Accounting Student

What the “Big Four” Want in an Accounting Graduate: Spotlight on Jacob Spector

Get the inside track from a Recent Graduate of the Masters of Accounting program at American University.

Jacob SpectorJacob Spector, a recent graduate of American University’s Master of Science in Accounting never dreamed he would become a staff auditor for Ernst & Young, one of the well-known “Big Four” accounting firms.

But while earning his first master’s degree in Hospitality Management from Florida International University, he took courses in financial accounting and financial statement analysis and discovered his true passion: accounting.

The experience changed the direction of his career path and in 2015 he enrolled in the Kogod School of Business MSA graduate program. For Jacob, what set Kogod apart was its flexibility and support for students.

“Students don’t all follow the exact same page of courses,” he said. “Kogod has graduate advisors that help you develop a unique plan of study based on your needs and goals.”

AU recently sat down with Jacob to ask him how his experience at Kogod helped position him for success in his job search and in his career.

Q: What is your current position with Ernst & Young and what are your responsibilities? 

Jacob Spector (JS): I am currently working in the Assurance Services service line as a staff auditor. My responsibilities are endless, and offer me new challenges every day. My main role is to collect audit evidence to obtain a reasonable level of assurance so that the amounts and disclosures made by the company are free from error, either due to fraud or unintentional mistakes. Basically, we provide credibility to the financial markets, an essential task to ensure efficient use of market resources.

Q: What is your typical day like?

JS: On an average day, I will speak to upper-level management at some of the largest companies in the world. The purpose of my conversations is to validate claims made by management, to gather physical and electronic evidence, and to maintain professional skepticism. I’ll usually spend the rest of the day analyzing the evidence I collected, writing summaries of my findings, and conducting team discussions about our individual findings.

Q: What attracted you to Ernst & Young?

JS: Ernst & Young offers many benefits to its team of client-serving professionals. Although the compensation offered is very attractive and highly competitive, the intrinsic benefits offered by Ernst & Young are even more attractive. One such benefit is working with some of the most well-known companies in the world, including Facebook, Amazon, Google, Marriott, AT&T, Wal-Mart, BP, ConocoPhillips, among others. And in the DC Area, clients include Lockheed Martin, the US Postal Service, the Internal Revenue Service and Booz Allen Hamilton.

Q: How did the skills you gained at Kogod lead to you being hired at Ernst & Young?

JS: Kogod’s MSA program focuses not only on building technical accounting knowledge, but also soft skills. The experience I gained in public speaking, business writing, and networking proved to be invaluable. For many people, when they think about accounting, they imagine a pale man with a green visor. This is a myth! Firms look for people with strong communication skills, confidence and the ability to think critically.

To meet the needs of the large accounting firms, the Kogod MSA program emphasizes developing students’ ability to think critically and write cogent memos explaining findings. After writing my first memo, my supervisors were impressed with my business writing skills. This led to more and more challenging tasks, as they were confident in the skills I gained in my MSA program.

Q: How are you applying your classroom skills to your job?

JS: Again, it’s all about writing skills. Most classes in the Kogod MSA program require one or more written assignments. These assignments force us accountants—a notoriously number-centered group of people—to develop our writing. At first, this was challenging, but I soon realized the benefit that writing would bring to my professional career. The Kogod MSA program also focuses on the meaning behind a written entry. By completing a deeper dive into a concept, MSA students are able to build their critical thinking skills. I felt confident my first day on the job to participate in team discussions on a specific accounting treatment for an event. I may not always have the answer, but the firm has been impressed with my confidence and interest.

Q: What about networking? Did you benefit from networking events at Kogod, and did networking help you get to where you are today?

JS: American University has some of the best networking events I have ever attended. Every fall, Kogod sponsors Accounting and Finance Week, a weeklong event consisting of panel discussions, information sessions and mock interviews, and ending in a career fair. Hundreds of companies attend the career fair, from all of the “Big Four” firms to small, local firms and many government organizations. This event allowed me to meet recruiters from all of the “Big Four” firms and paved the way to interviews on campus for positions.

Q: Are you involved in hiring? If so, what skills do you look for in a new recruit?

JS: Ernst & Young loves when their new employees participate in the recruitment process. As a devoted employee and American University alumnus, I participate in interviews, information sessions and firm tours. Some of the main skills I look for in a recruit are strong academic performance, multiple extracurricular activities, self-confidence, a desire to learn, and a bright personality.


As a devoted employee and American University alumnus, I participate in interviews, information sessions and firm tours. Some of the main skills I look for in a recruit are strong academic performance, multiple extracurricular activities, self-confidence, a desire to learn, and a bright personality. 


Q: If you could offer candidates one piece of advice, what would that be?

JS: My one piece of advice is: Remember that you will be spending many hours with your fellow colleagues. No one wants to spend 10 hours a day or more with someone who doesn’t have a positive personality. In an interview, it’s a great idea to discuss an interesting current event to show you are keeping up with the industry. After that, however, also share a personal anecdote that shows you can separate your accounting life from your personal life.



Discover how the MS in Accounting program at the Kogod School of Business positions you to compete in today’s job market.

1 reply
  1. ais-cpa says:

    This is a great interview. I think many students choose not to pursue a career in accounting because they think it’s boring or not glamorous. The days of the stereotypical 1960s accountant who is stuck in a dark room all by himself hunched over a calculator are long gone. Today’s accountants need to be personable, able to communicate with clients, and above all else have a personality. There are so many opportunities out there for accounting majors. Thanks for showing us what the inside of one of the Big 4 looks like. Great post!


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