The Graduate Journey for Light at the End of the Tunnel - The Peaks and Troughs of my Search for an Offer

Dell
Grant Thornton
PwC
KPMG
Total
EY
Microsoft
Google
BDO
#1

This site has been so helpful in me getting SEVERAL offers. As I’m sure you’ll know, a lot of the posts on this site detail what you should SAY to questions. I’ve gone for a slightly different take - I will focus on the the way you should ACT, how you carry yourself in a positive manner, so you can develop that whole package and get snapped up by employers.

Instead of making my post specific to just one employer, I will detail my experiences over the last few months that involved applying to the Big Four plus Grant Thornton and BDO. This will be useful for those of you looking for that edge to give yourself the x-factor when it comes to interviews, and will be helpful for those seeking September 2011 roles if unsuccessful this time round. Here we go!

AUGUST 2009
PWC & KPMG

The time has come to fill out those dreaded job applications. The first ones I crack are KPMG (easiest to fill out). I send that off just a few hours later. ‘Do I really want to go into audit?’ I wonder to myself. I suppose I never dreamed, even at university that I would end up working in audit. Well, I could definitely do it for a few years, and I’d get a great qualification out of it, I reason with myself.

I wonder if I’ll be successful this time round? In my third year of university, I send off an application to Deloitte, with disastrous results, as I got rejected immediately. That put the fear of God in me, and I hastily decided not to send off any more applications until after uni, when I have more time to prepare my applications, and less time spent on my degree/daydreaming/nights out at the SU.

Feeling pretty productive, I decide to fire off another application, and decide to go for PWC. Slightly tricker, because this time, unlike KPMG, waffling on about how their CSR programme ‘inspires’ me and deepens my desire to join their graduate scheme to spend most of my days learning about what is true and fair isn’t enough. I need to tell them the things they could do to an ideal client.

What is far from ideal is having to answer this question. Realising now isn’t the time to fume over what is fair and what isn’t, I decide to pick a small privately-owned medical practice. It is owned by a family friend and I figure I have the edge and will know far more about the business than PWC ever hope to. I quickly finish this and away it goes.

THE ONLINE TESTS
A few days later, I check my emails to see that both PWC and KPMG have responded with a request to finish online tests. This is so flimsy I know, but I decide to go for PWC first because I like the look of their website more. And I think their name just sounds so perfect. Pricewaterhousecoopers. It’s a dazzler to look at and to say.

I do a few practice runs of numerical tests…not the diagrammatic ones because unfortunately I can’t find any on the internet. I quickly finish them and feel they went well.

Now I am on a high, and decide to go continue while I’m on full steam and finish the KPMG ones. I did a degree in History and so verbal reasoning should be quite straight forward.

I begin the first test, I believe it was the verbal reasoning…and finish it feeling like a pile of bricks fell on my head and knocked out my brain cells. At the point I feel quite tense, and quickly downed a shot of Sambuca to call my nerves. ‘I NEED to ace this test and get a job!’ I steer myself.

The numerical test then follows. Unlike the PWC ones, each question needed umpteen calculations to come up with the correct answer. What doesn’t help is you are faced with 8 possible choices to select the answer from, so there is a helpless feeling of being swamped.

After the online tests bombardment, I feel quite deflated. There is no way I can continue the rest of the day with this uncertainty, of not knowing if I passed or not. I mentally review the tests in my head and conclude that I most likely passed PWC, and sadistically failed KPMG. I decide to ring KPMG. I explained that I just took their online test and felt sure I failed them, so could they please put me out of my misery by telling me how badly I did now so I could continue living my life and not be stuck in this graduate jobseeker’s unenviable limbo of uncertainty.

The recruiter laughed, looking up my details and to my shock, informed me that I passed! ‘But…it went so badly!’ I quite uncharacteristically stammered down the phone. Apparently the pass scores are low so I scraped through!

SEPTEMBER 2009

PWC INTERVIEW:
My first interview was with PWC in Embankment Place, London. As I made my way there on the tube, I wondered how the interview would go. ‘Will they like me?’ I pondered. ‘Will I commit a faux pas?’ ‘How would I react if I knocked my glass of water over? Would I pretend nothing happened and continue? Or would I have a heart attack right there and then, showing that I show zero competencies in being able to handle pressure?’

I arrived with some time to spare and decided to wander into a nearby Starbucks to calmly compose myself. As I queued up to order, the lady in front of me was having an argument with the Barista. Apparently they had got her order wrong and she left the place in a huff, positively fuming. I am sure if anyone placed a finger on her, the heat radiating off her body would have made that person’s finger spontaneously combust.

Whilst I placed my order, I took a moment to reflect. Would that be me in ten years’ time? Fantastically successful (I spotted her shoes, they are NOT cheap), but miserable, corporate, and irritable? Perhaps even divorced?

I had a seat in this busy Starbucks branch, but felt ill at ease. It was just a stone’s throw away from the PWC building. There was an older gentleman sitting a few tables away, messily devouring a biscuit. Could he be the partner that might interview me if I make it to assessment centre?

I scoffed down my slice of carrot cake and made my way to the park (I’d like to call it Embankment Park?) for a breath of fresh air. The time came for my early morning interview.

As I signed in at reception on the first floor, I took a good look around the place. Dark, no natural light, were my immediate first thoughts. It felt very 1990s. If you switched off the lights it would be pitch black. The walls were peppered with lots of management-speak. Phrases like ‘find your space’, which left me wondering how many funny pipes the creator had inhaled. Not the best first impression.

My interviewer soon came along. He was a short guy. He wouldn’t have been a rugger bugger at school, however he wasn’t a total nerd either. Slightly bookish, this view of him was accentuated by his thick-framed glasses. I can see what inspired him to get those glasses. Probably modeled after Randy Jackson off American Idol but he didn’t pull off ‘cool’ in the same way. He called out my name and had an inviting smile.

TOP TIP: When your interviewer approaches you, DON’T jump up immediately. Doing so makes you look tense, as though the interview is ALL that you have on your mind. Instead, took a second to look at them, then SLOWLY and GRACEFULLY rise up. Extend your hand slowly, while having your mouth turned ever so slightly upwards. Once they introduce themselves, and you have introduced your name, round off with ‘it’s a pleasure to meet you’. Then turn your slightly upturned mouth into a proper smile. BEAM at them with your eyes. Make it look as though you are genuinely pleased to see them, rather than looking as though you were programmed to jump up and grin foolishly whenever anyone calls your name.

My interviewer was warm but inquisitive. He started off by delving into my choice of an ‘ideal client’ on my PWC application. Why did I choose a medical clinic? What would I suggest they do next? I said they should most definitely expand around the country. I also mentioned that with all the recent changes in accounting standards in response to the global financial crisis, PWC was in a very good position to earn fees from advising this business on how they could be compliant when it came to these standards.

“But is that a good thing?” my interviewer queried. I had no idea what to say. But I was determined to salvage myself and sit squarely but firmly on the fence.

“Well it’s neither here nor there, is it, I suppose?” I casually offered, meaning essentially nothing. I took a sip out of my glass of water as I did so, hoping the interviewer would move on to more pressing questions i.e. namely, the ones I had prepared for.

“But DO you think it is a good thing?” my interviewer repeated. I panicked. This interviewer was not going to be fooled by my attempts at deflection. I asked for a moment to think while I worked out how to answer this.

TOP TIP: I thought the best way was to answer it taking a short and long term view, followed by an analysis of all parties involved. I answered in the short run, it might lead to more revenues for PWC, but in the long run PWC could lose the client as the client might think they are paying far too many fees towards PWC.

I also took a society point of viewed, and argued that on the whole more regulation might not be a good thing as it makes having a business a much more complex and expensive matter.

“Hmm. Very good. Now, moving on…” I silently breathed a sigh of relief. I had cleared this hurdle.

I noticed the rest of the interview remained conversational and not strictly competency focused. I used every opportunity to ring home just how much I knew about audit. I asked my interviewer questions like his thoughts on the new reporting standards for the UK, and also what whether there were any times he did not enjoy at PWC.

TOP TIP: Towards the end of the interview, I thanked the interviewer for his time. I also explained to him that I LOVED how warmly he came across, and that if this was a reflection of what the people were like at PWC, I would LOVE to work there. He practically radiated positivity as he beamed back at me.

Flo: 1, PWC:0

GRANT THORNTON AND ERNST&YOUNG:
I started filling out the GT application. But soon noticed you had to do it all in one go rather than being able to log back in and out as I pleased to fill it in stages. What a palaver.

I simply didn’t have time (then) to do it all at once, so postponed to finish GT later on in the week. Meanwhile I logged on to the E&Y application form and my first thoughts were ‘what a mess’.
After exchanges back and forth with their Recruitment Team in Birmingham, I came to learn of things like what a GPA meant (it’s American for degree classification). I also learnt E&Y had done away with competencies and were looking for ‘strengths’ instead. I asked the recruiter what strengths he would like me to exhibit, but he said he couldn’t tell me. Mysterious!

TOP TIP: Anyway, I thought to give the whole thing a bit of a Google and found this
http://www.kent.ac.uk/careers/interviews/strength-based-interviews.htm

I used this to answer the ‘strengths’ questions on the E&Y form, crossed all crossable parts of me and clicked ‘send’.

OCTOBER 2009

DELOITTE:
This was the application I dreaded the MOST as last year I had dismally been rejected at application form stage. Fortunately for me this time round, I breezed through the application form screening and the online tests. However after this stage, I was invited for a telephone interview. I thought this would replace the first stage interview, but no, it wasn’t to be. It was a screening call lasting 10 minutes with a lady called Ania (or was it Anna? More on the lack of clarity later).

I had a thought. Surely there was a way to use the fact that they could not see me to my advantage. I had a brainstorm and thought about the possible questions they might ask me.

TOP TIP: For the phone interview, I typed up the answers to possible questions they might ask me, and blutacked them to my wall! Do this instead of just putting them in front of you, so you can stand during your phone interview, it lets your voice carry further and you are better able to make an impact!

TOP TIP: Make your voice as interesting as possible. DON’T make it sound as if you are reading off a script. Vary it with pauses, speed up and down. Add ‘Oh, and also…’ as if you just remembered something you wanted to add further. Of course you never forgot, it was right there in front of you. But make yourself sound human and communicable!

What was ironic was the lady that interviewed me didn’t speak very clearly. So that’s a fail on competent communication from Deloiite & Touche then…

A few days later Deloitte were ‘delighted to inform me’ that I had passed.

PWC ASSESSMENT CENTRE:
I made it through to the final stage. I turned up at Embankment Place (or Embankment Dungeon if you take into account the dim interior lighting) and checked myself in.

I saw other people waiting as well. It is quite easy to tell who is a business person and who is a graduate candidate. The latter are mostly quiet, a bit nervous looking, constantly readjusting their tie and making sure their collar is pressed.

Some go the extra mile and attempt to casually read the FT they found lying on the coffee table. However they fail to pull off the calm, leisurely look as they struggle between looking presentable and wrestling with the large pages of the FT broadsheet.

We are greeted by the person who will be hosting the day. A slightly older woman, with a rather aloof demeanor. I am left with the impression that she would rather not be there. As she leads us into the ‘hosting’ room where we will be based for the day, I pick a seat away from her, quickly deciding that she was not the type who would enjoy small talk with grad applicants.

My intuition is confirmed when one of the candidates sat close to her, asks if most of the places have filled up by now. “You can check the number of vacancies left on our website. That is pwc.co.uk”, she replies tersely.

We go through the psychometric tests, followed by the group exercise.

TOP TIP: You want to show leadership skills, so once the group discussion part of the group exercise begins, wait one or two seconds. If no one says anything, just launch right in there. Start with a ‘good morning everybody’.

I find it QUITE useful to use the individual reading time to prepare an introductory sentence that you can then use. For instance. ‘Good morning everybody. So this project on the Maldives is quite interesting. We have to achieve X, Y and Z today. Lets spend some time talking about X. What are our general thoughts on this? For instance, I thought option A looked quite financially viable. Alex (another candidate), what is your view on this?’

Perfect introduction, as you show the ability to lead a conversation, as well as a desire to achieve the set objectives. Once everyone has put forward their general thoughts, then agree on how much time to spend talking on each point. So you can nail that time management competency as well.

Post psycho-exercises and group exercise, my stomach was sans food. So you can imagine how glad I was to hear it was time for lunch. We were led to a room where we could grab something to eat as well as have a chat with a first year PWC trainee.

Imagine my horror when the ‘food’ turned out to be still and sparkling water, coffee, tea… oh and biscuits!! After a quick chat, I asked if I could dart downstairs to grab a meal. Quite shocking, but apparently they have cut out the lavish feast they used to lay on for candidates! Gutted!

TOP TIP: The partner interview is part competency but also to see who you are as a person. If you have a great personality, let that shine through like a lighthouse in the rough seas, and they will be attracted to it.

By all means, do not throw caution to the wind and let yourself go! So whilst I told the partner that I had lots of fun in Marbella last summer for instance, I did not let him know what I got up to exactly as that would simply be TMI.

Beam a genuine smile. To do this, picture your smile traveling up your body, all the way to your mouth, then up your nose to your eyes. It sounds ridiculous but as you think of it this way, you think how ridiculous it all sounds, and it makes you smile some more! There you go, you are doing it now! Hold that smile!

Laugh at his jokes. Titter, but not inappropriately. Beam every now and then in appreciation. Also at the end, when thanking him/her for their time, lightly joke that you appreciate it as you are sure they have high charge-out rates that you probably won’t be able to afford now as a 20 year old graduate. This instantly shows that you are in the ‘know’ and are keen to join the industry.

GRANT THORNTON:

TOP TIP: I started filling out the application the month before, but you have to complete it in one sitting, rather than being able to log in and out to complete bits and bobs as you please. Imagine my horror when I got an email from GT saying my application has been marked as ‘incomplete’ and that I can no longer apply for that position.
So top tip with GT, finish and send the application all at once. No procrastination with them!

ERNST & YOUNG FIRST INTERVIEW:

Now I remember being quite daunted about the E&Y application form and their new ‘strengths’ mantra. Using the link I provided further up in these diaries, I tried to suss out what they were looking for, and so talked about how I ‘felt’ in the experiences I relayed to the questions on the application form. As cheesy as they felt at the time, they got me through to an interview with them.

Let me just say their offices in London Bridge are truly stunning and I complimented the interviewer on this, I must say she seemed quite pleased to hear it (“It simply IS, isn’t it?!”

A bit more on the strengths-based interview. I was simply flooded with a million questions that I did not see the sense of. Case in point, I was asked if I thought there were not enough hours in the day. At this point I knew I would just have to be straight and to the point, no competency-waffle would satisfy her.

So I explained honestly and said while I would like more hours for sleep, whilst I am awake I am very good at managing my time and in fact find it quite satisfying when I am able to achieve a lot in a day, as I regularly do! I detailed a recent example of this.

TOP TIP: With strengths based interviews, lean forward and smile, and raise your voice enthusiastically when you are talking about a pet project for e.g. the time when you raised a lot of fundraising for a cause close to your heart. These will bring out these supposed strengths they seek.

TOP TIP: Towards the end of the interview, I was asked what I felt was the most important attribute for a graduate coming into the firm. I explained that personally, I felt it was important to have the right attitude, and to know that as a graduate, I won’t have the same experience and knowledge as the rest of the team. Thus I shouldn’t be surprised or be resentful if I am given ‘dull’ work like photocopy, but instead, I could use it as a chance to learn. By that, I mean, using it as an opportunity to learn what it is I have been asked to photocopy exactly, and how important the document is in the grand scheme of things.

At this point, my interviewer leaned forward and said ‘pardon, WHAT did you say?’ I carefully repeated what I said, after which she promptly began scribbling furiously onto the sheets laid out in front of her.

I feared that perhaps I had voiced a very bad faux-pas, and I asked her if there was something wrong with what I said. I was FULLY prepared at this point to retract my statement, if it were to get in the way of me progressing to the next stage.

'No, there was nothing wrong what with you said. In fact, I thought it was excellent. I actually spotted a strength in you!" she replied. I was so happy that I practically cooed in delight. She beamed back at me.

I left their fantastic headquarters by London Bridge in high spirits.

NOVEMBER 2009

At this point, I was well into November, with an offer from PWC and a future AC session with EY. I had attended and passed my KPMG first interview without incident in October, and so my KPMG AC date was imminent. I had passed the Deloitte phone interview months ago, however my first interview fell towards the end of November! A slow process for them, needless to say.

KPMG ASSESSMENT CENTRE:

Unlike the PWC assessment centre which was quite straightforward, the KPMG equivalent is like going into battle. E-tray exercises, drafting typed responses without spellchecker, partner presentations.

This forum provides pages of information about the actual content of the AC. I will go into strategic elements that can give you that leading edge.

TOP TIP: If you are interviewing or assessment centre-ing at Canary Wharf, arrive at the entrance lobby at least 15 minutes before. For my first interview, I turned up 5 minutes before my interview. My cool, composed self morphed into a panicked, stressed out mess when I realised it would doubtless take more than five minutes for the ten people in front of me to finish their business with the receptionist. Note: this is Canada Square at 9am, there WILL be a queue. So be earlier than usual.

TOP TIP: When the assessor brings everyone through into the main room where the e-tray exercises begin, and when the assessor invites candidates to have a toilet break before the exercise begins, GO to the toilet! Just before the e-tray was due to the begin, one candidate cheekily asked if he could go to the toilet, and before you know if, the rest of the candidates deserted the room for the toilets in harmony.

To say the assessor looked visibly irritated would have been the understatement of the year.

TOP TIP: At lunch, immediately launch into conversation with the trainees. They are human, just like you are, and do you want them to think they could potentially be working with a drone? Be conversational, fun, and friendly. Ooze personality.

TOP TIP: At lunch, another way to set yourself apart is this. When orders are placed for drinks, order a small glass of wine. Doing this immediately separates you apart. The other candidates will most likely order an orange juice, or even tap water…fearing they might get so trollied at lunch that they might have to be carted into the partner interview room as one blubbering, apologetic bundle, tie askew.

Getting the wine shows you are bold and daring. However, this is just a trick. Have a sip or two, and when the waiter comes round again, discreetly order a glass of something non-alcoholic. THIS will be your drink for your meal. Leave the wine untouched, save a few sips every now and then.

TOP TIP: For the partner presentation, I quite strongly recommend avoiding presenting on the large companies like Microsoft, Dell, and Deloitte (I know someone who did that, with disastrous results).
Pick something you are likely to know better than the partner. This will give you the edge.

Since graduating, I’ve been working as a PA for a modelling agency. However, the good thing is I have done bits and bobs around the agency, even sitting in for some of the people on our books every now and then, so I know how the company works, to a far greater extent than the partner would - unless they were an ex-model of course.

This is a very effective strategy, and ensures that you will be in a good place to answer any tough questions about the company. The partner that interviewed me was extremely intrigued and genuinely interested in the company.

I stepped out of Canada Square, had a quick look around (LOVE the area) and soon after got a call from the partner offering me the job.

ON REFLECTION:
So what have I learned from my graduate search, two job offers later?
It’s important to be more than a drone. Have a personality. Let it ooze through. Besides, a smile exudes confidence and allays any underlying anxieties you might have. Don’t afraid to bring out the inner you.

Do I see myself being in audit? Well, truth be told, I never imagined being in this line of work. But I can definitely do it for three years and then analyse my options after wards.

This forum has been an absolute delight to use and I hope my top tips can provide a unique slant on things, and help you develop that leading edge to snap up that job you are eyeing.

By all means, ask any questions that might have popped up upon reading this, and I will do my best to answer them. DO bear with me, I am away with the agency at the moment but will endeavor to respond as soon as.

Best of luck with your search.

Fl

#2

That was a really great read. An excellent addition to this forum for anybody who takes the time to read it. Out of interest which offer have you taken?

#3

Wouldn’t advise ordering wine at the lunch. If I’m not having booze - why are you? Whose the one with the interview? Everyone is nervous. Why pretend you’re not? I certainly was when it was my turn. It’ll probably be my abiding memory when the partner asks me how the lunch went. Is that the remark you’re looking for?

#4

Nice post, the soft skills are becoming more and more important and can be a decisive factor in today’s job market as more and more people possess the hard skills.

#5

Very good and a nice angle on the job hunting slog. No wine at lunch as Loquitor says. And don’t start relying on a shot of Sambuca to calm the nerves!!

#6

And what happened with Deloitte / KPMG ?

#7

Very interesting post! Your sense of humour is amazing…It was a great pleasure reading your post and your insight into the Big 4 is to say the least very informative.

#8

A real pleasure to read all the positive comments above! I really wanted to portray the graduate job search from a rather different angle. I quickly posted the original post because I didn’t want to put off doing it any longer, as I have been meaning to write that up for a while!

Here is the remaining Part 2, which details the outcome of E&Y, Deloitte, and BDO, and the reasoning behind my final choice of offer to go with.

PART 2
NOVEMBER 2009:

Following a series of unintentional coincidences, November 2009 proved to be the most eventful month for me. I was barely into the second week of his month, with an offer from PWC and KPMG in the bag. My first interview with Deloitte & Touche - or '‘Douche’, as I like to abbreviate it - was towards the end of the month.

BDO
I had successfully attended and completed my first interview with BDO uneventfully towards the end of October.

TOP TIP: The BDO process involved filling out the application form, followed by online numerical and verbal reasoning test. These were designed by SHL. One thing I had noticed at this point was that I saw the same questions on the BDO tests. Questions that I had answered previously with other firms. It would be a pretty useful idea to do your working out for the numerical questions CLEARLY. Then afterwards, file it away. When you are faced with the prospect of having to do yet another SHL test for another firm, just bring out those sheets you have filed away, and voila! The answers are already laid out in front of you.
I WOULDN’T advise thumbing through your papers for every single question you come across. However, if there is one you clearly remember doing before, it is well worth a quick thumb through.

My assessment centre for BDO fell towards the middle of November. I arrived at the BDO offices just before 10 am for an all day assessment centre. Just a comment, their offices on Baker Street are extremely state of the art, futuristic and modern. My first visit to the place was just a few weeks before my AC, for my first interview. I will admit I was surprised, but in a very positive way. Why surprised? I suppose I have been brainwashed into the belief that the Big Four are best, and anything else is something you settle for, rather than choose. As I signed in at reception for my AC, I thought back to my first interview and how calm and relaxed the office atmosphere felt at the time. It was a vibe I cannot say I felt to the same degree at E&Y, KPMG or PWC. ‘Perhaps BDO would be a much more relaxed, and positive place to work?’ I wondered to myself.

I made my way up the stairs to the next level, where a small group of people were sat in comfortable armchairs. They clocked me and visually scrutinised me as I walked over. ‘Is this our assessor? Or another candidate?’ they must have thought as I approached them. ‘Ahhh. A candidate,’ it must have clicked, as I took a seat to join them.

Soon enough, the host for the day came through to welcome us and take us to our hosting room for the day. She was older, with a kind face, and I am left with the feeling that she could talk for Britain if she so desired. She made do without airs and graces, someone who you could tell had quite a sharp tongue and would be brutally honest if need be. I remember seeing her at first interview, where she helped process arriving candidates and feed them into their respective rooms for interviews.

TOP TIP: Just before the group exercise begins, each candidate is asked to introduce the person next to them, and tell the room something interesting about that person. DO have a quick think, perhaps on your way to BDO about a unique, noteworthy fact about yourself. One candidate had her unique trait described as being ‘sensible’. I groaned inwardly.

TOP TIP: When you introduce the person next to you, DO be presentable and DO beam positivity. The assessors in the room also go on to assess the various other exercises later in the day. So a top first impression is golden.

Compared to other firms, the group exercise did NOT feel time-pressured, and everyone had more than enough time to discuss their hearts out. If anything, towards the end, it felt like a meeting that had tragically gone on for too long.

After the group exercise, we were escorted back to the hosting room for a bizarre exercise, where we are given a pack of SHL-branded cards and have to use them to work out the missing link. I have a deep suspicion it was nothing more than a time-filling exercise.

After this, a few trainees came into the room to have lunch with them. Some rather interesting observations to follow

BDO TRAINEE OBSERVATIONS

One of the trainees worked in audit. He seemed slightly older. I wouldn’t say a mature student, but rather, old in the sense that perhaps he had taken double gap years - twice - and so ended up joining the workforce at 25.

Another trainee was young, seemed quite down to earth, and I instantly bonded with her at first. A rather unfortunate observation I noticed was the trainees voiced rather negative opinions of the Big Four barely five minutes into the lunch. ‘A friend of mine works at Deloitte, and he hates it.’

The other trainee nodded her head vigorously. ‘Nothing would ever tempt me to work for the Big Four.’

I used the silent moment I had whilst everyone was devouring their sandwiches to contemplate. Was I witnessing some lighthearted banter? Or was there something deeper in all of this? I decided to test the waters.

‘Do you think there is a plus side to working at one of the Big Four though?’ I ventured to ask the trainees. ‘I suppose if you live to work, then they are fantastic’, the older trainee half-jokingly laughed. I mustered a fake chortle, then quickly changed the conversation to how modern their offices were, for that was one thing I could talk about BDO that I genuinely liked.

TOP TIP: I received a rather interesting insight from the lunch, one that confirmed all the deep-seated hunches i have had about graduate recruitment processes in general. One of the trainees spoke of having sat in on a few interviews, where the candidate provided word-perfect answers and what sounded like brilliant examples of demonstrating they had the competencies that are sought after.
Once the interviewee left however, the interviewer conversed with the trainee and lamented about not being able to connect with the interviewee, and whether it was worth progressing the candidate to the next stage without this lack of chemistry.

To me, that shows that it is absolutely key to bring out those positive parts of your personality and let it shine through. A warm, genuine personality could more than make up for any slight deficiencies in competencies that are perceived. Whilst, the opposite might not be true.

BDO PARTNER INTERVIEW
We ploughed through the rest of the day’s assessment process, where we were each given some time to plan and prepare a presentation, followed by half an hour or so of individually presenting to an assessor.

TOP TIP: The assessor for the presentation is one of the assessors that sat in on the group exercise earlier on in the day, so I believe making a brilliant first impression at the group exercise would put you in SUCH a good position for the rest of the day.

Now, the partner interview with BDO was comparably shorter than the ones I had with the Big Four. It only lasted approximately 20 minutes.

The partner that interviewed me was an older man, perhaps in his mid to late fifties. I would say he resembled the politician Peter Mandelson in both appearance and demeanor - serious, authoritative, and not appreciative of any attempts at light-hearted banter.

Mr Partner asked, no wait… interrogated me about the firms I applied to, and where I was in the recruitment process. He perked up and wanted to know exactly why I applied to the Big Four. At first I thought this was only a half-serious question, but a quick look at his eyes and his pursed mouth confirmed that it was in fact…not.

‘Tough economy,’ I mustered. ‘The media are already calling us the lost generation. I have to take advantage of every opportunity I have.’ I offered. He looked unconvinced.

‘Which stage are you at in the recruitment process with them exactly?’ He asked.

At this point, I already held two offers from the Big Four. Should I tell him? If I told him, I might as well just give him my building pass right there and then and have him escort me out of the building.

‘I just finished my assessment centres with KPMG and PWC and so I am waiting on the outcome of those,’ I lied, and quietly breathed out a small sigh of relief, glad to have cleared this hurdle. This was a false dawn.

‘And if you got an offer from one of them, and one from us, how would you go about choosing which one to take?’ The question seemed innocent enough, but coupled with his tone, took on a more probing, scrutinising nature.

At this point I was faced with a very real dilemma, about an issue that I had tried to ignore all day, but had re-emerged and was staring me in the face. It seemed to me that this Big Four resentment did not seem limited to the trainees that had lunch with us. I had thought of their ever-so-slightly unprofessional comments about their bigger rivals and put it down to a little trainee immaturity.

Now I begin to wonder. Did their words come from feelings and thoughts that had unconsciously picked up from the partners they worked with? The partner sat in front of me clearly seemed to dislike the Big Four, and even worse, seemed to dislike me intensely for going through the final stages of the recruitment process with the Big D, E, K and P.

To complicate things further, the partner worked in the business unit that I would have loved to join. I asked for a moment to think about his question, whilst I quickly thought things through in my head.

Would I get irritated by this constant Big Four bashing in the office? Was the supposed relaxed and calm vibe I got from their Baker Street building just a thin veneer that I was already seeing through? Would I be happy working with this partner every day?

I looked back at the partner. Like an uncomfortable fact you try to ignore in the hope that it is not true, I realised that he had already made his mind up about me as soon as he met me, and the rest of this 20 minute interview ‘dance’ we were both performing in was so he could reinforce his deep-seated beliefs.

I had gathered my thoughts.

‘In answer to your question,’ I replied, ‘if it came to choosing between an offer from firm this and another, I would look at the contract details, the office location, and the level of support provided for studying for the ACA. However, personally, I would also think about the people I met during the assessment process, how I connected with them, and if I could see myself working with them in the long term. And that is how I would base my decision,’ I rounded with a cryptic, yet non-committal reply.

‘And would you choose BDO, based on that?’

‘Definitely,’ I smiled as I tried to lie convincingly.

Perhaps not convincingly enough, judging by the look he gave me. I am sure if I were a fly, he would have reached over for his fly swatter at the point and just concluded the interview, ending the misery.

I had the opportunity to ask a few questions, and unfortunately, the rather odd behaviour continued. After I had posed a particularly insightful question to him, he responded, saying that was a rather good question, before semi-asking me who had told me to ask him that question.

‘Oh no, I came up with it myself in fact!’ I replied, to which I heard a snort in response, promptly followed by a ‘Yeah right.’

Even though that question was in fact one I thought of on my own, I decided not to challenge him. Besides, what would I say? Kindly refrain from snorting please thank you?

Soon it was time to be released from the interrogation room. Normally I thank the interviewer for their time and mention something I picked up upon that I appreciated during the interview. This time I thanked him ‘very much’ and left it at that, bid goodbye to one or two of the assessors I saw milling about and promptly left.

POST-BDO REFLECTIONS
I would have to say the behaviour of the BDO partner is right up there as one of the most bizarre moments of my graduate job search. I left BDO feeling disappointed, as I turned up that morning with genuine admiration for their beautiful, relaxed office vibe. These positive thoughts were washed away by no one other than the actions of the trainees themselves and, most disappointingly, that partner.

I regretted not taking the contact details of the other candidates I met, to ask them if they were left with the same feelings I had.

Their recruitment team promptly emailed me the next day informing me of a rejection. Slightly disappointing, but not unexpected at all.

TOP TIP: BDO do not give out feedback, even after assessment centre stage. So a good idea would be to find a quiet spot just after you leave their offices (I saw a Starbucks nearby, perfect place for a coffee and some pause for thought) and write down the parts of the day you thought went perfectly well, and parts that could be improved upon for the next firm you interview with.

I felt so let down that feedback couldn’t be provided to BDO AC candidates, and do feel it does reflect quite badly on them as a firm.

On reflection, that experience goes to show that the graduate search CAN be a game of luck, and only those fortunate enough to have played their cards in the right order will strike that pot of gold at the end. Sometimes things can get the better of you and you uncharacteristically underperform, whereas other days you are unenviably interviewed by the Antichrist itself.

DELOITTE FIRST INTERVIEW

Just a quick relay of my experience with Deloitte. As I am sure some of you have experienced the snail-paced recruitment process of the firm with the Big Green Dot.
Now I cannot personally confirm this, but I have it on good authority that Deloitte have outsourced their recruitment process to a contractor. It is this contractor that processes application forms, online tests, telephone interviews and arranges interviews. So the employees of this contractor aren’t ‘true’ Deloitte employees, in the classical sense. The managers and partners that interview you of course ARE truly Deloitte. It would be a step too far if they were only pretending, I would think…

TOP TIP: If you desperately need to get in touch with a Deloitte recruiter - as I did at one stage with a query about my submitted application - DON’T panic if you can’t through to, say, the London office. I ended up doing a nationwide calling marathon, until I eventually got through to a recruiter in their Leeds office, who could deal with the appropriate person to resolve my query. Even though I applied to London.

Either way, I don’t believe the rest of the Big Four, GT and BDO do this. And this might go someway into explaining how drawn out and inefficient the Deloitte process feels.

Weeks after my phone interview, I was invited to come into their offices for the first interview towards the end of November.

I made my way to Stonecutter Court and had a quick scout of the area. It was a mid-morning interview, so I probably wouldn’t be spending years of my life queuing at the reception a la 9 am KPMG Canada Square style.

10 minutes pre-appointment, I made my way to the entrance. I immediately noticed that compared with the others firms I have been in to see, the place felt austere and bare. It was as if the heads at Deloitte were so hard up on cash when they moved into this place that even having management-speak of empty nothingness being decoratively written all over the walls would be a financial step too far.

After a quick check-in process, I was directed to the reception on the floor below ground level. As I emerged from the lift, I turned right and walked forward to the receptionist sitting behind a rather plain-looking desk. She went off to photocopy my travel receipts, giving me the opportunity to have a better look at the office environment. This appeared to be a ‘graduate centre’ of some kind, where all candidates came for interviews, and maybe even assessment centres. The floor was divided into numerous interview rooms. If my memory serves me correctly, each room was named after a UK town or city (or perhaps it was a European town). I was ushered to a small seating area where I was to wait for my interviewer. There were other candidates sat there, waiting for their respective interviewers. The whole floor was lit thanks to bright white florescent tube lighting, which gave it a very clinical, detention-centre like feel, where we were prisoners being held for our handlers to come and fetch us. Very strange.

Thankfully, my interviewer did not mirror her environment. She was warm, personable, and I immediately clicked with her. After a short introduction, we began the interview. Deloitte do not lie when they want TWO examples for each competency. This can make the interview feel taxing, and a bit dreary after a while, as you are repeating the same story, only the setting is different.

TOP TIP: I noticed I wasn’t explicitly asked for my understanding of the professional qualification I would be studying towards. Rather than fail an interview because of an (incorrectly) perceived lack of career awareness/motivation, I worked this into the questions I had at the end.

Case in point: to demonstrate I knew all there is to know about the ACA, I put my question forward to her this way. I said I noticed there’s been quiet a lot of changes with the ACA syllabus recently, with the regards to the professional and advanced stage, and asked for her thoughts on this. She said she felt that the new syllabus gave trainees more work. I nodded and asked if she meant that perhaps there was more self-study required? To which she explained that that is EXACTLY how she felt. Thanks to that, I am sure she had NO DOUBT in her mind that I was clued up on the ACA, despite her not asking me explicitly.

A week later I was informed I had passed.

MY FINAL DECISION

It was nearing the end of November, and I had two firm offers from KPMG and PWC, and two upcoming ACs with Deloitte and E&Y.

At this point, I was competency-ed out, and despaired at how my unique life experiences had been reduced to a series of soulless, bland competencies. To my horror, I had unwittingly started to analyse the daily tasks I completed in terms of competencies. I remember dealing with an issue at work, resolving it, and unintentionally congratulating myself for demonstrating vivid problem-solving skills and team working abilities.

It was time to put this to an end. I called E&Y and Deloitte to withdraw my applications.

So who do I pick? KPMG or PWC?

I think back to PWC. The HR host at the AC was slightly aloof. Now I know it is unfair to use her to represent the rest of the firm, so I look at other indicators. Viewed against KPMG’s lavish feast laid upon us at lunch courtesy of Smollensky’s, PWC’s artificially lit room of water and biscuits is less than generous, I suppose.

Whereas with KPMG I quite enjoyed interacting with all the people I met, the PWC HR host’s persona wasn’t the most endearing.

For me it’s clear. I log on to the Offer Zone and accept KPMG.

FINAL THOUGHTS
I began this graduate search with uncertainty and anxiety, and left it happy with the choice that I made. I have learnt so much, not just about the process but about myself as well. The strengths I have, the weaknesses I need to work on, and how I could put that all together to present an attractive package to employers.

I TRULY hope you have learned a lot from my experiences. Not only from my Top Tips, but in other more subtle ways as well. Maybe you might have handled my less than pleasurable experience with BDO differently. How would you have reacted if the partner snorted at you? Have a think about it - you might end up with someone like that in your next interview.

I am SO pleased to have finally finished this, as I have been meaning to type it for a month.

It has been an absolute pleasure to use these forums, and I hope this post will stick around long enough to be of use to those seeking roles now, as well as for 2011 entry.

Flo.

#9

Wait til you start work. You’ll be able to write a book on how they treat the first year trainees.
Very good dramatic review. You are too literate for accountancy. They’ll bore you stupid.
You may find that a lot of the BDO senior staff originally qualified with a big four and had to move to the next tier to get the promotion.
Big four v next in the pecking order has rather the same sour grapes (perhaps) attitude as a lot of students who go to Bristol because they didn’t get into Oxbridge.
Life is too short.
Everyone succeeds in life in their own way.

#10

I agree that you might be a bit too literate for accountancy, I love this whole account. It would be a great read for any candidates starting off their job hunt and who want to know what they can expect. I avoided quoting my best bits before, but I love:

“At this point, I was competency-ed out, and despaired at how my unique life experiences had been reduced to a series of soulless, bland competencies. To my horror, I had unwittingly started to analyse the daily tasks I completed in terms of competencies. I remember dealing with an issue at work, resolving it, and unintentionally congratulating myself for demonstrating vivid problem-solving skills and team working abilities.”

That’s my favourite part. :slight_smile:

Good luck at KPMG, I wish you every success.

Brad

#11

I would love to see one of Flo’s audit reports/opinions on one of the clients he had been working on…his manager wouldn’t know what had hit him! Niether would the client!

Fantastic account of what life is like trying to secure a job in this market today! I wish I’d done history too…

#12

Florent you are a cynic for sure. I like your humour. Maybe a bit too clever to enjoy accountancy and to get on with fellow workers? Are you really a team player? A bit smug?
We all know that there is a huge element of playing the game in the graduate job market but beneath the very erudite wit and repartee do you really want the job or are you simply pleased to demonstrate that you beat the system? I cannot help feeling that you are rather mocking the profession and that perhaps journalsim is really your forte. Something along the lines of the Jeremy Clarkson column in the Times.

#13

Great stuff. Going through the soul destroying app process (abit in a different industries) and a lot of the observations ring true. Particularly liked the bit about “unique life experiences had been reduced to a series of soulless, bland competencies”, brilliant.

Ignore the humourless **** above me, I’m sure you’ll do great at KPMG.

#14

The humourless **** above is far closer to the industry and recruitment than you realise.

#15

Yeah that sort of talk is definitely uncalled for. I think Flo sounds like a team player, just a cynical one. Although a career move looks likely to be on the cards within a few years as you’re hinting at.

Still, in terms of the post, I think it’s still insightful into what the graduate recruitment process is like for applicants and so it’s definitely a good contribution to the forum as a whole.

#16

I agree but hearing it and seeing it from the recruiters’ side is also insightful.
Invariably because of the sheer volume of applicants to the big 4 now (last year PwC had 20,000 applicants for 1000 places) the recruitment process has a huge element of chance.
Forent’s postings are very honest, no doubt. There is a slight hint of superiority and I hope she (he) knows that the ACA exams will certainly test a graduate with no business or accountancy experience. It’s not a game then.
But I’m sure Florent will pass all the exams easily.
By the way, Unemployable, I did in fact post that I liked the humour.

#17

Could you just explain what you mean by it having a huge element of chance? Are you essentially saying that if there were two people with exactly the same personality, qualifications and life experiences, one could get an offer while the other doesn’t because of sheer luck? I guess I could see how that would be true to be honest given the number of applicants and the subjective views of interviewers, but still that does sort of seem like a big hole in the recruitment process :wink:

#18

Well I know many candidates that don’t get in first time round, often failing at partner interview. All the other tests etc had been excellent. Next time at their second attempt, different partner, different chemistry etc so, yes, an element of chance.
Reference to your query with two identical candidates. Well if there is only one position, yes. How do you choose?
There will of course never be two identical candidates so there will be somerthing to differentiate or the interviewers will find a difference albeit that may be in the subconscious.
Eg the appearance of a candidate. Male interviewer with choice of pretty female interviewee versus not so attractive male interviewee with bad body odour (extreme, I know!!). Who will they pick?It’s not chance that someone isn’t clean, I guess but bad luck if the interviewer picks the female because of her looks.
Apart from the rather lighthearted angle I may be adopting I am trying to say that in PwC’s example where 20,000 applied for 1000 jobs how do they deal with it? If you assume that at least 2500 (wild guess) are all equal then you have to get down to 1000. I would suggest that you have to employ quite drastic measures to reduce your numbers and I would suggest that it’s chance or even hairsplitting personal differences (what sports you like, what school you went to) or rather a bad luck element that eliminates some really good people.
Some universities have been known to throw a pile of applications in the air and go for the ones that land on the desk. This is anecdotal but I trust the source.

#19

Very interesting post Flo - good luck with your job

Though I must agree that it can be down to chance/luck - I remember hearing the story of the pretty blonde who instead of shadowing seniors in her first year like everyone else was always sent out with a partner!

#20

Flo - this was a great read, I guess there is some light at the end of the tunnel - at least I hope there is!!! You mention practicing SHL tests - whilst practicing I went on the site to do a couple of these. Really trying to practice the numeracy tests - but I found tests on the site didn’t give me much feedback compared to some of the newer sites available now. I’ve been using free tests on the Graduates First website and this has helped me loads. Good luck with your job ; )