Ernst & Young: Leveraging Business-Savvy IT Veterans
BackBy Deanna Hartley — November 2009
For a company that operates on a global scale and has managed to garner approximately 135,000 employees worldwide, it is imperative for Ernst & Young to adopt a strategic hiring process.
Brandon McTavish, an experienced hire recruiter for Ernst & Young’s Northeast sub-area, recruits consultants for the company’s advisory services practice who in turn venture forth across the Northeast to service clients. The company employs roughly 180 highly qualified individuals who focus on IT consulting in the Northeast.
The advisory services practice offers its clients an array of information technology services.
The IT Makeup at Ernst & Young
The largest group of IT professionals is the IT risk and assurance team. “They offer information security and privacy, IT audit support and third-party reporting advisory services,” McTavish said.
“Another group we have is called our IT advisory practice, and they’re really divided up into a lot of different services,” he added. “The major ones are IT strategy, IT effectiveness and transformation, IT operations and management, enterprise infrastructure and application advisory effectiveness.”
In addition, there’s a team of senior professionals who are referred to as the IT advisory group.
“The leaders of the IT advisory team who have joined the practice recently have been CIOs in other firms, senior managers [or] vice presidents in other companies and have come here to focus in on a number of different areas,” McTavish explained.
One of the fastest growing teams in the IT advisory group is the enterprise applications team, which comprises individuals who are directly involved with assisting the company’s clients — typically large Fortune 500 companies.
“We help [our clients] through any major application change that they’re having within either a business unit or process,” he said. “That often involves pretty large-scale ERP systems — SAP, Oracle, JD Edwards and Hyperion — and we have professionals here who assist our clients through either the implementation of these packages or upgrades of the packages. [They’re there to] advise them on best practices and how to better organize their processes to get the most out of their system.”
Consultants Must Understand How Technology Helps Facilitate Business
Ernst & Young does invest heavily in recruiting and training college graduates — “campus hires,” as they refer to them — and there’s a team of individuals whose mission it is to do so.
While McTavish in the past has had experience recruiting campus hires, his current job role requires him to focus primarily on hiring experienced candidates.
One quality McTavish looks for in potential candidates is how much experience they have under their belt. This in turn helps him determine the proficiency of the individual.
“We need to have people with strong consulting backgrounds — specifically IT consulting backgrounds,” he said. “What we’re really looking for are people who have strong business expertise or business experience and exposure and really understand processes and how technology helps facilitate business.”
After all, it isn’t enough for consultants to gain expertise of a particular IT process or system if they aren’t able to apply that knowledge to suit their clients’ changing needs.
“We [strive] to find people who have a strong understanding of certain technology and how that technology helps improve business processes,” he said. For example, “if we look at the enterprise applications space within our IT advisory team, it really helps to have people who understand SAP but also understand business processes that can be affected by the use of SAP — looking at processes such as ‘procure and pay’ and ‘hire to retire’ to really understand these processes and say [to clients], ‘OK, I understand the systems well, but what [we’re] trying to do is better improve this process and this is how the system will help you do that.’”
It should be noted that there isn’t a single set of technical capabilities that McTavish looks for.
“Every service we have here is pretty specific in terms of the types of experience we’re looking for,” he explained. “We have some 20-odd capabilities or services that we offer our clients that we’re really focused on, which means we’re looking for 20 different types of people.”
Nevertheless, there are a few technical skills that could be applicable to the general IT population at the company.
“It really helps for people to have strong technical backgrounds — whether that has come through working with analytical backgrounds like SQL or ETL coding and programming — [because] those kinds of experiences are always going to be [helpful], whether it be in an ERP-related field or not,” McTavish said. “We also look for people who have strong backgrounds in IT audit or just in audit. A lot of our professionals come from financial [or] accounting backgrounds and then move into the IT field, so it’s important to have a basic understanding of accounting processes.”
Soft Skills Are Imperative to Achieve On-the-Job Success
Aside from purely technical expertise, candidates who consider applying for a consultant position at Ernst & Young must be able to demonstrate certain soft skills as well. For instance, solid communication skills will hold them in good stead on the job.
“Communication is key. It’s really important for us to have people who can communicate — and that can be through written communication as well, because we have a lot of statements of work that we have to put through [to] our clients, a lot of proposals, final reports to our clients and reports that we put together on findings,” McTavish said. “It’s important that they can clearly communicate what these findings are to our clients so they can mitigate risks and take action to improve the process.”
Another soft skill that McTavish considers a crucial component of a candidate’s resume is his or her ability to function efficiently as part of a team.
“Whether we’re looking at people at the experienced level or people straight off of campuses, it’s going to be important that they have had experiences in teaming — whether it be leading a team [or] just playing a big role in a part of that team, [because] being able to play different roles within teams is a key characteristic that we look for in [potential employees],” he said.
The ability to adapt to emerging technologies is also a skill that McTavish considers integral to a job role at Ernst & Young.
“Being able to adapt and learn is also important,” he said. “The technologies we’re using change and we need to have people who are able to come in and learn that new technology and be able to go to our clients and explain to them how this new technology can help and also to speak intelligently about a technology the client has.”
A Solid Mix of Certifications and Experience Is Ideal
“I think education is the foundation for starting a solid career, and then we look at certifications and experience as key for really furthering and maintaining [one’s] career,” McTavish said.
Ever-changing technologies demand that IT professionals work hard to stay on top of their game.
“Many times certifications are key to keep yourself updated with current trends that are going on in the industry or different regulations that have been put in place, and it’s important to keep those certifications up to date,” he said.
That, along with relevant work experience, will give candidates an edge over their competition.
Certifications that are considered particularly valuable to the company include:
- The Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) and Certified Internal Auditor (CIA), as well as the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) for the IT risk assurance team.
- The Certified Management Accountant (CMA) and Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) for certified management accountants.
- The Project Management Professional (PMP), Six Sigma and Black Belt certifications. “[These] are important for people to understand business processes and best practices,” McTavish said.
- The IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) certification for the IT effectiveness team. “[It helps us] identify candidates who really have been and are up to date with what’s going on in the IT service management space,” he said.
Internal Training Gets New Hires Up to Speed Quickly
Any individual who joins the firm, regardless of his or her experience level, is expected to undergo training.
“[There are] three days of pretty extensive training really around Ernst &Young, [including] our processes, procedures and important things to note,” McTavish explained. “And you get a brief technical training on your computers using different aspects of Lotus Notes or Microsoft Office, etc.,” McTavish explained.
“Then, depending on which IT service line they’re hired into, in their first year, [employees] are required to go through 80 to 100 hours of learning. Some of these are basic, like Auditing 101, presentation skills training [and] client interaction skills training, but then we also have really advanced the technical skills training for individuals who need to know Windows, database or mainframe technical training, along with ERP training, like SAP, Oracle and Hyperion.”
A company as large and established as Ernst & Young is capable of offering its employees myriad resources and hands-on training, so it’s only natural for employees to take advantage of such learning opportunities to further their careers.
“A lot of the training is mandatory, but at the same time we have a goal-setting process when people start with the firm,” he said. “We outline some goals that we wish for them to achieve, and at the same time, there are goals that they can look to achieve themselves. Oftentimes learning is a part of that, so we really encourage them to take classes in things they think are going to be interesting.”