How the Big Four accountants are shaking up the traditional interview process

05 October 2015 -


Big Four auditor Deloitte has become the latest major company to abandon traditional academic requirements for employing career starters, but how are leading employers innovating their recruitment practices to find the best talent for their organisation?

Jermaine Haughton

For most business leaders, recruitment is one of their biggest challenges. Long gone are the days when employers were simply interested in hiring someone who can only carry out their job role. With the extensive costs and time spent acquiring new members to the team, many managers want to find candidates who fit in with the workplace culture, enjoy their work, display leadership qualities, show a willingness to learn new things and are likely to develop their careers long-term within the company. This is not to mention the positive impact superstar performers, especially in client-facing roles such as sales, can have on the company bottom line.

Therefore, getting hiring right is vital.

According to recent research by the Prince’s Trust and HSBC, almost three quarters (73%) of British businesses believe a skills crisis will hit the UK within the next three years. Almost a third (32%) of organisations report skills shortages at entry level, while 72% believe that the recruitment of young people into the workforce is vital to avert a skills crisis.

Firms are reacting by distancing themselves from traditional selection procedures. Deloitte has taken the surprising step of hiding the name of where applicants went to school or university from recruiters to prevent any "unconscious bias" from selectors.

The professional services firm, with more than 14,000 UK employees, has also developed an algorithm that will take into account the context in which candidates achieved their grades, such as the disadvantages of attending an under-performing school: an applicant getting three B grades at A-level could be seen as "exceptional" if the average for their school was three D grades.

Rival firms EY and PwC have also taken similar steps, abandoning their standard academic requirements for graduate and school-leaver programmes, with the former using its own pre-employment tests to filter through applicants. Tech firms such as Google administer their own sample-work tests, while American start-up Quixey challenged engineers to solve a 60-second programming puzzle, offering a $100 reward every day for a month.

Of course, for many large and small firms academic qualifications are still key criteria, but growing changes to recruitment practices suggest a growing dissatisfaction in the quality of degree classifications and A-Level grades in determining the most suitable employees. Laszlo Bock, Google’s senior vice president of people operations, has been quoted as saying that while good grades don’t hurt, they're “worthless as a criteria for hiring”.

With large companies establishing more flexibility around their entry requirements, it creates more opportunity to improve diversity within the workforce, making their organisations more representative of gender, ethnicity, age and disability in the UK. Currently only 4% of EY’s most senior staff are from ethnic minorities and fewer than one in five are female. PwC and Deloitte’s statistics are similar.

Research from the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI), based in New York City, has provided some of the clearest links between increased workplace diversity and improved company performance.

The 2013 study found that American publicly-traded companies with significant gender and race diversity with their management teams were 45% more likely than those without to have expanded market share in 2013 and 70% more likely to have captured a new market. Moreover, the report showed that when teams had one or more members who represented a target end-user, the entire team was as much as 158% more likely to understand that target end-user and innovate accordingly.

Critics of the recruitment changes at Deloitte, however, point to the potential difficulties of fairly filtering candidates, considering backgrounds and experiences differ greatly with each individual. The goal remains to find to find the best person for the job and the company, but by making sure that person is chosen from the fairest, most intellectually-rich and widest possible pool of candidates.

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