I’ve seen a lot of people post on here about how their process through the recruitment stages went and they all really helped me, so I thought I’d return the favour for present and future placement-seekers. To start of with, a little advice I was given - if you ever get rejected from somewhere (trust me, I know it can be a bummer) just remember to learn from your mistakes and move on, don’t get caught up in it. Of course it’s easier said than done, but if you’re looking for a placement year, you’re clearly smart enough to get one.
A bit of background - I applied to a lot of accounting, technology and finance firms and I was accepted by PwC, SAP (I’d never heard of them either) and EY after their lengthy recruitment process’ (Audit for PwC and EY, operational analysis for SAP). I eventually choose PwC due to it’s better location (near home), recommendations from friends in the industry and its reputation.
I found the placement on ratemyplacement.co.uk and started my application straight away but it took me a couple of weeks before I sent it (mainly because I was lazy, it’s not too difficult). My advice for this would be to get it checked once you’ve finished it before sending it as typos are easy to make, they can make it look scruffy (however, saying that, it won’t be too detrimental as I rechecked it after I sent it and found a few typos). Put in as much relevant information as you can, even if it seems very small, but keep the writing to the point as I doubt they will read every single word.
Then you need to do the online tests. I didn’t find the PwC ones as hard as most of the other recruiters so as long as you’ve done some of the free ones online, you should be fine. Be honest with the personality questionnaire but also remember what they want to hear - just make sure you can back it up with an example later down the line in case they pick you up on it. Take a read of their key competencies before you do this test and bare them in mind on each question.
Next comes the phone interview which can be very dry. The recruiter I had wasn’t very lively or talkative, he seemed like he wanted the call over as quick as possible and didn’t really care for what I was saying. My advice, don’t let this get in the way of you selling yourself. If you can, start a conversation with them early as it will help you loosen up. It gets better with practice so, if you can, try and get a friend or someone to go through it with you first. Also, make sure you learn all their key competencies and list all of the things you have done in the past. I’ve listed them below but it’s probably best to research more in to them as well. They have useful questions with each on their website, this can help you think of ideas for the interviews, as each question is normally based around a competency.
If you pass this, you move on to the dreaded Assessment Centre. In all honesty, this will probably scare you to start with and then once you’ve done a few you’ll be fine. But being scared is okay, recruiters know that nervousness will play a part in your behaviour. Try and keep calm, it’s hard I know, but relax and just try to enjoy it. You’re surrounded by people who are no better than you. If you’ve passed everything so far, there is no reason why you can’t do well in the assessment centre. I absolutely failed the written exercise, without a doubt, so you haven’t got to be an all round perfect person to pass the day, you’ve just got to show you’re human. So for the tests, you’ve already passed them so just keep calm and try and do it again. They’re no harder than the online tests so just keep practising online ones and you’ll be fine. For the team exercise, it’s just a case of being nice and respectful. You’re allowed to make mistakes in it, just show you’ve tried to rectify them somehow (if you interrupt, apologise. If you get a calculation wrong, ask for a team member to show you how to do it). The HR people only wan’t to see how you cope with tasks you’re able to do, but under pressure, so, as I keep saying, find a way to relax. I used a 7/11 breathing method when I got stressed, inhale for 7 counts and exhale for 11 (that’s the important part, it helps get rid of the nerves).
Finally, you arrive to the Partner Interview and half of you is happy for getting this far and the other is absolutely terrified to meet the decider of your future (it’s not actually that dramatic at all, but it will feel like it at the time). Make sure you arrive in plenty of time (I know it’s obvious) to have a sit down before hand and compose yourself. They’ll probably offer you a drink or something, avoid coffee if you get paranoid about your breath easily. Take the time to look around the reception area and find something that you might find interesting, I wouldn’t advise picking up a book to read it as they’re usually for clients. Once you’re called by your interviewer, it’s game time. Just try and act as much like yourself as possible, they know you can deliver what they want, that was the point of the Assessment Centre, now they just want to know who they’re working with. The interview I had was very relaxed and enjoyable as it turned in to a conversation where it wasn’t just him asking me questions. I think I was lucky, but from what I gather, most partners are people-people (plural of people-person, it sounds weird, I know) so they’ll happily talk away for ages. I’ve met about 7 Partners in total from different accounting firms and they’ve all been talkative so don’t be scared about that. Concentrate on your experience and don’t get too relaxed, keep the slang away and remember who you’re talking too. Finally, leave with a good impression - a hand-shake, a “thanks for your time, name” and a confident smile (fake it if you need to). Here are some questions I was asked in the partner interview:
Why PwC? (obviously big company, good reputation. Think out of the box, ask around for what other people like)
Why choose my degree? (personal, keep away from “I find it really easy” because it seems a little lazy)
Why this location? (most offices have big clients so that’s always a benefit. London offices can be very hectic and not personal but regional offices can be more friendly)
Why audit? (be honest, do you like stress? do you like going the extra mile for clients? number fan?)
What do I know about audit? (don’t throw fancy words around, be plain and simple)
What about me matches PwC? (Sell your strengths, don’t be cocky. Try things like “I like the emphasis PwC puts on personal development which will help me…blah blah blah”)
Any recent news that interested you? (interestingly, my main comment about the interview was this question as I basically admitted to having no background knowledge of finance or accounting at all. I just showed that I had tried to learn a bit and he liked that. So be honest, don’t recite an entire article from the Financial Times if you didn’t write it)
What would my friends/family change about me? (don’t say “my work ethic” or “I’m lazy”, thing of a genuine weakness you have. Everyone has them, find one you can sell as being not too big, but shows you’re not a robot. For inspiration, mine was that I’m not as strict as I should be when I’m in control. Find a niche, don’t use a broad weakness as that’s a danger zone.)
Biggest achievement? (This is personal, try to keep away from your grades, but if you can’t, show some emotion about it. Tell them how much it meant to you etc)
I’ll answer questions as soon as possible so feel free to reply directly or on this forum. Hope this helps you, thanks for reading it if you have and good luck with your placement-hunting!
P.S. all advice in here is optional, everyone is different so try to find you’re own way of doing it later down the line, this is to just help people get started.