Application Form – Fairly standard, as with most other application forms; 3 extended answer questions (100 words each). Of all the Big4 I would say it’s the simplest form to complete. As with all application forms just make sure you take your time when completing it!
Online Tests – KPMG were the quickest of all the firms to get back to me. I submitted my application at 10am and by 4pm I had an e-mail asking me to complete the online tests. The KPMG tests are notoriously more difficult than the other Big4 firms, but they are by no means impossible; 70% of applicants get through at this stage. The verbal test uses more complex language than most of the other tests, so obviously a better grasp of the English language will advantage you. If English isn’t your first language then you might struggle with it. Having said that, it is entirely possible to complete the test within the allocated time; each passage of text has four questions attached to it, so once you’ve read one passage of text you can answer four questions pretty quickly. I think I finished with about 3 minutes left, so there was enough time to re-check those answers I was a bit unsure on. With the KPMG tests you can go back to any question at any time during the test – unlike some other tests where once you have answered a question that is it.
The numerical test wasn’t as difficult as I had been expecting considering all the ‘horror’ stories I had heard. The questions were no more difficult than any of the other tests. The only difference was that there were around three steps to each question, so it just takes a bit longer per question. The important thing is not to panic! All the questions are do-able, so just take a deep breath and focus. To pass the numerical test you need to be in the 30th percentile – that equates to 9 correct answers out of 24. It is entirely possible to do it; again, as with the verbal test, you can skip back and forward between any of the questions at any time during the test. I think I answered 15 of the questions, not amazing but plenty enough to get through.
First Round Interview – KPMG got back to me about 24 hours after I had sat the online tests to say I had passed; they also give you your percentile scores for the online tests (mine were 95th percentile for the verbal and 60th percentile for the numerical). I then got another e-mail asking me to book a first round interview via their online booking system. The first round interview itself lasted around 45 minutes. It’s a fairly rigid structure; they have a list of competency questions and they just tend to read it out like a script. In all I would say there were about 5 competency questions; as far as I can recall mine were about teamwork, delegation, project delivery, commitment and working under pressure. They were all pretty standard questions which you can prepare examples for in advance. Only one example is needed per competency. Then I was asked a few commercial awareness questions. I was asked: (1) What is your understanding of the credit crunch and how is it affecting KPMG? (2) What is the biggest challenge currently facing KPMG? (3) Choose a company and briefly tell me how they could expand their operations. The first two of these are pretty self evident and easy to prepare for. The third one shocked me initially as I wasn’t expecting it!! In the end I chose a really small local company that they would never of heard of – gives you room for a bit of creativeness (or truth stretching)! Then came the standard questions, why KPMG, why tax etc. There was just time at the end for me to ask a few quick questions.
Assessment Centre – My first round interview was on a Friday and KPMG got back to me on the Monday to say I had been successful at the first round and they would like to invite me to an assessment centre. The assessment centre itself is split into 3 parts: e-tray exercise, group exercise and partner interview/presentation. I’ll take each part in turn.
E-tray exercise – This is the first exercise you’ll do on the day. You’re sat down in front of a computer in a room with all of the other candidates. The HR person looking after you will give you a quick talk about the day etc and then you’ll be taken through a brief tutorial on the computer to explain how to use the software. It’s all completely understandable and if you have a go at the online civil service faststream example the screen layout is identical. All of the information is in folders on the computer, but they also give you a hard paper booklet with the same information. For me personally it was easier to use the paper booklet. The e-tray is in two stages. For the first stage you get 70 minutes to answer 24 e-mails. The scenario is this: You are a Trainee Business Advisor who normally works in Newcastle. However, a member of staff in Manchester has been taken ill and they are short-staffed. You have been asked to cover and take over the projects that he was running. Unfortunately you cannot travel to Manchester until tomorrow as you have a client meeting in Newcastle at 11am. However, you have agreed to set aside two hours today to deal with some issues which have already arisen in Manchester. There are three projects which the guy you are covering for has been running and you will get e-mails relating to all three. All the information you need to answer the e-mails will be in the booklet. For about 20 of the 24 e-mails you will need to refer to the booklet. The others are judgement calls and you just need to choose what you think would be most appropriate given the situation – just be diplomatic.
Take at least 8-10 minutes at the start to read the information and familiarise yourself with it – it will help massively later. Work as quickly as you can, but make sure you are being accurate – don’t guess. I answered 23/24 e-mails; you can get away with missing one or two, but no more than that. Two or three of the questions will require you to do some basic calculations. You are provided with a calculator and the formulae are given in the booklet. They are VERY simple and nothing to worry about. Each question has four possible answers/responses and you select the ONE you think is appropriate. Once you respond though you can NOT change your answer. Just keep calm and work methodically through it.
The second part of the e-tray is two longer written response e-mails. You are given a different set of information (though it’s only 4 pages so doesn’t take too long to read). You get 50 minutes for this section. Both e-mails ask for your recommendation on a particular topic/strategy. There are no right answers, the key is to back-up and justify the answer you give. Since this is a longer written piece make sure your spelling and grammar is correct – there is no spell check. Most people at my assessment centre found the first e-mail took longer to answer than the second. I personally would advise you spend 30 minutes on the first one (there is more data to talk about) and 20 minutes on the second one. I finished with about 2 minutes to spare so could quickly skim over to check for obvious SPAG mistakes. This exercise is again done on the computer, so the quicker you can type the easier it is likely to be. Oh, almost forgot - the advice given on here previously about writing the end of the e-mail first is great advice - do it!
Then you have lunch with some of the trainees – it is a ridiculously long lunch though (2hrs) and in the end you just want to get started on the next exercise!!
Group Exercise – This was the largest group exercise I’ve had at an assessment centre (6 people). As with most group exercises you’re given a booklet of information about a company. You are given 10 minutes on your own to look at the booklet and make notes; there is a lot of information so read quickly! Be warned, however, that you are not allowed to make notes on the booklet itself – only on a notepad provided. After that you have 30 minutes to discuss it in your group. The company is an online multimedia retailer – indeed, it is one of the companies which you will encounter in your e-tray exercise in the morning. You have to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the company and then 4 recommendations for improvement – 2 to implement urgently and 2 to implement later on in the future. Being in such a big group was a bit annoying since everyone wanted to speak but there were only so many points to go around. My tip, if you find yourself in a big group, is as I did, be the first to speak – outline your suggestions first. Just keep fairly vocal and don’t let it go too long without contributing. At the end of the group exercise you’ll have to do a 10 minute group presentation on your findings. Towards the end of the group exercise (say last 5 minutes) encourage the group to decide on who is going to say what. You are given a flip chart to jot things down on. The exercise is quite time pressured so if you see the group going off track it’s best to try and pull them back on topic.
Partner Interview/Presentation – This is where you do your 10 minute presentation. It’s quite an informal presentation you don’t stand up or anything, you just sit there and talk to the partner about the company you have chosen. Afterwards they’ll likely ask a few questions about your presentation, so be prepared! I did my presentation on Morrisons and I just got a few questions about the retail sector more broadly, the current economic climate etc. The interview itself wasn’t too bad, about 5 competency questions followed by the obvious – why KPMG, why tax, what differentiates KPMG from its competitors etc. There was also some general talk about my interests, my impressions of university etc, followed by an opportunity for me to ask a few questions. The key is to have done your research on the company – the services they offer and what differentiates them.
The day started at 9am and I was away by about 4:45pm. I got a phone call the following day to offer me the job! Hopefully that’s of some use to anyone applying!