KPMG, 2010 - How to succeed at each stage! [Application -> Offer]

WikiJob
#1

Hey guys, I recently received an offer from KPMG within Audit, in London, 2010. I want to acknowledge the WikiJob ‘community’ which could not have played a more significant role in ensuring I get the offer with minimal surprises along the way. I want to, therefore, thank everybody for sharing their personal experiences from which I could extract the necessary advice! I honestly could not have done it without this website!
As a thank you, I thought I’d post my own experiences from start to finish. However, given that I am not the first to do this, I am going to try to make it a little different by concentrating on useful tips on how to get past each stage, rather than what it entails. These tips may seem a little blunt, but will hopefully give you an idea of what the recruiters might be looking for!

APPLICATION FORM:
As you might be aware, the crucial part is the one containing the three short (100 words maximum) questions that you need to answer. I’ll take each question in turn:
• What attracts you to the position you have applied for? – make sure you write about why YOU personally have chosen Audit/Tax out of all the possible career paths available to you. A generic response will, undoubtedly, put you at an immediate disadvantage! Speak about the qualification the programme offers, and a couple of distinguishing features of this programme at KPMG as opposed to at any of the other Big 4.
• Why do you want to work for KPMG? – again, it MUST be a personalised response. Granted we are still amid the ‘credit crunch’ and everybody is looking for ANYTHING in the given market. BUT, you absolutely must draw upon examples you have had first hand in dealing with KPMG employees – e.g. at a graduate recruitment fair. Mention an award or two that KPMG have recently won, but instead of just stating them, say why they relate to particular aspects of what you admire about KPMG.
• What do you think you’ll be doing in your first year? – in my opinion, the easiest question of them all. It’s the same across all the Big 4 mostly, so just ask any graduate working in your field of interest as to what the first year really entails. If you don’t know any such graduate, then simply read the employee profiles – they’ll give you a pretty decent snapshot. Also, have a read through - http://www.wikijob.co.uk/wiki/audit-assurance.

But, just as a guideline, it’s essentially a transition from uni to Audit/Tax. Therefore, the unfortunate truth is that you will not be doing very interesting work. However, your objective, in answering this particular question, is to make it sound ‘interesting’. Hence, it wouldn’t hurt to praise KPMG’s ‘award-winning’ approach to audit/tax either.

TESTS:
The ‘horror’ stories revolving the difficulty of KPMG tests are, thankfully, not 100% accurate. KPMG use a different testing system to most of the others – Cubiks. Apart from the practice tests on the website, unfortunately there aren’t many Cubiks-style tests floating around the internet. But, they’re not ridiculously different to the standard SHL/PSL. It is worthy to note at this point that KPMG have a benchmark pass rate of 30% in each test. So regardless of whether you get 30% or 100%, you will be put through to the first round interview.

• Verbal: 40 questions in 20 minutes. It seems like 30 seconds per question is a little harsh, but there are a couple of points to bear in mind here – firstly, this is pretty much standard! SHL allow 30 seconds per question, whereas PSL (mainly used for banking and FMCG’s) allow 45 seconds per question. Secondly – there are about 4 questions per passage. Hence, once you read the passage, each question doesn’t take too long to answer!

However, the ‘difficult’ bit is that the passages are pretty much all based on accountancy/legal issues. That can be a bit daunting at first glance but just remember that they literally only ask that you draw information from the passage, so all you really need to do is follow the same approach you’ve used in other tests. Do NOT ponder over a question for too long! Thankfully, Cubiks (unlike SHL) allows you to visit a question later. So if you are running short of time, remember - 30% is all you need, and MOVE ON.

• Numerical: 24 questions in 20 minutes. Compared to SHL and PSL, which give a minute a question, this test is definitely more time pressured, but not necessarily more technically challenging. The questions are not harder as such. They might require one more ‘step’ in terms of getting to the answer. Simply make sure you practice enough numerical tests before attempting the actual KPMG one. Bear in mind, however, regardless of the role you do apply for (barring possibly HR), you WILL need to possess ‘above average’ mathematical skills. Also, given that you are only put forward to this stage if KPMG feel that you have indeed demonstrated sufficient mathematical skills either through a good grade at GCSE and/or A-level, you should be fine in answering the test. Once again, remember – 30%!
Honestly, the tests weren’t too bad. All you need to do is just really focus for the separate 20 minute periods and you will achieve the 30% benchmark, at least. It is also important to note that the results of these tests will NEVER be brought up again at an interview or otherwise. However, KPMG say that they do random testing at assessment centres, so I guess the message they’re trying to send is – do the tests on your own!

FIRST ROUND INTERVIEW:
In terms of the exact questions that will come up – they are covered within the many experience write-ups throughout WikiJob. However, please do read this entire page before reading others - http://www.wikijob.co.uk/wiki/kpmg-interview-questions

In terms of my advice for the interview – prepare TWO businesses that you can speak about in great depth. These will test your understanding of the ‘Business Focus’ competency. One should be an underperforming business, and the other should be performing fairly well. Why? Because they MIGHT ask something along the lines of:

• Give an example of a business that has been underperforming recently and what measures do you think it should adopt to ensure successful development?
• Give an example of a business that has recently been performing admirably, and what recommendations would you give to it, to further expand its business?

Also, actively prepare a couple of business stories in depth as well. These will help you to meet the requirements of the ‘Commercial Awareness’ competency. The interviewer will ask you to describe the situation, the problems faced either by the company/companies in question or by the economy, and what steps can be taken to overcome/resolve the situation (bear in mind that you are applying to a professional services firm and that’s precisely why they’ll be looking to ask you questions that will test your ability to provide solutions for a given issue).

Lastly, another piece of advice – visit http://www.kpmgcareers.co.uk/Graduates/NewsandInsights--SkillsSessions--InterviewSkillsSession_(7549).aspx?pg=7549 and take the interactive ‘Interview Skills Session’. Though interviewing techniques are pretty commonly known, this session was definitely an eye-opener.

ASSESSMENT CENTRE:
The day is long, and definitely draining. However, it is vital you remain switched on for every second of the tedious day - even during the unique 2-hour lunch with graduates.

• E-TRAY – FIRST PART: 70 minutes, 24 emails. Stop worrying about it! It is simply time pressured, not intuitively difficult! The content to read and the decisions to make are NOT extremely scientific and require one, maybe two, shards of common sense in many cases. Few tips I can give you are: several of the questions (approximately 8-10 out of the 24) are based solely on intuition. That basically means you need to take the action you feel is best – it’s honestly just a test of whether you can remember that clients ALWAYS come first, regardless of what the circumstances are, whether you can rationally delegate and whether you can extract relevant bits of information from otherwise useless data, to provide a reasonable response.
Aside from these intuition-based questions, you will be given what seems to be a ‘huge’ pack of information. Trust me when I say, there isn’t that much information! A lot of the content is not extremely useful, and you must SKIM read to identify the useful bits. Also, as you might already be aware, each question will require you to glance through 1 or 2 documents only, and NOT the rest of the booklet. Therefore, just take it one question at a time. The calculation-based questions are no way near the level of difficulty of the numerical reasoning test, so it should only take a couple of minutes per calculation question – a perfect amount.
Lastly – the information you’re given in the booklet is exactly the same as the information you’re already provided with. However, some emails come with attachments not already included in the book. My advice is to primarily focus on the booklet, obviously referring to those separate attachments whenever they do crop up. Another reason why I prefer paper over digital is because it can be even more draining to stare at a computer screen, than paper, continuously for 70 minutes.

• E-TRAY – SECOND PART: 50 minutes, 2 emails. I don’t really have much to add for this particular section. Note that there is NO copy/paste function on the online system (hence you must type everything out in both emails – even if you have a generic introduction and conclusion), NO spellchecker (hence your spelling must be immaculate) and NO ‘send’ button on the email system (they’ll automatically send once the 50 minute timer is up). Once again, the information is provided both online and in front of you, on paper.
Aside from splitting your time evenly, make sure you have a clear structure to each email. This is – introduction, choosing an ‘option’ in each of the questions, justifying it, highlighting why the ones you haven’t chosen aren’t good enough, and then finally conclusion. With each question, respect the conditions the email sender has outlined in his/her email and be sure to mention these factors by taking them into account when outlining your proposals.

• 2-HOUR LUNCH: Now, KPMG says that it is not assessed, but it obviously is. To an extent, at least. Be yourself, but be in interview-mode for most, if not all of it. You never know if the graduates have the opportunity to name any candidates that they thought stood out. Always prepare for the worst, and assume that they do report back to the HR team via email or something. So, bring out your ‘A-game’ even during lunch.
• PARTNER PRESENTATION: The most vital piece of advice I can give is make sure that your practice your presentation a couple of times in front of friends and family. Ask them to have a read through the background to your presentation and the company beforehand, so they can spend some time thinking about every single type of question that the partner is likely to ask you. Only by presenting to somebody else will you really learn how it is like to present under pressure and be grilled afterwards. Using the knowledge you gain from these practice presentations, you can improve on it and make it as close to flawless as possible. The sole objective is to propose strategies for expansion and development that KPMG can specifically help the company/firm achieve!
You should aim to make your presentation fairly concise, otherwise it might steal the focus from what you’re saying to what’s actually written. The whole point of the presentation is to test your oral communication skills as a future KPMG advisor. In fact, I have heard of candidates that didn’t have any reading material prepared for their partner, and delivered their presentation exactly like a memorised excerpt. However, I would NOT recommend that.
Keep the entire presentation simple! Don’t go into unnecessary detail – retain some of the intricate information because that’ll give your partner the chance to investigate your knowledge and will give you a chance to display it. 10 minutes will pass by before you can say KPMG 10 times – but ensure you don’t go beyond 11/12 minutes because the partner will start providing tell-tale signs of you running overtime (e.g. checking his/her watch every 10 seconds).
Lastly – a lot of people are confused as to whether they should present on a big firm or a smaller firm. Although a smaller firm will give you the chance to have more autonomy with your suggested strategies, I would personally go with a bigger company because there’s more information about it readily available online. This could help you comprehend all its weaknesses and construct a valid portfolio of expansion/development strategies. Also, remember that if you’re talking about KPMG helping this particular company, then it might not completely appropriate to speak about your local grocer because KPMG would not be its personal advisor!

• PARTNER INTERVIEW: Not much to add here really. Regardless of how your partner appears to be, he/she is actually a pretty understanding person. Just remember that they were once where you are, and they can understand how nerve-wrecking the interview process can be. Remember that the competencies tested here will be ‘Leadership’, ‘Business Focus’, ‘Drive and Resilience’ and the areas of weaknesses as highlighted on your PAPI.

• GROUP EXERCISE: 10 minutes to read the information; 30 minutes to discuss; 10 minutes to present. Now, at first glance, the information might seem extremely overwhelming but it’s honestly not that much. Once again, you have to remember to skim read! 3-4 pages in the middle are just full of graphs which will take you cumulatively roughly 45 seconds to analyse! The rest of the information is broken down cohesively and all you have to do is jot down the company’s strengths and weaknesses, and propose 2 short term strategies and 2 long term strategies for development. Leave the strategy formulating part to the actual group discussion because they’re pretty evident from the strengths/weaknesses.
My advice is to watch this video before you go into the AC - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=exmF86Wx174&feature=related – this gives you a very detailed analysis of the different ‘personalities’ that can exist within a group and, essentially, the do’s and dont’s.

Lastly – please do not worry about the time it takes for KPMG to get back to you regarding your progression to the next stage of the application process. I got a response the next day after completing each preliminary stage. But after my AC, I got a phone call from the partner on the following afternoon, around 4 pm! I didn’t even receive an official email from HR until two days later! So, don’t worry at all. Although KPMG are relatively quick in their process, they’re still human after all, so just be positive and patient!

That’s about it from me! Sorry for SUCH a long post, but I wanted to provide some tips that you might not have heard of before and that will hopefully help you in your own preparations! Please feel free to message me or write on this thread if you have any questions or comments – I’ll be happy to help :slight_smile:

#2

Congrats on your offer!

#3

Thanks Ste1987! I gather you’ve received an offer within the London office as well? Are you going to be taking it up?

#4

I’m within the Manchester office. Yeah I have accepted with them :slight_smile:

#5

Wicked! I am yet to receive the email that provides the link to the formal contract. How do they do it? Do they ask you to print it out or is it an online offer? Also, have you received access to a ‘portal’ where recent offer holders can see information about their offer? E.g. pay/benefits etc? If yes, could you message me the details? I’m just extremely curious to find out!!

#6

You get emailed a link to the offer zone where you can view the contract then accept/reject the offer. Once you accept you then give them your referee details. Go out and celebrate!

#7

Cool, thanks the09! Did you receive an offer too?

#8

Yep, London Audit 2010 same as you ! Are you accepting? Can finally start enjoying my gap year…

#9

Yeah I’m definitely going to be accepting! I look forward to seeing you soon!

#10

Hey,

Having read your post I feel somewhat at ease going to my AC and looking forward it. During your AC, the people that attended, were they all for your role or various different graduate roles? I’m hoping its the latter so i can concentrate on my own performance and not everyone else’s.
I’ve applied for the actuarial pensions scheme and getting through the first round interview was tough…my logic right now is: tough job=tough qualification=tough interview=tough AC.

thanks again, your post was hugely appreciated

#11

At my AC, they were all for Audit. However, they weren’t all for the same office where my AC was being held. Don’t concentrate on others’ performances though. They say you arent in competition with each other and they are correct, as there are numerous vacancies to be had. Best to just concentrate on your own performance and getting at least 3/5 in each competency. Good luck!

#12

ace123 - I completely agree with Ste1987. In fact, at my AC there were intern applicants, business placement applicants and graduate candidates! Among the graduate candidates, we had a mixture of audit and tax candidates. But it is important for you to remember that there are honestly not looking to compare you against others, as they do in Banking for example. KPMG have an extremely strict and challenging set of competency requirements that, as Ste1987 correctly stated, you need to get a 3 out of 5 in.

And your logic is exactly the one I used when I walked into my AC. So, just prepare as much as you can and forget about the others! Take the 2 hour lunch as an opportunity to interact with all the candidates present there as it’ll give you a chance to get to know each other a bit better before your respective group exercises! However, if your group exercise is before lunch, then just use the time in between your arrival and the E-tray to speak to them.

Are you applying to the London office? When is your AC? In any case, all the best!

#13

6804689-
I’ve got just over a week to prepare, thats plenty of time…I think…Im having problems thinking of a company to base my presentation on, usually I can pick ideas out of thin air but I keep changing my mind because I want it to be perfect, im just going to keep it simple. Ive also got a phone interview to think about also during the week, its with a company/role that would really interest me but not above KPMG’s pensions department.
Yes, ive applied for the London office.
Fingers crossed we meet in september 2010…
Thanks Again

#14

Make sure you decide a company and then stick to it. Allows you to be more confident in delivery. Maybe a company you have a PT job with.

#15

All the best ace123! Let me know how it goes!

alizeeshan - make sure you read the competencies on the KPMG website. Each competency, such as ‘Building Relationships’, ‘Drive and Resilience’ etc. have 3 or 4 elaborated characteristics that they require you to demonstrate in your competency answer examples. Additionally, as I mentioned in my earlier post, go through the KPMG ‘Interview Skills Session’ activity because it will give you a clear idea of how to answer an interview question at KPMG.

#16

alizeeshan—
i cant add anything to the advice for the competencies, just do your research and be ready to elaborate your examples. I passed my face-to- face only last week, i think its the same as your telephone interview…they also asked me , Why KPMG? (my interviewer seemed really impressed with my response and i fink that nailed it for me) ,also was asked to discuss a current topical issue, i talked about the 62 billion loan to lloyds and rbs and why it was a good idea to keep it a secret due to low confidence already in the government because of the expenses scandal.

#17

#18

Guys, is there a binding contract in the KPMG offer which says that you cannot leave the firm before 3 years…? Also any idea on salary progression in 2nd year?

#19

Hello people, my first interview with KPMG is coming up next week. I was hoping if you could provide some assistance in this regard.I have read the posts, and they are extremly helpful. There are certain things that i need to clear out, and i would really appreciate if you could spare some time for me: 1-when asked about any business or company that is under or over performing, do we have to give global well known examples or local examples will suffice? 2-I am not very good at the commercial awareness part, so could you please give me an examples of any current business issue that i should research upon to give an effective answer? and could someone provide me with some idea of any business doing poorly due to current economic change? 3- any advice on improving my general commercial awareness for the interviews? awaiting your reply… thanks

#20

@browncargos - when reading through my contract it doesn’t explicitly state that you can’t leave the firm within three years. A reason for this is the mere fact that people are either made redundant, or they choose to leave themselves, so it’s not a legally ‘binding’ contract in the most blunt sense. However, if you DO leave the firm before your training contract requirements are fulfilled, you will have to pay back all the money spent on you by KPMG on training including tuition and exam fees. Furthermore, I think there is a clause that states that you need to be with KPMG for a (short) period of time after gaining your qualification until you can decide to leave. Incidentally, I’m presuming you have an offer from them?

@dbeckham32 - 1) Try and stick to news-making stories and companies. Obviously, what happens in your local area might not impress/interest KPMG! 2) Just read through FT and target a couple of stories that capture your interest. Upon identifying these, browse FT or Google in general to get a more in depth view of the entire case. An popular issue is Quantitative Easing. In terms of a business under-performing, once again read the Economist, FT. In the current climate, most businesses aren’t performing to their ‘normal’ pace. 3) FT, Economist, BBC, Google news.