Features
27 Oct 2016 10:46am

The changing accountancy recruitment process

As the millennial generation takes over the job market, accountancy firms have been trying to adapt their recruitment processes to attract the best talent. We spoke to a number of recent recruits to find how best to navigate it and what they would do to improve it

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Caption: Recent recruits explain how best to navigate the changes and land a job

There have been some changes implemented by the big players in the profession this year. KPMG made headlines when it scrapped its stage interview process for its graduate scheme after a survey of their incoming graduates revealed that arduous recruitment processes are deterring millennials from applying for roles in big businesses.

KPMG has introduced the Launch Pad day, combining the traditional three stages of first interview, assessments and final interview into a single day.

The firm then makes an offer or gives feedback explaining why they were not successful within two working days.

However, applicants still need to complete an initial application form, a situational judgment assessment and some reasoning tests. After this, they submit a digital competency-based questionnaire. Successful applicants are then invited to the Launch Pad event.

You can’t prepare too much for it, as it is more about the behaviours you exhibit rather than what you know

Kate Morrison, graduate in management consulting

Kate Morrison, a graduate in management consulting who recently found a job at KPMG’s banking and technology arm, was one of the first graduates to experience the new process.

Morrison says it lasted the entire day, from 8:30 to 18:00, and there were a few hundred candidates attending it. “At first, this seemed scary, but these candidates were applying for different roles and the staff at KPMG made it clear you weren’t competing against other people."

The day consists of a welcome presentation and an overview of life at KPMG, a group exercise, an analysis exercise, an interview with a partner or director, networking sessions and “energiser sessions” with peers.

“You can’t prepare too much for it, as it is more about the behaviours you exhibit rather than what you know,” says Morrisson.

She was told the day after that she had secured a place in the graduate scheme.

As is increasingly the case, the business’s culture was very important a determining factor. She wanted to work somewhere with a reasonable work/life balance and to be able to get involved in a sports team or society.

In fact, according to research from PwC, the London Business School and the University of Southern California, what may have attracted potential employees in the past – high pay, bonus schemes and rapid promotion – is not what the millennial generation sees as key priorities.

Instead, those born between 1980 and 1995 who are either just coming on to the jobs market or are in the early stages of their career want their jobs to offer workplace flexibility, work/life balance and travel opportunities rather than financial rewards.

“My main advice [to those applying] would be to be yourself and try to enjoy the day. It is an intensive but fun day and there are parts of it which are really enjoyable.

“Even if you don’t get a place onto the graduate scheme it is a great experience and a chance to meet professionals within your chosen sector,” added Morrison.

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Earlier this month, the Times top 10 graduate employers list named PwC as the best graduate employer for the 13th consecutive year.

The Big Four firm hired almost 1,500 graduates last year and plans to recruit a further 1,500 graduates in 2017.

Annie Currie, a politics graduate, decided to shift careers and apply for a job in assurance at the firm this year. Currie says she felt that applying to a top firm was “the key to a successful transition” into the assurance sector.

“Big Four firms provide the best training in the world, and of these firms, PwC holds the best reputation,” she explained.

“There is little room to make it through these stages by 'winging it'

Annie Currie, a politics graduate

In fact, PwC was not only named best employer in the UK but also the best accountancy firm to be interviewed by, according to the Candidate’s Choice Awards by Glassdoor UK.

Looking back to the hiring process, Currie says that securing the first interview was “the simplest part” of the application process.

“It required a bit of preparation and time, but it was fairly straightforward. The online skills tests can be tricky, but with the number of practice tests available online, they are certainly do-able,” she says.

Currie says she thinks that understanding the core values of the firm was what made her succeed in her first interview.

“Every question asked in the first interview related to one of PwC's core values, and I was asked to show how my existing skills and experience fit into these areas. “

Despite the “lengthy” recruitment process, Currie says “it prepared me well for joining the firm”.

As a result, she says next year’s applicants should spend “several hours” preparing before each stage of the recruitment process, by practicing the online tests, triple-checking essays and emails, and understanding how they would fit into the company.

“There is little room to make it through these stages by 'winging it', so just put the time and effort into the application process. The rewards are worth it."

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BDO was also named at this year’s Glassdoor rankings as the second best accountancy firm to be interviewed by in the UK, ahead of the Big Four firms EY, Deloitte and KPMG. So what does the firm have to offer that bigger firms don’t?

Jake Savige, who joined BDO’s tax team this September, says he felt overwhelmed by the amount of information he found online when looking where to apply.

He decided to apply for different firms with hopes that one would “click”, and it was during the interview process that BDO really stood out. “Talking to managers during interviews and recent graduates over lunch, really highlighted a corporate culture that focused on individual personal development,” he said.

Be yourself! I cannot stress that enough. You have nothing to lose from being yourself

Jake Savige

Since joining the firm last month, Savige says he has received “amazing in-house training” with experienced teachers and “endless support” from his buddy and counselling manager and from his team as a whole.

“I chat with partners and directors daily, no one is too important or too busy to lend a minute to have a chat.”

At BDO, applicants are asked to fill out the initial forms and questionnaires. If successful, they are then asked to complete online psychometric tests, followed by the first interview.

“This may sound difficult, but it’s a fairly hassle free process comparatively to other firms,” he said.

“As an example, the most difficult interview I have attended had the initial forms, many aptitude tests, competency questions, video interview and phone interview all before the first interview.”

The firm also covers travel costs for the interviews, which is “definitely nice on the budget of a recent graduate”.

Savige was invited to his first interview within a week and was asked to attend an assessment day next.

The assessment centre was a day of different exercises, both individual and group ones, and it also included a presentation and partner/manager interview. 

Savige says the process was “nowhere near as daunting as it sounds. Through the whole process I felt comfortable to be myself and everyone involved ensured that was a priority”.

He also gave some advice to future applicants. “Be yourself! I cannot stress that enough. You have nothing to lose from being yourself. Knowing what you want for a career is also very important. Your career choice is a huge decision, so you want to make the right one.”

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Even before graduating, Tino Fiore knew he wanted to work for one of the top 10 firms due to their “credibility” and “security”, as well as their culture and opportunities to grow.

After attending a graduate recruitment fair, Fiore applied for a position at Mazars and has now been working in the audit team for the past two years.

Fiore says having the opportunity to work with some of the biggest clients in the market and being able to build a more personal relationship with them is what attracted him to the firm.

“I wouldn’t have been able to do it elsewhere,” he claimed.

It’s important to be confident but not cocky or so relaxed that you don’t seem interested

Tino Fiore

Mazars’ being part of the Praxity alliance was also a factor in his choice, as it offers opportunities to work overseas.

Looking back to the recruitment process, Fiore says it was “about the right length”.

He says the tests were “challenging and competitive”, and gave him the opportunity to showcase a number of other skills at the assessment centre that “you wouldn’t get to demonstrate until much later in the process, if you were lucky enough to reach that stage”.

Other Mazars graduates who attended the same assessment centre are still at the firm, which he says is “really nice to know we all went through the same experience”.

“I think that’s why we work better as a team,” he added.

He also gave some advice to future graduates. “I think researching the company and the role as much as possible is always useful, but more importantly prepare answers about you and what you will bring to the company.

“It’s important to be confident but not cocky or so relaxed that you don’t seem interested. The age-old advice of dressing to impress is still essential today – first impressions are everything and show how much you want it.

“I wouldn’t be overawed by group activities as this is not a case of who can shout the loudest, it’s to show them how you will work as a team and your personality,” said Fiore.

Jessica Fino

 

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