So, as the subject line says, I got two offers for Audit, one Big4, the other Top 10. I’ve also been invited to an assessment centre with EY, but I reckon I’ll give it a miss, as I’m pretty satisfied with my PwC offer.
Firstly, I’d like to dispel some common myths.
- Myth: Big4 pay more.
Not in my experience. BDO offered me 22,500 for East of England, while PwC offered 20,000 for Northeast. Once you factor in the difference in cost of living, and the £650 pa benefits PwC offer, the two salaries are practically identical.
- Myth: You’re too old.
Nope. I’m 30, and with no background at all in accounting (academic or otherwise).
- Myth: You need to have graduated from a top uni.
No again. While at PwC’s assessment centre there was definitely an over-representation of top uni students/grads, my degree is from a fairly mediocre overseas university, and I still got an offer. What firms care about academically is that you meet a minimum standard that will make it likely you can at least scrape through the ACA. Otherwise, they’re not really interested in your academics. They’re much more interested in your performance during the recruitment process, esp. with regard to the assessment centre.
On that same note, BDO’s assessment centre attracted far more applicants from mid-tier universities.
Now, some tips for the process:
It depends really on the format. PwC’s doesn’t require much other than filling in grades, work experience etc. Other applications, BDO’s included, also feature essay questions. If that is the case, do your best to give well-researched answers that show a genuine understanding of the work and the firm, and make sure you sound enthusiastic about the position. It does make a difference.
Not much to say here, just make sure you at least scrape through. Practice, practice, practice. No need to pay for practice tests, the free ones should be good enough. Also, if you haven’t done numbers in a while, it could help with your speed and accuracy if you started doing problems with basic calculations on an everyday basis. Keep in mind, you don’t need ANY advanced math. People say it’s GCSE level, but really, it’s more accurate to say it’s primary school level. The most complex thing I was asked to do was calculate percentages, lol. It’s mostly about logically thinking through the task, speed, and accuracy, and all of those improve with practice. You do NOT need to be a math wiz.
Again, this varies. At PwC and EY, the 1st interviews are conducted by HR people (PwC over the phone, EY in person). Even though EY’s is in person, it’s still very very structured and impersonal, and frankly, off-putting (just like PwC’s of course, but you kind of expect that with a phone interview). BDO, on the other hand, have the 1st interviews done by managers from your chosen service line, which makes for a much better experience, which is much more like a chat, and allows you to actually build rapport with the other person, and get some actual insight into the firm and job. You’re still asked competency questions, of course, but your interviewer can even be helpful in answering them, again, as opposed to HR drones.
As far as the competency questions are concerned, people will suggest to have two examples ready for each competence. I did not need more than one, to be honest, but it never hurts to be over-prepared. Also, I would suggest thinking in general of situations where you think you have done well, and try to fit those to the question being asked. So, basically, rather than having a list 2 or 3 examples per competency, what I did was have 5-10 examples of doing a good job in general, and just match them to the questions being asked. Don’t be afraid to exaggerate your own role or how successful something was. I expect most people do. It’s about selling yourself at this stage.
A pointer for PwC’s commercial awareness question: the main point of this question is not really to see whether you keep up with the news, or even whether you understand the issue you’re discussing. The main point is whether you can use the news to spot business opportunities for PwC. So, whatever topic you choose, make sure you have thought about the kind of opportunities this provides to PwC to pick up new business. Obviously, if, like me, you have applied to audit, you can’t just get away with “PwC could audit them”, lol . Try to spot opportunities for PwC to do consulting, or get involved in restructuring the company, or whatever. Do take the time to familiarise yourself with the services PwC offers. I’m not saying ‘learn them all by heart’, obviously. But do have a broad understanding of what the company does besides audit, and do be able to quote 3 or 4 specific examples.
One thing I really want to emphasise here is not to get discouraged if you fail the first 2 or 3 interviews. I know I failed in my first attempts. Competency interviews can take some getting used to if you haven’t had one before, especially when they are conducted in the robotic manner that HR recruiters seem to prefer. Your 3rd or 4th attempt will be much better than you first. After all, a rejection is not the end of the world. You can always re-apply in 3 to 6 months (varies with each firm).
So, overall, just do your best to relax, be prepared, and sound as knowledgeable about the job and enthusiastic as you can.
For PwC, you get a repeat of the psychometric tests. Don’t stress too much about these, just give them your best shot. I didn’t prepare at all for these before my AC and got through fine, although a little practice would probably not hurt you. The tests are not really being used to assess you, they’re just a safety measure to ensure you didn’t cheat during the online tests.
For BDO, you have to prepare a presentation. Standard advice for presentations applies: whatever you do, don’t read from your notes, lol. Maintain eye-contact with your audience as much as you can (by the way, your audience will be a manager from your chosen service line). It’s nice to prepare a small handout, since you don’t have access to PowerPoint. It’s not absolutely necessary of course, but I think it shows some extra effort on your behalf, and personally, I also found having a handout helpful for structuring my presentation. But it’s really up to you.
Do expect follow-up questions, and not just on the topic of your presentation either. The manager is likely to use the opportunity to try to get to know you better. Think of this like an informal mini-interview.
Both PwC and BDO (and I expect most firms) have a written task for you to do. With PwC, this was writing a report for your manager. Structure it like a report, with To: From: Subject: Date:, headings, subheadings, bullet points, basically as to-the-point and business-like as you can. Make sure to include an introduction and recommendation. BDO, on the other hand, ask you to write a letter to a client, based on a pack of documents relating to the client’s case. Make sure to be formal, but also make sure you try to empathise with the client and try to create and maintain a good professional and personal relationship with them (this is one of BDO’s core values). Both for PwC and BDO, be selective with the kind of information you include in your report/letter. Think of the needs of your audience, don’t swamp them with lots of info they have no use for.
And finally, the dreaded group task. Really, just relax here and give it your best shot. There’s not much you can do to prepare. Make eye contact with the people in your group. Remember and use their first names. In BDO’s task you all have access to the same info, but in PwC’s each candidate has info only s/he has access to. When your partners present this info, make sure you note it down on the scrap paper provided, to show you’re listening and being involved. And of course, do actually listen and be involved.
It’s very important you understand the task and the options available. And it’s very very very important that you present your opinions. This is the most crucial part of the task, really. Chairing the task, being the time-keeper etc are fine and well, and could help overall, but if you don’t have well-thought-out opinions that you can back up with solid arguments, you’re screwed. Bear in mind that it’s not wrong to change your opinion, but it is definitely wrong to flip-flop back and forth and be very easily swayed by the other members of your group. It’s also wrong to give the impression you hadn’t quite thought things through before giving your opinion. On a related note, in PwC’s task, each of you is given a possible solution to the problem you are discussing. There is absolutely no need to support your own solution. You can very well argue for somebody else’s solution, if you have solid arguments in its favour and you genuinely think it’s better than yours. In fact, this is what I did. However, do make sure you fairly present your own solution and explain why you think it’s no good.
Once again, if you fail the assessment centre, and especially the group task, don’t lose heart. You’ve done very well to get that far, and you probably have the necessary potential. If you’ve never done a group a task before, it can be a bit overwhelming on your first attempt. The 2nd or 3rd time will be much better.
Honestly, if you’ve gotten this far, the firm already wants you. The interview itself can vary a lot, and really depends on the partner you get. It can be highly informal and more of a general chat about yourself and your motivations (still, make sure to sound enthusiastic and build rapport), or it could be a structured affair with competency questions, or anything in between. In any case, it is definitely much more relaxed than your 1st interview (esp. if you 1st interview has with HR), and it’s unlikely you’d get a grilling. At this stage, it really is your job to loose.
That’s about it, really. If you have any questions, please do ask and I’ll do my best to answer.