I recently got a call from PwC offering me a place on their 2011 assurance graduate scheme (generalist). Since this forum has been instrumental in getting me the job, I thought I would give back with a guide to the application process.
The application form format has been changed slightly from last year. Instead of making you do the client service question at this stage, then screen, they make you fill out the basics and then automatically send you the online tests. The client service question comes straight after the tests. From the automatic responses, I got the feeling the recruitment team only scan your application once you’ve finished all three parts.
All that needs to be said at this point is DON’T LIE! Their post-offer vetting process is rigorous. They won’t consult you, they go directly to your university/employers for information.
There’s plenty on this forum about the tests. They’re pretty standard SHL stuff: a 20 minutes to answer 20 numerical question and something like 24 minutes to answer 18 diagrammatic tests. There are also behavioural questions that are untimed; just be honest.
Here’s the trick: because PwC sends you the test automatically this year, you can set up dummy accounts to build up your confidence with the tests. This is also very helpful for the assessment centre.
CLIENT SERVICE QUESTION
“Imagine you are working at PwC. If you could choose an ideal client to advise, who would it be? Your ideal client does not have to be a current client of PwC.
In answering this question please provide us with answers to the following:
• Who is your ideal client and what services do they provide?
• What services and advice could PwC offer this client?”
• What commercial/industry issues are affecting this client in the business market that should be taken into account when a providing them with advice?”
Same questions as last year. Here is how I structured mine:
- What Samsung does (very brief)
- Three different areas PwC could help Samsung with. I used figures, current industry issues facing Samsung and a variety of PwC service lines (not just Assurance)
- A couple of points about Samsung’s potential problems – so strong, differentiated competitors (Apple) and lack of supply-demand equilibrium elsewhere
I think the key here is to show off: a) Your knowledge of what PwC does, and b) A reasonable industry knowledge.
To be blunt, if you struggle with this, you’ll struggle in the interviews. The commercial questions will follow this format (if you’re lucky). Also, make sure you’re very familiar with the industry – this client could well come back up in the final interview.
My first interview was very formal and very structured. The interviewer read questions from her sheet of paper and wrote down my answers. Here are the questions I got:
- Tell me about a recent piece of business news you were interested in, and why it interests you. What advice would you give the business going forward?
- Tell me about a time you worked with someone who had a different working style from you
- Tell me about a time you were a part of a team and what your role was
- What does PwC offer clients and what will your day-to-day activities be
- What do you know about your qualification?
- Tell me about a time you were given feedback and what your response was. Initially, what was your response?
- Tell me about a time you were given a challenging task that took you out of your comfort zone
- Tell me about a time you challenged yourself to achieve a difficult goal
Want to pass? Be prepared. If you put the time in, you will pass this interview.
My main advice would be to mine their website. It is far and away the best graduate recruitment website I’ve seen. They basically tell you exactly what to prepare. For example, their employability brochure has potential interview questions that aren’t too different from their actual interview questions.
Know the competencies. Memorise them, if needs be. I was able to fit lots of different competencies into each example I gave, which meant the interviewer actually skipped some questions.
For the commercial awareness question, make sure you:
- Provide a balanced argument
- Provide figures, such as quarterly profits
- Have some ideas of how the business can improve
- Have some ideas for how PwC can help the business
I would advise using a business-related example rather than one about the economy. After all, you will be working with businesses on the job, and you need to show you are genuinely interested in doing so. Furthermore, I’d advise against using a PwC client at this point. In my KPMG interview, I picked Morrisons, a company my interview was actually working with. Cue difficult questions I couldn’t answer.
Overall, the interviewer was very nice and did a great job getting me relaxed.
If you’re lucky enough to get an assessment centre, make sure you call them about a week before the centre and get feedback on your first interview. Not only is this very helpful, but they will actually tell you what competencies they are going to assess in the partner interview. Normally, they will call you a day or two before the centre anyway, but I found it very useful finding out the details as early as possible. Also, the recruiters are very helpful, so make sure you ask plenty of questions to get a feel for the day.
I arrived relatively early, which meant I got an opportunity to chat with the other candidates. Not only does this help settle your nerves, but it is useful to know names for the group exercise. I was actually surprised to find that PwC mix everyone in; it is the same assessment centre for every (non-consulting) service line, whether you are applying for a graduate scheme or internship.
We were taken to a room which served as our ‘home base’ to do the tests. We started off with a 30 minute written test. You are given a booklet of information and need to provide recommendations to the government for how best to get business to conserve water. You told to write no more than 2 pages (but the paper is spaced such that it is more like a page).
I spent the first 15 minutes reading the booklet and very quickly bullet-pointed the points I was going to make. I then wrote a short introduction, a long paragraph on my recommendation then the pros and cons of the other strategies. I finished off with a one-sentence conclusion. The HR lady who called me up mentioned that my structure was really good. Also, by putting your recommendation first, you won’t risk running out of time before answering the question.
Next came the SHL confirmation tests. Both tests were similar to the online versions, perhaps a little more difficult. The time pressure on the diagrammatic tests is a lot higher though – 40 questions in 20 minutes. Numerical is 20 questions in 20 minutes.
After this, we were given a quick rest then split in two. One half had the partner interview first, the other had the group exercise first.
The partner interview is very different to the first interview, in my opinion. They are given far more freedom. About half of the interview consisted of him making up questions based on something I had said in the previous answer.
I think they’re partly looking to see if you’re likeable and whether you will fit into the organisation. So, for example, he would off-handedly ask questions like ‘what is your favourite part of uni?’ or ‘are you competitive?’ He was also very interested in what I got up to outside of academics recently.
The trick is to know the competencies. The partner was very good at making me feel relaxed, to the point where I had to remind myself that this was a structured interview and not just a chat. Once the interview is underway, no matter how innocuous the question seems, make sure you hit competencies.
It’s really useless posting what specific questions I got because, speaking to other candidates, I realised the questions depend on how the partner is feeling. Here are some of the more generic ones I got:
- How do you deal with the monotony of repetition?
- What policies would you implement to improve the unemployment rate (this was based on a brief mention of pensioners in an earlier answer)?
- What are the drawbacks to this strategy?
- How would you fund it?
- Who would the funding source impact the most?
- Tell me about a time you had to convince someone to do something they did not want to do.
- What has been the most rewarding experience at uni?
- Why PwC?
I had prepared two commercial awareness cases and, as you can see, the commercial awareness segment turned into something I really did not expect and could not have realistically prepared for. Luckily, I have done some economics at uni, but otherwise, you would have to be reading The Economist, FT etc, semi-regularly. That’s not to say economists shouldn’t read up on the news, just that I didn’t.
Because the partner can go off on any tangent, your best bet is to prepare flexible examples, review everything on your application form and first interview, and internalise the competencies. Also, if something important hasn’t been covered in the first interview, chances are it’ll come up in this one.
All in all, I found the partner interview to be the most enjoyable part of the day – we had a lot in common and his passion for PwC was the final confirmation that I wanted to work for them.
This is the one I had been dreading throughout the application process, but PwC organises this much better than other firms.
You’re given a booklet explaining the background to the task. On top of that, everyone is given the details for one environmental strategy a firm can go for. The group’s task is to evaluate which strategy the firm should go for. You’re given 20 minutes to read through the information and 30 minutes to discuss as a group.
The key is to remember that it is an exercise assessing teamwork and time management. My group got so caught up with the task that they forgot basics such as not raising your voice. So my advice would be to keep your eye on the prize:
- Build on others’ points,
- Keep an eye on the clock (verbally time check),
- Nod, smile, eye contact,
- Bring in quieter members,
- Try and resolve any conflicts that may arise calmly
- It helps to speak first and structure the exercise (without being too pushy)
If you do at least some of those things, you’ll be fine. Also, check the PwC website for a group exercise video – it’s actually really helpful.
All in all, it is a comprehensive but doable application process. If you really want to work for PwC, be prepared to put the hours of preparation in. This was the first time I had truly committed to a recruitment process and it showed; by the AC, I knew more about PwC than all the other firms I have ever applied to put together. There is no easy fix: work at it and you will be rewarded.
If you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to ask.