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Learning about accounting’s Big Four turned out to be a big break

USC business student’s connection to a recruiter at a top firm will lead to a coveted position after graduation

Aisha Counts
As a freshman, Aisha Counts had never heard of the Big Four accounting firms. (Photo/Julie Tilsner)

If you want to know why Big Four accounting firms come to USC to meet USC Marshall School of Business undergraduates the week before classes start, look no further than Aisha Counts.

In 2014, Counts was a nervous freshman from San Antonio.

“I was surprised to get an invitation to this reception,” she said. “I’d never even heard of the Big Four.”

But she attended and came away with a connection to a recruiter at the global accounting firm EY, formerly Ernst & Young, which invited her to apply for the Discover EY symposium. She was flown to New York City for an all-expenses paid trip to meet members of the EY team over winter break.

That experience in turn led to a paid summer internship, which led to other opportunities.

“I’ve been on rotation with the company,” she said. “Every summer I’ve interned in a different area.”

Now, as she starts her final semester, she has another good thing locked up: a full-time consulting job from EY.

“It’s so cool that I’ve come full circle, from freshman business student to a professional consultant,” she said. “And these opportunities were put in front of me from my first days on campus by Marshall and Leventhal. It has literally been life-changing.”

Zivia Wilson Sweeney, associate professor of clinical accounting at the USC Leventhal School of Accounting, and a co-founder of the Big Four Reception, recalls meeting Counts at an interview for the President’s Scholarship — which Counts won — and inviting her to the reception.

“We are so proud of her and delighted to help match her talents with such a selective employer.”

Matching talent with jobs

Big Four Recruiting Day is a big deal at USC, matching the best students with recruiters hungry for diverse candidates. Representatives of the Big Four accounting firms — Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC, also known as PricewaterhouseCoopers — set up for the event on the patio of Moreton Fig on Aug. 17, ready to meet a number of interested students with brochures and swag.

Recruiter talks to student

A recruiter from one of the Big Four accounting firms meets students. (Photo/Chris Flynn)

The reception came about, Sweeney said, because Big Four accounting firm partners she spoke to were always asking how they could identify and groom promising candidates from traditionally underrepresented demographics. She approached Tiffiani Frye, director of undergraduate admissions for USC Marshall, who agreed there should be an easy way to connect these students with interested employers. Together they helped create the annual reception, which is underwritten entirely by the recruiters.

Milli Penner, assistant dean for undergraduate programs at USC Leventhal, was recruited later to join the team.

Now in its sixth year, it has, by all accounts, been a breakout success.

“We are proud to be building a student body that reflects the world in which we live,” USC Leventhal Dean William W. Holder told assembled students, staff, faculty, alumni, parents and recruiters. “These four firms substantially enrich our programs in many ways, and we could not achieve the quality of education with which we aspire without their many contributions.”

We are proud to be building a student body that reflects the world in which we live.

William W. Holder

USC Leventhal is housed within USC Marshall, and while the reception is open to students in both schools (Counts, for example, is earning a B.S. in business administration along with a B.A. in philosophy), the focus remains on the accounting, tax, regulatory and assurance industries.

“Frankly, some of the best accounting students in the country are here at Leventhal,” said David R. Merriam, a partner at PwC attending the event as a recruiter. “The talent and diversity coming out of this school means we never miss this event,” adding that even in a down recruiting cycle, the firm saves spots for USC Leventhal students.

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Learning about accounting’s Big Four turned out to be a big break

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