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Graduates flock to the Big Four in "toughest job market in a generation"

In PWC's VR world

If you can't get one of the comparatively few graduate jobs on offer in investment banks, there's always the Big Four accountancy and professional services firms (EY, KPMG, PWC and Deloitte). - They hire far more people than banks do, and they typically have a more favourable ratio of applications to graduate roles. This year, however, the Big Four say their applications have risen dramatically.

Justine Campbell, EY's UK&I Managing Partner for Talent, says applications to the firm's graduate programmes are up 65% this year compared to last, even as overall recruitment numbers remain the same. KPMG told the Guardian that its applications for places in 2021 were up 50% in the first three months that recruitment programmes opened. PWC has already had 7,000 students visiting its new virtual reality recruitment campus (of which more below), and Deloitte simply confirms that it too has seen an "increase in interest."

The rush to the Big Four comes as students in the UK face what Martin Birchall, head of graduate research firm High Fliers, describes as "one of the toughest job markets in a generation." It's not just this year's graduates they're competing against, says Birchall - it's last year's too. There's been a, "sharp drop in recruitment last year because of the pandemic, with a very cautious outlook for 2021," Birchall adds. 

High Flier's 2021 graduate hiring report suggests that investment banks are actually increasing their vacancies this year compared to last, while accounting and professional services firms and banking and finance firms are cutting them. As the chart below shows, there are 70 more graduate jobs on offer in investment banks in the UK this year than last. There are 48 fewer jobs on offer in the Big Four.  

Nonetheless, the perception remains - correctly - that Big Four jobs are easier to land.  Campbell at EY says they're hiring 1,000 people this year and are "seeking to reach a diverse talent pool." As "students are facing a really tough jobs market," EY seems a safe haven.

PWC has dramatically adapted its approach to recruitment because of the pandemic. The firm has a 'Virtual Park' where students can choose an avatar, walk around and take part in events. They can also walk up to other employees in the park and talk to each other or to PWC's recruiters. A spokeswoman for PWC says they plan to recruit 1,211 graduates in 2021 - the same number as pre-COVID. 

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AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor

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