed clips has generated 422.9k likes.

But how does this impact Big 4 hiring?

What my casual late-night TikTok scrolling unearthed was not only videos that document life in the Big 4 but also the struggles many faces when working with the accounting giants around the world. The corporate structures, working patterns, partner behaviours, and the impact on mental health are just a few of the types of themes on display in Big 4 TikTok.

Social media has long become a driving force behind corporate branding and recruitment. With the rise in popularity of TikTok, how will this impact future recruitment into the Big 4?

A closer look at what Big 4 TikTok reveals

It’s clear that much of the content actively critiques the ‘Big 4’ experience.

A common theme amongst creators is the long working hours that have historically come part and parcel with working at these firms. One creator highlights the fact they’re working 16 hour days, another states that even when they’d completed their projects they were not allowed to leave the office before senior staff.

Many go on to explain the impact this is having on the health of staff leading to burnout.

As well as the long hours, creators address how time pressures and workload placed on staff can place intense stress on them.

One creator's video notes all the perks of working for a top firm as well as the prestige her parents had in them for working there, however, the creator implies this meant nothing due to the fact that they had been left mentally drained from work.

A comedic sketch satirises the lack of reward or praise staff receive for their hard work, particularly during tax season. Playing the role of a Partner, the creator presents a stressed and exhausted team with a pizza at 9 pm to boost morale, with the aim of keeping the staff working even later before exiting the room. Reaffirmed by a very active comments section, it appears that the reward of a 9 pm takeaway is a universal ritual across the Big 4 and that the younger generation of professionals will naively accept pizza as a thank you for neglecting their personal lives for no extra pay.

Other issues addressed include the ease of getting lost in the corporate structures as well as the intentions of graduates to enter the ‘Big 4’ to get ACA qualified, then leave in search of roles with better work-life balance.

Don’t panic Big 4 HR teams, there’s positive content too!

Many of the viral videos give helpful advice to those embarking on their ‘Big 4’ careers, providing interview tips and navigating the corporate structures.

Regardless of the negative narrative which dominates the hashtag, the novelty of working at a ‘Big 4’ firm is still viewed as prestigious and an experience they wouldn’t take back. It’s clear amongst many creators that working for a ‘Big 4’ is a career-defining experience that provides learning and development opportunities to become experts and a springboard for one’s career.

As well as this, the networking opportunities are endless. Some creators note that working with professionals from across the globe has enabled them to learn and establish themselves in the finance world.

Salaries remain comparatively more generous at the ‘Big 4’ in comparison to mid-tier firms - particularly for graduates.

What impact does this have on recruitment?

As a past or present Big 4 professional, you may have read these to be quite trivial issues. But with work-life balance and mental health on the front line of graduate considerations when entering the workforce, these representations amongst platforms like TikTok could have serious ramifications for four firms that have relied so heavily on high volume graduate and school leave recruitment.

Even beyond entry-level hiring, with the battle for talent becoming fiercer than ever in the consultancy world, positive corporate branding is everything.

As recruiters, we’ve seen first-hand how the Big 4 environment is changing for the better and adapting to the current climate. The culture of long working hours, presenteeism, politics, lack of gender or racial representation at the leadership level - these are all beginning to appear less evident.

But with TikTok showing no signs of slowing down, could yesterday’s old school practices that still linger in these firms unwind efforts for tomorrow?

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Katie Thomas is Research & Content Consultant at Harvey John

For expert advice on how to get the best out of your tax career, whether in a professional services firm or in-house, contact us today.

Harvey John is a specialist Accountancy, Tax & Treasury, and Legal recruiter operating across the UK & EMEA market