With work station treadmills, Lego rooms and an annual scavenger hunt, you’d be forgiven for thinking that working as a graduate for the Big Four accounting firms is all fun and games.

Each year KPMG, Deloitte, Ernst & Young and PricewaterhouseCoopers open their doors to a flood of applicants vying for a spot in one of their renowned graduate programs. PwC alone received thousands of applications for only 400 vacancies in Australia for its 2018 graduate program.

The real test of endurance when approaching the Big Four is the application stage. With multiple interviews, an assessment centre and a logical reasoning test – to say the screening process is rigorous would be an understatement.

Katrina Iannella, 23, an audit consultant at PwC, says the firm looks for well-rounded individuals, but recommends quality over quantity for extra-curricular activities.

“Avoid joining clubs to simply boost your resume,” Miss Iannella says.

“It’s better to take on a leadership role in one club so that you can develop soft skills like conflict resolution, time management and communication.”

The UNSW graduate in Commerce and Science also advises that a strong understanding of Microsoft Excel will give students an edge in their application.

“Develop your Excel skills, I use it on a daily basis, more so than any other Microsoft product.”

Working in the Private Clients team, Miss Iannella explains that her role is like being a doctor for businesses.

“Auditors essentially discuss symptoms to understand the root causes behind business’ issues,” she says.

“Just like a doctor, this can be achieved by discussing key problems with clients, analysing company data, and scrutinising business processes.”

Finding a way to convince clients that PwC's aim is to optimise businesses rather than point out mistakes is always a challenge.

“Some clients take it personally when you establish issues in their accounts,” the 23-year old says.

“It’s important to pitch your findings in a way that makes them realise you’re here to help them, not criticise them.”

Working for one of the world’s biggest accounting firms is not without its challenges. The UNSW Business graduate warns that long hours and tight deadlines are an unavoidable part of the job.

“I was once required to produce financial statements in three hours as a team to meet a deadline set by a Japanese listed company,” Miss Iannella says.

“You need to develop ways to solve problems quickly to optimise your time.”

At UNSW, Miss Iannella had no idea what she wanted to do as a career. Now, she advises students to pursue job characteristics instead of a flashy job title.

“I knew that I wanted my career to have adventure, caring individuals, flexibility, clear opportunity for career progression and support for my passions,” she says.

“I am a traveller by nature and therefore I exclusively applied only for companies that had opportunities for travel within the first five years of employment.

“I’m also an avid flamenco dancer during the week, so a firm that allowed me to balance my flamenco dancing and career was very important to me.”