“I started thinking about graduate jobs in my 1st year…”
Adi is a 2011 Economics graduate from the University of Leicester, and a good friend of mine. However, I didn’t interview him just because he is a friend, I wanted to interview him as I’ve watched him get job rejections and then pick himself up and work harder to improve himself. He has been a keen volunteer for three years. He is now (at the time of writing) employed by KPMG.
Faizan: So, Mr. Accountant, when did you start looking for a job?
Adi: I started thinking about graduate jobs when I was in my first year. I knew that the graduate market was very tough and competitive and I wanted to take as many opportunities as early as possible in my university years to bulk up my CV and find out what I really wanted to do career-wise.
I applied to the HSBC first-year internship and although I was invited to the Assessment Day, I wasn’t offered a position. In my second year, I attended career fairs, as well as open days at firms that I was interested in, because I really wanted to know more about the jobs, as well as to have a chat with the current employees about their work. A few weeks into my second year, I applied for summer internships at a few professional services firms and banks.
My first year experience proved beneficial, as I knew what the firms were looking for in my application forms, and I was pretty familiar with the online tests. I attended many interviews and eventually accepted an offer from KPMG.
Faizan: This is interesting, so you basically started planning your career from day one at University. What’s the application/assessment process like with KPMG? Any tips on graduate applications?
Adi: The application process with KPMG was pretty straightforward. I had to fill in an application form, and was then asked to do online tests. After I passed the tests, I was invited to go for an interview with a senior manager at my chosen office and that’s it. However, please note, that the process might be different now (a quick look at the website suggests that an Assessment Day is involved).
My advice is to really go through your application form and try to not apply to different firms at the same time. Try to see if a firm rejects/accepts your first attempt at the application form, because if you send off similar application forms, then chances are, you will get similar outcomes. To ensure your application form is solid, you have to answer the questions tailored to the firm. Go through their website and find out as much information as possible about the firm from open days/leaflets, or even calling their graduate recruiter. Firms like it if you mention specific things about their firms (i.e. their awards, achievements, etc.) so try to incorporate them into your answers. Also, be professional and succinct in your answers, and remember that simple spelling/grammatical errors give a bad first impression.
Try to do loads of practice numerical/verbal tests online, and familiarise yourself with the structure, because similar questions usually will come up in different firms’ tests. When doing the tests, have enough rough paper at hand to do your working, and make sure you are in a quiet environment.
If you are required to do a telephone interview, it might be worth dressing up, as if you are in a face-to-face interview to get you in the right frame of mind. Don’t try to read answers off a sheet of paper because the interviewer can tell when your answers are rehearsed. Try to think of possible questions and answers and list keywords on a sheet of paper, should you need some help. Try to smile as you speak on the phone because it really helps in giving off that friendly tone and lastly, get a friend to practice with you.
For the face-to-face interview, first impressions count. This means that when your interviewer greets you for the first time, give a good firm handshake and be confident and friendly. Take note of your gestures and try not to cross that line of being too casual (especially if you are applying to a professional services firm), and be mindful of your choices of words. It’s probably best not to talk bad about the firm’s competitors, but it’s always good to express your admiration for the firm you are applying to. Remember to mention firm-specific facts, to show that you have done your research. Do not worry if you stutter, because the interviewer knows that you are nervous, and just try to be as concise as possible. Lastly, enough preparation always helps, so practice a lot!
Faizan: That is impressive advice, I am sure this will help students with interviews. Now, you’ve been involved in extra curricular activities, so is it necessary or beneficial to be involved in such activities while at university?
Adi: Extra curricular activities definitely help because in your interview, you will have to talk about specific times where you show the many qualities that the firm is looking for. You cannot just draw examples from your studying because the interviewer will expect varied answers from different settings. Hence, your experience in societies/volunteer works/part-time jobs will play a huge part in displaying your many abilities and skills, that have helped you cope with different situations. I personally joined a few societies and volunteered weekly at a learning centre, and not only are they beneficial for your interviewer, they are also great for your CV!
Also, try to go to career forums like thestudentroom.co.uk or wikijob.co.uk because you will get really good tips from people who have gone to interviews etc. You will also get to read other peoples’ experiences during the whole recruitment process, and maybe you can learn a thing or two from them.
Faizan: Of course, how can we, as graduates forget those two websites. I’ve used them (along with others) even at the application stage. To finish off, is there any personal advice you would give to students?
Adi: Don’t be discouraged if you get a rejection email from the firms! It is a numbers game after all, and the more applications you make, the more experience you have, and the more aware you are of what the firms are looking for. So, apply to as many firms as you are interested in, but remember to tailor your answers.
Faizan: Thanks a lot. And I wish you good luck for the future.
For more information and application deadline and schemes on offer, visit the KPMG careers website.
(The following interview was conducted by the author during the time he was contracted for writing for UOL Careers Blog, where the interview appears in original.)