You might hear talk of professional service firms. You might well also wonder what it is this term really means. It is surprising how many applications we see for these firms written by students who don’t really understand what is it that they actually do.
To help you decide whether you want to work in this area (and to then be able to apply to these firms effectively), it is important to find the answer to this question. But insightful information on this topic tends to be hard to find or often jargon heavy. Even if you are not interested in this industry and want to work in other finance or City Career areas, it is an important fact to enhance your commercial awareness toolkit.
The clue lies in the identities of the major players. Word on the street has it that top billing goes to KPMG with Deloitte not too far behind. Throw in Ernst & Young and PwC and you have the 4 companies that are commonly known as ‘The Big 4’.
They sell not products, but expertise, to other organisations.
They provide a full range of customised advice: consultancy, risk assessment, audit, covering matters legal, fiscal, regulatory and technological. Take none of these terms at face value. “Audit” is just as likely to mean examining social or environmental issues as high finance.
What do they expect?
First of all, blood. Newbies are expected to acquire the tricks of the trade from their seniors while simultaneously being hired out for (comparative) peanuts to client companies. The number of hours you can “bill” is paramount. This often means going short on sleep, while remaining alert, creative and responsive at all times. Not for the fainthearted.
Key requirement is commercial awareness a.k.a. an instinct for helping your employers turn a profit. Essential to this is an understanding of marketing. Current buzz terms are “profile”, “visibility”, “branding”. Roughly translated: getting ahead of the competition and staying there. Think Usain Bolt in kill mode.
The ability to pool your knowledge with your colleagues is the cornerstone of a PSF. If you prefer to be Secret Squirrel perhaps another niche would suit you better. This collective ethos seems to be heading one step further with the creation of professional services networks.
“Professional services firms”: the words may not trip lightly off your tongue, but add them to your vocabulary if you’re ambitious, business minded and raring to go.