I read through a lot of the information on this forum and want to give a bit back. I was offered a place on the technology consulting graduate programme for 2014.
First Interview: prepare answers to questions typically discussed on this forum: they do not change, they are sometimes reformulated so be creative and change your answer to suit the question if necessary: in most cases they are the same as stated, which will make it easy for you if you practice. Remember that “making an impact” is assessed throughout the exercise so be friendly and try and establish a relationship with the interviewer to the best of your ability (this does not mean desperately “breaking the ice” or making efforts to show your personality, although depending on the interviewer these may be appropriate things to do). Being understanding and pleasant while offering “good” answers to the questions is enough to fulfill this criterion. (Good answers to competency questions use a STAR (situation, task, action, and result – google it if you haven’t heard of it) approach and focus on an example that really represents what you are capable of).
Summarise excersise: you are given a report on a company and you are asked to give recommendations and summarize the strengths and weaknesses of the company in question (and other similar things). Skim the whole report and choose the most critical parts to report on (imagine your manager giving you this report, what would you focus on?). Key to success is not to rewrite every part of the report or reporting well on a few parts (although these are both good approaches), it is to show a general understanding of the company (including critical analysis) and an ability to sufficiently answer the points discussed in the brief.
E-tray exercise: Typically different from ex. Deloitte or similar (these are still very good for practice, just expect something a bit different from KPMG). It is more difficult in the sense that you have to answer several different types of questions (voicemails, emails, spreadsheet-like exercises etc.). There are different types of questions: I would recommend that you have a look at the new “tasks” that appear (due to deadlines), although do not spend too much time with any one question, finish questions that have a time limit first and spend a “reasonable” amount of time on questions that ask more than the usual multiple answer (or similar response) – you will be given the expected amount of time to be spend on each question before the exercise. If you are sitting the test and happen to miss a deadline, it is not the end of the world and is not an instant fail so there is no need to feel that way during the assessment :). You don’t have to submit your answers directly, which means that you can leave “longer” questions for later, although make sure you submit everything before the time limit, otherwise you will receive a penalty in the scoring- again don’t be too worried if you forget/don’t have time to submit an answer, although try and avoid this.
Role play: client: There a few main points to consider during this role play that have been covered on this forum: 1) They are testing your ability to handle pressure so if your client is difficult simply act understanding and focus on the task at hand (retrieving important information for the manager role play), 2) Seize business opportunities (if the client speaks about potential business act on this ASAP and discuss KPMGs cross-functional approach), 3) Answer questions asked, be pleasant, but lead the meeting. The “actor” will try and ask questions to throw you off. You do need to answer these to remain professional, but do so with the intention of bringing the conversation back to the reason the meeting was set in the first place (this might differ across positions/locations). Final advice: looking at the clock in the beginning is advisable as there is a set time limit that you are expected to keep (if you don’t, do not freak out, make a sensible estimate of when it seems appropriate to finish or take the hint that the actor has little more to say). If the actor is reluctant to provide info do not be alarmed, ask nicely in creative ways the same questions and then give up focusing on for example selling more business and stating that you will send an email (or similar) on how KPMG will provide a “complete” solution to their issues. Following the instructions in the brief (given before the exercise) should be prioritized before anything I say.
Role play: manager: Intended to be the more relaxed part of role plays. Follow the lead of the manager, and answer the questions to your best ability. If the “actor” asks anything unexpected answer it to your best ability, never feel that there is a wrong answer. You are building a relationship with your manager, so be nice - as you would in a real job to establish a good working relationship. Make sure to take initiative when possible: state that you will undertake a certain task if appropriate. Following the instructions in the brief (given before the exercise) should be prioritized before anything I say.
Be yourself. The worst thing you could do is try and be something you are not for two reasons: 1) do you actually want this job, seriously?, 2) Anyone in a senior position will notice this within probably a minute of speaking with you (otherwise they do not deserve the position, no offence current staff).
Prepare a solid presentation if requested (for advisory etc.): The more questions you answer in your own presentation the better. Remember you can make notes prior to the presentation so try and summarize answers to typical questions you might face: why did you choose this company, why did you choose this solution, financially why is this a sound proposal (preparing figures for the presentation should help avoid these questions unless you do a poor job presenting them), what other options might be viable, further explain your approach, etc.
Remember that you are in a position of power (to an extent): It might seem that this is another of the exercises testing you. In reality you are most likely to pass this stage and simply need to be likeable (by being yourself) and try (to your best ability) to establish a good relationship with the interviewer – this does not mean that you do not need to be prepared. It is critical that you read up on business news (specifically news relevant to your job) and that you can speak (and answer follow-up questions) about a “relevant issue” discussed in the news. Prepare a few news stories and be prepared to answer where you usually read news (BBC, FT, Economist etc. are all adequate answers – one or two sources is enough to mention, don’t overdo it). Also, it is critical that you can answer all questions regarding your career motivation – I’m assuming bad answers here would be the main reason to not accept an application at this stage (seriously nothing to worry about, you probably have a few good reasons for applying – reading up on the company (annual report especially) helps a lot in making the answers sound more personal and seem professional).
General tips for all exercises: you are scored on your performance across all exercises so performing poorly in one area does not mean that you will fail. If you don’t meet your own expectations on some part of the assessments try a little harder on the next one and you will be fine.
Answers to some random questions:
I haven’t heard anything back for a while (at any stage)? This could be for multiple reasons and does not reflect on your performance at any particular stage. Don’t make assumptions until you hear back (this is very challenging indeed but possible, go to the pub maybe), unnecessary suffering :P.
I had my partner/final interview and was told I passed, where is my formal offer? Formal offers are usually sent out quite quickly after being told you were successful. If you have not received it within about 1.5 weeks, send a polite e-mail (or call) asking when you might expect to receive the formal offer (offers usually expire within 2 weeks of being generated so do not be afraid to ask sooner rather than later). Sometimes the administration team have the wrong email or there is an error with the communication systems. It is better to query than wait, large enterprises such as KPMG outsource activities such as this, which means that you might get lost in “translation”. Do not take this the wrong way and get worried, simply send an inquisitive email if you feel that information should have been provided by now (hint: don’t overdo it, send an email to the “general” enquiry email rather than your private contact and you will get a response within reasonable time – 48 hours otherwise call to make sure, unless weekend). Your personal contact is usually not part of the “new joiner” team, which delays responses for some queries.
All the advice in this post is based on my opinion, so don’t hold me accountable :D. I wish you the best of luck in your application and maybe I will see you around, if you can guess who I am ;).
My best tip: even when it is difficult to get a job in general (recession bla bla), you are a very capable person that can achieve great things, so failing in one place is not a reflection of your ability, just a hint that you should think about what you want in life. Working in these kind of companies does sound lucrative/”good for your future” but you only live once (as cliché as that sounds) so make sure you do something that you enjoy. A lot of people will disagree but I believe if you really want this you will put the effort into it required to succeed, if you don’t maybe you should travel abroad for a year (picking fruit in Australia pays about twice KPMGs hourly salary if you assume 48 hour weeks, and you get free accommodation) or figure out what you want ;).