How to Get a Grad Job
HOW TO GET A GRAD JOB Michelle La WWW.HOWTOGETAGRADJOB.COM.AU
How To Get A Grad Job Copyright © 2016 Michelle La All rights reserved worldwide. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other non-commercial uses permitted by copyright law. The material presented is primarily based on personal experiences and is provided for information purposes only. --A special thanks to Daniel, Ivan, Lachlan, Lizzie and Sharyn for contributing their various observations and insights to this book. This book wouldn’t have eventuated without your unconditional guidance, unwavering support and — most importantly — friendship.
Introduction Here’s Where We All Stand About The Book About Me
Chapter 1: The Foundations
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Why the #1 Piece of Advice a Recruiter Told Me Three Years Ago is Now Redundant 9 The Conventional Way To Be ‘Well-Rounded’ 11 Participate in Faculty-Led Events 11 Get a Casual or Part-Time Job 11 Make Your Own Job 12 Donate Your Time and Volunteer 12 Study Abroad 12 Master Your Online Personal Brand 13 The Non-Conventional Way To Be ‘Well-Rounded’ 13 Get Creative With Your CV 14 Create a Website 15 The Overlooked Importance of Soft Skills 16 Small Talk 17 (Active) Listening 17 Emergent Leadership 18 Humility 18 Resilience 18 How To Be Ahead of the Curve 19 Vacationer and Foundation Programs 19 Rolling Graduate Recruitment 20 Preparation 20
Chapter 2: The Biggest Mistake That Students Make The Main Difference Between a ‘Big 4’ and Mid-Tier Firm Benefits of Working in a Big 4 Benefits of Working in a Mid-Tier Audit Tax Compliance Consulting Business Advisory Services (BAS) Industry
Chapter 3: Networking Is Networking Even Necessary? Professions and Organisational Culture A Guide for Introverts The Best Networking Tip
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Chapter 4: Online Written Applications How to Write the Best Responses The STAR Method Research Other Tips What About Cover Letters?
Chapter 5: Online Testing Aptitude Tests Personality/Motivational Fit Tests Game Changers
Chapter 6: Interviews General Video Interviews Assessment Centres Final Interview The Type of Questions You Should Anticipate Tell Me About Yourself Why Do You Want to Work Here? What Do You Think Will be Some of the Challenges You Will Face as a Graduate? What is Your Greatest Weakness? Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years? Why You? The Type of Behavioural Questions You Should Anticipate
Chapter 7: What Happens If You’re Unsuccessful Feedback What Next If You Don’t Receive Any Offers From Your Applications? Follow the Careers Social Media Pages of the Firms You’re Interested In Cast a Wider Net Focus on Getting Work Experience The ‘Hidden’ Job Market
Chapter 8: Grad Life 4 Things You May Not Expect to Happen During Your Graduate Year Top 3 Tips to Making the Most Out of Your Graduate Year
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Introduction Here’s Where We All Stand Graduate Careers Australia (GCA) reports that 32% of bachelor graduates from the class of 2014 did not have a full-time job four months after graduating. Since GCA began measuring graduate employment in 1982, this is the highest full-time unemployment rate ever recorded and the toughest labour market conditions since the early 1990s.
One could attribute the issue to graduate oversupply, automation and offshoring of work or just a slower rate of growth in businesses leading to a decreased graduate intake. Either way, it goes without saying that despite being Australia’s most educated generation in a history, students are finding it tougher than ever to find themselves a graduate job after completing their studies. Like many others, I have friends who are remarkably bright students but have still failed to secure a graduate job in this increasingly competitive market. From one student to another, I want to share every step of my experience to securing a graduate job – from my background preparation, to my university involvement, to the mistakes I’ve made, to every part of the application process and everything else in between.
I want to help YOU secure a graduate job. That’s why I decided to write How To Get A Grad Job.
About The Book As a commerce graduate myself, this book inevitably places an emphasis on commerce-based graduate positions – particularly within professional services firms and generic industry (e.g. retail supermarkets, banks, telecommunications etc.) based roles. Regardless of whether or not you’re interested in the above fields, this book still provides an excellent overview of general application tips to domestic and international students that are widely applicable to all graduate applications. Even if you’re a veteran to the job application space, I still believe there will be some tangible value you can find in this book – so do read on!
About Me So what makes me qualified to write this book? Good question. First up, I am by no means claiming to be an expert in this field. What I can say is that I have been in the graduate job application market for a long time. I started when I was in my final year of high school. I studied two university level accounting subjects and applied for an accounting cadetship (a full-time job with part-time university studies) at the Big 4 professional services firms. I was knocked back on all fronts. I began a three-year degree at the University of Melbourne, studying a Bachelor of Commerce majoring in Accounting and Marketing. At this point, I had my mind firmly set on pursuing a career in accounting and had the belief that it would be a good ‘starting point’ for any future career endeavours. In my first year, I applied for the first year foundation/orientation programs offered by the Big 4 professional services firms and attended two of them offered by different firms. I knew that this would help me get my foot in the door and make it much easier to secure a vacationer placement next year.
In my second year, I applied for vacationer programs at the Big 4 and was successfully accepted, but subsequently turned down the offer in favour of studying on exchange. It was during my exchange semester that I had a light bulb moment – I wasn’t sure if accounting was for me. Sure, I was good enough at it to succeed in the profession, but it wasn’t what I was truly passionate about. What I increasingly realised what I wanted to do was marketing. By my third year, I felt that it was too late to change my career direction. I had geared my whole degree – heck, almost all my life – to securing a job within the accounting profession. My main networking contacts were in accounting, I knew what the industry would be like and I knew what makes the ‘ideal’ graduate. So, I hedged my bets and applied for graduate jobs in the accounting professional services field, as well as several marketing based positions. Unsurprisingly, I was successful on the accounting side of things, but faced rejection after rejection when it came to the marketing roles. So I accepted an accounting graduate job as an auditor at a mid-tier professional services firm, but also made it my personal mission to make a career change to a marketing based role within one year of being an auditor. Fortunately, I was successful with my career change and, at the time of writing, I will be starting my marketing graduate role within the upcoming months. (You’ll read all about how I managed to do this later on in the book!) I tell you about my graduate application history only because my story sets up the basis of everything else I have written in the book. A lot of students think that the path to successfully gaining a graduate job is linear (i.e. you study a degree, you apply, you get the job). However, I hate to break it to you, but this is hardly ever the case. Those who succeed with graduate recruitment work hard and there is usually lots of background work that goes into their eventual grad applications. I’ve applied for over 50 programs and still had to take a one-year side step to work as an auditor before securing a job that I truly wanted. Other than my graduate applications, I’ve also applied for countless other things: scholarships, casual jobs, being on the committee of student societies and volunteering for not-for-profit organisations. Needless to say, I’ve written a lot of applications in my time. 7
While working at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, I had the opportunity to assess the written applications of incoming Master of Teaching applicants and interviewed selected candidates for scholarship positions. This provided me with invaluable insights into what recruiters are looking for. In this book, I’ll be sharing my journey and everything that I know to ensure that YOU have the best opportunity in securing a grad job.
Chapter 1: The Foundations Why the #1 Piece of Advice a Recruiter Told Me Three Years Ago is Now Redundant It goes without saying that all students are different. But what makes a student stand out in the eyes of a recruiter? The answer (I was told): ‘Be well-rounded’.
In short, this means that students should aim to have a breadth of experiences and that grades are not the be all and end all! Of course, some industries – namely management consulting, investment banking and the like – obviously place more emphasis and have stricter grade requirements than other graduate jobs. Generally speaking though, for professional services firms and broader industry graduate roles, being well-rounded in your experiences will make your application much more appealing than just having straight, high distinction grades. However, being ‘well-rounded’ was what recruiters told me three years ago. Here’s the unfortunate thing about the graduate market today.
It’s no longer an added ‘bonus’ for students to be well-rounded. It has now become a recruitment standard and expectation. Let me explain. As a bare minimum, it is a prerequisite that you will complete your degree and meet the standard GPA requirement (typically the equivalent of a credit) for any graduate job application. (If you have failed subjects, don’t be disheartened – I know plenty of students who have failed subjects and have still managed to secure a grad job.) At every other step along the application journey, your GPA becomes irrelevant.
In fact, the UK branch of international accountancy firm Ernst & Young (EY) has already announced that it will be “removing the degree classification from its entry criteria” and that academic qualifications will no longer be a “barrier to getting a foot in the door”.
Instead, EY’s UK recruitment will use “online assessments to judge the potential of applicants”.
Whilst this strategy has not been universally adopted by EY internationally or any firms within the Australian industry, it is a clear sign that academic qualifications are not as important as you may think! Every other part of the application – whether it be the initial written application, video interviews, group assessment centres etc. – is all about knowing who you are and the type of life experiences you have had. 10
Put simply, if you’re a student who is solely focused on getting high distinctions for every subject, chances are you’re not going to get very far in your graduate applications. Being ‘well-rounded’ – not just meeting the GPA minimum – is, now, the new prerequisite.
The Conventional Way To Be ‘Well-Rounded’ The following are some of the easiest ways to get ‘life experience’ under your belt. Don’t Just Be a Student Member, Join the Committee of a Student Society
Depending on your committee position within a student society, you’ll get first hand experience in organising events, running promotions and liaising with third-party sponsors.
This is a perfect, easy way to demonstrate your ability to work as part a team and to develop interpersonal and communication skills.
Better still, if you join in your first year of university and remain with the same student society for the length of your degree, you’ll also showcase leadership abilities (assuming that you eventually move up the ranks), consistency and a dedicated commitment to the cause.
Participate in Faculty-Led Events
Most universities have loads of events that students can participate in. These include (but are not limited to) case competitions, volunteering opportunities, being an orientation week host or mentoring younger students.
Get a Casual or Part-Time Job
Besides having obvious cash flow benefits, working a casual or part-time job is a great way to display your time management and negotiation skills.
Many students discount the importance of having work experience in a café/ fast-food outlet as they feel it isn’t ‘relevant’ to the career or industry they want to work in the future.
This is simply not true!
ALL work experience is beneficial and, I would argue, working in hospitality or retail is particularly important.
Because these are customer service – or to put it in a more fancy way – ‘client facing’ roles. Typically speaking, these positions mean you’re working in a dynamic environment, exercising strong interpersonal and communication skills, solving problems to best meet a customer’s needs and championing the brand you work for.
So, don’t be ashamed to list these jobs down on your CV and remember to use them to your advantage in your next job application!
Make Your Own Job
If you’re one of the unfortunate students who have a lot of university contact hours (or forgot the date to enrol in your classes and ended up with a less-thanideal, system generated timetable) it can be difficult to get a regular, shift job.
Take the opportunity to utilise any strengths and skill sets you have.
For many students, this will be tutoring high school or previous university subjects. For others, it may be coaching junior sport or teaching a musical instrument.
This demonstrates your ability to take initiative and to actively manage your time across all your commitments.
Donate Your Time and Volunteer
With any not-for-profit organisation, there is generally a lack of volunteers.
Think about a cause that you’re passionate about, do a web search and see what organisations are available to you. Even better, some not-for-profit organisations offer internships (e.g. the position of ‘Social Media Intern’ is a popular one) to students so you can gain some work experience and volunteer your time towards a good cause. Study Abroad
Whilst this can be a relatively expensive endeavour, I personally found studying abroad to be incredibly valuable and fulfilling. There are usually two options: 1) A short (typically 4-6 weeks) summer school program in the Northern hemisphere during our winter break or 2) A semester/ year long exchange program. 12
I’ve been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to complete both options and, honestly, I can say that they are both pretty similar. No matter which option you choose, studying abroad is a fantastic life experience and presents the opportunity to step outside of your immediate comfort zone, learn to study and live independently and allows you to be more culturally aware of others. Master Your Online Personal Brand A personal brand simply refers to how you market or present yourself to others. It’s about knowing your value proposition to others – that is, the strengths that set you apart and why firms should want to hire you.
Back in the pre-Google era, you would start to establish your personal brand when you first met someone. However, times have changed and Googling someone, before you’ve actually met them, has become the new norm. So, if you haven’t done this already, do a quick Google search of your name and make sure that nothing untoward comes up! Then, ensure the following:
Have a public, professional and up-to-date LinkedIn profile.
One of the most under-utilised features of LinkedIn is the summary section – use it to briefly describe who you are, your experiences and what career opportunities you’re after.
Where possible, ask for endorsements or recommendations on LinkedIn from previous managers/colleagues.
Consider liking/sharing/posting business articles that are of interest to you and aligned to your chosen career pathway.
The Non-Conventional Way To Be ‘WellRounded’ If you’ve already done all of the above rather ‘conventional’ suggestions, kudos to you. This section is for those who are looking to go above and beyond and want to have a clear point of differentiation from others.
By the time I was in my final year of university, I had above average grades, been a committee member on three different student societies, held several casual/part time jobs, was a self-employed piano teacher, completed two volunteering placements, studied abroad on a scholarship at a summer school program in the United States and studied on exchange in the United Kingdom. I say all of this not to gloat, but to highlight how – despite all of my endeavours – I still wasn’t able to secure a graduate job in the field I wanted – marketing. I was undeterred by this slight setback and proceeded to spend the rest of my final year at university figuring out what was missing from my application and how I could make it even better. One of the things I realised that I lacked was relevant work experience in marketing. However, the problem with trying to get a paid job is that, without relevant prior work experience, you’re unlikely to be hired. So, here are some more non-conventional ideas to create your point of differentiation. Get Creative With Your CV Depending on the type of industry you’re applying for (e.g. marketing, design etc.), it might be worth considering dressing up your CV. It is said that recruiters spend an average of six seconds looking at your CV.
Most CVs look the same.
They’re in Times New Roman or Arial, have black text on white paper, two pages long and in PDF format.
But who says it needs to be or look like that?
Your CV is the only item in the initial application step that you can customise.
Play to your strengths and don’t be afraid to stand out from the crowd.
One of the most daring CVs I’ve ever seen had the person’s name on it and a URL link (yep, that’s all they had on the page).
The URL link led to a two minute YouTube video where the person described who they were, what work experience they had and why a company should hire them (sounds a lot like what you would find on a regular CV doesn’t it?).
If videos aren’t your thing, consider making your CV look more visually appealing by turning it into an infographic. 14
There are many great web applications available for you to try this out on, like Piktochart or Canva. If, like me, creativity is not your thing all together, that’s fine too.
Just remember the ‘triple S’ rule for CVs – keep it short, sharp and specific! Create a Website
Your own, personal website is a powerful marketing tool for your personal brand.
A well written, beautifully designed website will not only allow your personality to shine, but also allows you to create a positive first impression online.
An article published on LinkedIn Pulse suggests that “56% of all hiring managers are more impressed by a candidate’s personal website than any other personal branding tool – however, only 7% of job seekers actually have a personal website”.
Now, I should draw to your attention that this article and statistic relates to professional job seekers, so you can only imagine how many (i.e. not many at all!) students have their own website!
This will be a clear point of distinction for you!
A website acts as a platform for you to broadcast your achievements and strengths to a broader audience.
I’ve seen personal websites that act as a general online CV, ones that showcase an individual’s portfolio of work from university and others that are tailored towards a single industry or market.
Personally, I set up my personal website to demonstrate that my interest and passion for marketing extended beyond my university studies.
As I love to read marketing articles and news, I used my website to write my own articles and I subsequently shared what I wrote with my LinkedIn connections and potential recruiters.
To give you an example, you can access my website here: www.michelleyla.com.
The Overlooked Importance of Soft Skills What we’ve spoken about so far mostly relates to a student’s tangible attributes – that is, the work and life experiences they can list out on a sheet of paper. It’s all well and good to have a long list of achievements, but what skills have you actually learnt from them? ‘Hard skills’, like technical competencies of using a software program, are certainly a favourable trait to acquire. However, more often than not, employers are interested in the intangible benefits of being ‘well-rounded’ and how applicants have developed their ‘soft skills’. The term ‘soft skills’ simply refers to personal attributes that allow us to interact effectively and harmoniously with others. One of the reasons why recruiters look fondly upon work and life experiences is because, in the process of participating in these activities, students tend to also be honing their soft skill interactions at the same time. Intangible attributes like good communication, cooperativeness, selfmanagement, learning on-the-fly and adaptability are impossible to quantify but, the more life experiences a student has, the better the chances that their soft skills are well developed. Ask any partner at a professional services firm and they’ll tell you that soft skills are crucial to be successful within the industry. Why? Because client relationships are pivotal to a firm’s profitability. Clients can take their accounting and tax business anywhere, but ultimately, it is the strong and robust working relationships that partners form with their clients that makes them ‘sticky’. More often than not, partners look out for potential graduates who can break the ice, hold a conversation and build a relationship. Any other technical competencies can be taught along the way, but soft skills are hard to teach. The importance of some soft skills – like communication, leadership, team work etc. – are widely known and regarded. (And there is lots of literature on them already – Google it!)
Here are five soft skills that I’ve personally found to be very important, but don’t get as much attention as they possibly should. Small Talk If you’re an introvert, like me, you’ll find small talk with others a difficult, daunting and challenging ask. You might actually be asking yourself, why is small talk even necessary? What I’ve found, in client facing roles, is that small talk actually facilitates getting the job done by building rapport and the beginnings of a working relationship. As social beings, we inevitably find it easier to work with people who we are familiar with, even if we only ‘know’ them through some brief (often, mundane) conversation. The key to small talk is to actually try and turn it into an actual conversation, rather than a series of back-and-forth questions and answers. Here are a few things you can do:
Answer the inevitable “How are you?” question with an extended answer. Instead of just replying with “Good, you?” add some details about what you’ve done. For example, you could respond with “Good, I spent last night watching this movie, have you seen it?”.
Ask relevant questions. It’s much easier for you to listen first, talk second and then, based on what the other person has said, ask questions to further progress the conversation.
Prepare and have a few go-to stories. I’ve met people who regurgitate the same stories over and over again (to different audiences, of course) and have perfected them in the process.
(Active) Listening I personally dislike the phrase ‘active listening’ as I think all listening should be ‘active’. Active listening simply refers to the following:
Asking questions – either to clarify a situation or to show further interest in what the other person is saying.
Maintaining eye contact.
Not interrupting others.
Paying attention to your own and the other person’s body language (which is another form of expression in itself).
Examples of traditional forms of leadership would be being school captain or president of a student society. The idea of emergent leadership ties in with taking initiative and adaptability. To illustrate this concept, a typical question posed may be: “When working in a team and an unexpected problem arose, how did you step in and take the lead – particularly when you weren’t assigned the role of ‘leader’ at the beginning?” With many things in life, emergent leadership can’t necessarily be ‘taught’, but it does come with practice. Practice taking initiative and leading in smaller group discussions, remaining calm in chaotic situations and emulating positive traits from leaders you admire. Humility Generation Ys are typically seen to be a self-obsessed and narcissistic bunch. Humility is having the willingness to learn from others, accepting that you may not be the ‘best’ and being open to new ideas, failures and your own shortcomings. If you’re wondering why humility is important, it is often through humble individuals where group innovation can best thrive. Innovation is rarely cultivated through individual ‘breakthrough’ moments, but rather, requires a collaborative group effort. Within that group, you need individuals who are willing to think imaginatively, ask big questions, but also accept that their ideas may be shut down and shelved in the process. Resilience All of us have experienced failure. You would probably be surprised to know that the most successful people are often also the people who have failed the most times.
Resilience is picking yourself back up after you’ve been faced with a setback (or many setbacks). If anything, the mistakes we’ve made, the failures we’ve encountered and the disappointments we’ve faced make us a stronger character than before. Here are some tips to help you stay strong in times when you may want to give up:
Remember why you started the project/application in the first place.
Search for the inner motivation and drive you once had.
Try to think rationally – often, emotions cloud our better judgement when we’ve experienced negativity.
Reward the small wins.
Learn from your mistakes – remember that they will help prepare you for any future mishaps.
How To Be Ahead of the Curve Vacationer and Foundation Programs Most seasoned experts of the grad job market will be aware that most firms who offer graduate jobs will also have vacationer programs. Vacationer programs are typically run over the summer break (from November to February the following year) and can vary in length from 4-12 weeks long. Vacationer placements are a great way for students to see what an industry or firm is like. However, don’t forget that it is also a way for employers to ‘try before they buy’; so treat your vacationer placement like an extended interview. What some students may not be aware of is that some firms also offer ‘foundation’ programs. The names and timings of these programs vary from firm to firm, but they are basically an introductory program that students can be a part of from their first year of university (if completing a three-year degree). These programs are designed to provide some elementary insights into a profession, industry or firm and are a great way for students to start exploring career options, network and secure a vacationer placement later on.
Rolling Graduate Recruitment Many firms will not stipulate an end date to their graduate recruitment program, but rather will work on a rolling recruitment process. This simply means that firms will assess applications as they receive it. Therefore, the earlier you get your application in, the faster it will be processed and the higher the chance of success! Preparation It can be really intimidating, not to mention time consuming, to fit applying for grad jobs in with your weekly schedule. The best way to tackle this is, as always, to be prepared. Try the following: •
Plan well ahead before the university semester commences and certainly don’t leave it until week 4-5 of semester when assignments and tests come rolling in.
Be proactive, not reactive (e.g. follow careers social media pages and subscribe to job alerts).
Make a list of which companies you would like to apply for.
Block out a few hours in your daily/weekly schedule to start your written applications and make an achievable, realistic to-do list.
Keep a spreadsheet of which firms you’ve applied for, what division you chose and the date you applied.
Monitor your own progress for each firm, including which firms you have done the online testing for etc.
Remember, if you’re going to apply for a job, you might as well give it your best shot. A rushed application is a wasted application.
Chapter 2: The Biggest Mistake That Students Make I made this mistake and I don’t want you to make the same one. This is it: I didn’t really know what kind of graduate job I was applying for. When I was a student, I read a myriad of employers’ websites and their ‘business area descriptions’, but most of the time, I found myself thinking ‘What will I actually be doing?’. For example, in professional services, Assurance/Audit is “key to sustaining confidence in an entity’s financial statements”, Tax helps businesses to “navigate ever-changing, complex tax regulations” and Business Advisory Services assists “organisations to improve their performance” or, more likely, an even more complex expansion of the above! What does any of that even mean?! Industry based firms (e.g. retail supermarkets, banks, telecommunications etc.) are marginally better with their approach, but some will still describe the streams they offer using business ‘catchphrases’ like ‘dynamic, resilient and strategic’. Sure, the large majority of students would be happy to get a graduate job – literally, any job – and will just be applying to anything and everything possible. Maybe I’m more optimistic than most, but I’d like to think that students can not only get a graduate job, but they should also be able to secure a grad job that they’ll actually enjoy. Plus, if you know more about what you’re actually applying to be a part of, you can draw on these insights throughout the application and interview process.
Admittedly, professional services firms are increasingly shifting to a ‘one-stopshop’ business model rather than just specialising in audit, tax or advisory services. As a result, this has resulted in a larger graduate intake to fill more specialised roles within the aforementioned broader divisions. The following chapter is dedicated to deciphering the business jargon and helping you make an informed decision on what a graduate job will actually be like in these fields.
The Main Difference Between a ‘Big 4’ and MidTier Firm Most students think that the bigger the firm, the better the opportunities right? Not necessarily. The size of the firm typically dictates the size of its clients. For example, ASX 200 listed companies are more inclined to go to one of the Big 4 firms for their accounting and business needs rather than a mid-tier firm, simply because mid-tiers don’t specialise in that area, nor do they have the staff numbers or expertise to accommodate such a large client. The choice behind working for a Big 4 or mid-tier firm primarily comes down to what type of clients you want to work for. Big 4 firms will be dealing with medium to large sized companies, large government sector jobs, as well as important high-net-worth individuals. Mid-tiers specialise in the small to medium enterprise (SME) space, not-forprofits, trusts, high-net-worth individuals as well as small government sector jobs. Benefits of Working in a Big 4 •
Higher, albeit marginally, annual salary at the graduate level.
Exposure to more complex work and larger clienteles.
Greater networking opportunities both internally (within the firm’s various divisions) and externally (through client based work).
Better secondment opportunities.
More opportunities to transfer to different divisions internally.
More peer support and resources available when undertaking Chartered Accountants (CA) modules.
Internationally renowned brand that allows for better future career opportunities overseas.
More of a ‘work hard, play hard’ culture (ideally suited to graduates).
Benefits of Working in a Mid-Tier •
Lower working hour expectations and better work-life balance.
Ironically, often a higher wage per hour.
Wider exposure to different sectors and types of clients.
Develop broader skill sets across your division rather than being ‘pigeonholed’ in one specific area.
Culture is less political, hierarchical and competitive.
More adaptable to individual needs and preferences for personal and professional development.
No matter whether you’re at a Big 4 or a mid-tier firm, here is a snapshot of what you’ll typically be doing in the three main divisions of Audit, Tax and Business Advisory Services.
Audit As an overview, auditors assess whether or not an entity’s financials are materially misstated and present a true and fair view. In order to do this, auditors plan and perform testing procedures on different sections of the financials. There are typically two audit visits during the year – an interim and a final visit. At the interim visit (prior to the financial year-end), auditors will perform preliminary reviews to determine the unique inherent and business risks faced by that particular entity. Auditors also complete a ‘walkthrough’ of key business cycles – e.g. accounts receivable/payable – to determine if there are any controls in place to mitigate these risks. At the final visit (post financial year-end), auditors typically complete the majority of their testing procedures to evaluate if the year-end financial balances are true and fair. These tests – including detailed testing, recalculation of balances, analytical reviews etc. – typically involve sampling a selection of transactions and confirming it with prior expectations or a set list of criteria. Audit is renowned for having a particularly intense ‘busy season’ after the financial year ends from July to October each year.
Audit is well suited to those who enjoy working in a dynamic team environment, thinking on their feet and are adaptable to change. You’ll also require good verbal communication skills to liaise with clients, as well as attention to detail in your work.
Tax Corporate tax is typically split into two streams: Compliance and Consulting. Compliance As the name suggests, tax compliance helps to ensure that clients are meeting their tax obligations as per the ATO’s requests and guidelines. As an example, in most corporate businesses, accounting for accounting purposes is usually different to accounting for tax purposes. Compliance involves finding the discrepancies between the two methods of accounting and ensuring that a business’ tax receivable/payable is based on their taxable profit and not accounting profit. In order to find and calculate any discrepancies, a tax provision review is conducted and a firm’s deferred tax assets/liabilities are assessed by referring to the Income Tax Assessment Act (ITAA) 1936/1997. Other specialised areas of tax compliance include GST, indirect taxes, expats tax, transfer pricing etc. Consulting The overriding purpose of tax consulting is to retain a client’s wealth. This is completed via a client letter of advice (based on research conducted by reading the ITAA or case law) and submitting private binding ruling applications to the ATO. When a client has taken a contentious tax position, the consulting tax team will put together a ‘reasonable arguable position paper’ where they will present their findings as supporting evidence to their client’s tax claims. Tax is suited to graduates who are logical and methodical in their thinking, good at researching, writing and have strong attention to detail. A law degree will certainly help (due to the heavy legislative work involved) but is certainly not necessary to do well in the field.
Business Advisory Services (BAS) First up, the title of business ‘advisory’ services – particularly at the grad level – is a bit of misnomer. It’s less of the ‘advisory’ type and more of the accounting and reporting type. As a BAS grad, you’ll be doing high-level bookkeeping tasks for small to medium sized companies, high-net-worth individuals, trusts, charities and companies to ensure that their accounts are in an orderly fashion. Increasingly, the BAS sector is seeing a major shift towards cloud accounting that is, using online accounting software like MYOB, Xero etc. Tasks include management reporting, completing business activity statements, fringe benefits tax (FBT), special purpose financial reports, managing the administration of share portfolios, ensuring tax compliance, preparing budgets etc. The advisory part of it comes in when you and your team make recommendations to your clients as to what accounting approaches they should take, with almost all of this done by the manager or partner. BAS is best suited to graduates who desire exposure to a wide variety of accounting tasks across a diverse client base. BAS also has a more practical, real-world focus that is more transferable than other service lines to entrepreneurial pursuits.
Industry An industry graduate role refers to positions offered by retail supermarket chains, banks, telecommunications sectors etc. In my opinion, the best feature of an industry graduate position is the team rotations they offer. Typically, you’ll apply to be a graduate under a certain stream (e.g. finance, risk, marketing, operations etc.) and then you’ll also have the opportunity to rotate round 2-4 different divisions within that stream. This is perfect for graduates who have a general knowledge of what they would like to do, but who don’t quite know what role will best suit their personality and strengths.
Chapter 3: Networking As a student, I found general networking tips and advice online (e.g. make sure you bring plenty of business cards, try and add value where you can, have a sales pitch etc.) to be largely inadequate and irrelevant. This next chapter is specifically written with students in mind who are attending university career fairs or networking events hosted by prospective graduate employers.
Is Networking Even Necessary? In short, no. (If you’re satisfied with this answer, feel free to skip this chapter but I do strongly encourage you to read on…) I say this because I’m living proof that you can still land yourself a graduate job – in a completely new industry setting – without attending a single networking event during the year. For background purposes, the reason why I didn’t attend networking events was because I, at the time, was working as a full-time, graduate auditor at a mid-tier professional services firm. As an auditor, I was constantly travelling from one client to the next and found it difficult – in fact, near impossible – to juggle my existing work commitments, apply for other graduate positions AND make time to attend networking events without arousing too much suspicion. As a result, I chose to bypass the networking stage and just focused on submitting exceptional written applications. (See how I did this in Chapter 4: Online Written Applications) For me, this strategy paid off and, at the time of writing, I’ve resigned from my position as an auditor and will be moving into an industry-based, marketing graduate role in 2016.
However, networking played a pivotal role for me in securing my first graduate job as an auditor. Why? Because it allowed me to gain a deep understanding of the profession, the different firms and their cultures.
Professions and Organisational Culture A lot of students think they know what they want to be when they graduate. In reality, hardly any students know what individual professions are going to be like. The solution? Ask the professionals. I started attending professional networking events when I was in my final year of high school and continued attending some events every year during my threeyear degree. During this period of time, I cannot even count how many employers, HR professionals and existing graduates that I spoke to. All of them provided me with invaluable insights into their professions, as well as their organisations. Existing graduates at an organisation would tell me what their typical day consisted of, what work they completed and whether or not they received ongoing training and development support. HR professionals would inform me of what they were specifically looking for in their graduates, the career progression opportunities and what their firm’s culture was like. For me, the process of attending networking events helped me narrow down what I wanted to do and I found networking particularly helpful in the earlier years of my degree. If you’re unsure of which profession or industry you want to be in, networking is an incredibly useful tool and a great way for you to find out. Even if you have made up your mind on the profession, it’s always good to find out which organisation’s culture best suits your personality.
A Guide for Introverts Despite attending countless networking events in the past, you may be surprised to know that, as a self-identified introvert, I despised networking events. The mere thought of having to socialise with strangers (namely, HR professionals who are trying to recruit the very best) in a noisy, crowded environment with dozens of other students vying for their attention was enough to set me on edge. Once, when a HR Manager was doing a presentation on the different service lines in their organisation, I even managed to let my glass of water slip out of my 27
hand. The glass hit the white tiled floor, shattered into dozens of pieces and the spectacle was complete when the water splattered onto everyone else’s shoes. I made an impression alright. I found networking events overwhelming and – it goes without saying – when you feel overwhelmed, you’re not performing at your best. If you’re a fellow introvert, firstly, do not fear. Secondly, follow these top strategies that I used to overcome my anxiety: •
Do your research. At career fairs or larger networking events, there will be dozens of employers available for you to speak to. At first, this can be incredibly daunting. Before attending the event, look up which employers are attending, research their respective graduate programs and make a list of who you would like to speak to.
Prepare questions. Besides company/graduate program specific questions, here are my personal favourites: o To employees/current graduates: ▪ What do you wish you had known about your role/the industry before you started? ▪ What type of person do you think will succeed in your role? ▪ Could you describe a typical workday for me? ▪ Do you receive ongoing training and development? ▪ What advice would you give to students when applying to ‘x’ organisation? o To HR professionals: ▪ What separates your firm from the competition? ▪ What opportunities do you have for future career progression? ▪ I understand that there are sub-cultures within an organisation, but what are the three words you would use to describe your firm’s overriding culture? ▪ What makes an application stand out? ▪ What service line/division are you hiring the most graduates in?
Dress up! Knowing that you’re dressed correctly means that there is one less thing to be worried about. As a general rule of thumb, if you’re attending a university’s careers fair, smart casual attire should suffice. If you’re attending a formal networking event at an employer’s premises, dress in professional corporate attire.
The Best Networking Tip Someone told me the ‘best networking tip’ and I used it to secure my first graduate job as an auditor. Here is the BEST piece of advice I’ve ever received when it comes to attending career fairs or networking events: Be an early bird and beat the crowd! Why? •
It’s more time efficient. By being one of the first through the door, you won’t have to wait around for other students to finish asking their questions.
You won’t be facing a tired and disgruntled HR Manager who has been answering the same questions all day long! (As a general rule of thumb, always try and appease HR Managers and their staff!).
You can have longer, more meaningful one-on-one discussions with HR and their staff. During this discussion, do the following: o Ask thoughtful questions and actively listen to their response. Questions like ‘What is your GPA grade cut-off?’ and ‘What service line divisions do you have?’ are dull and can easily be answered by a simple Google search. See above for suggested questions to ask. o Make mental notes of the key takeaways from your discussion and, when you’ve walked away, quickly write down these mental notes in a notebook or on your phone. Then, where possible, try to intertwine this in with your online written application. This will show the HR team that you have not only made the effort to attend a networking event and meet their staff, but also that you’ve taken onboard what they’ve said and applied it to your application. o Ask for their contact details. Once your written application is complete, submit it through the typical portal online, but also, email it to the HR member you spoke to. This will, hopefully, allow for your application to be fast-tracked and, by adding a personal note to your emailed application, this will help the HR staff identify who you are and where they’ve met you.
o Follow up with them. After the networking event, send a quick email to thank them for their time. Add a note about the conversation that you had (e.g. as you may recall, travelling is a passion of mine and I really appreciated your explanation on the global secondment opportunities you have in your firm etc.).
Alternatively, you can add them to your LinkedIn connections (if you don’t have a LinkedIn account already, I highly recommend you set one up) and remember to send them a personalised message! In general… Always keep in mind that you’ll either be speaking to those who will ultimately hire you, or those that – should you be successful – you’ll be working with.
Chapter 4: Online Written Applications First up, do not underestimate the time required (it honestly feels like another university subject altogether!) to write and submit your online applications. Secondly, think of your written application as you making your first impression. Thirdly, do be aware that some (if not, most) firms operate on a rolling recruitment basis. This essentially means that rather than assessing all applications in one big batch when applications close, those who apply first will be assessed and processed first. So, it is certainly advantageous to get your foot in the door as early as possible to maximise your opportunity of being selected! A word of caution: most students (typically around 50%) will be rejected by the end of the combined online written application and testing stages. Therefore, it is crucial that your written application stands out from the rest of the crowd!
The above diagram provides a general depiction of the ‘application funnel’ and how many students are likely to progress onto the next stage.
How to Write the Best Responses Regardless of your prior work/life experiences, here are some things you can do to maximise the effectiveness of your application. The STAR Method The ‘STAR’ method is a preferred and commonly used technique by recruiters in behavioural interviews. In one-on-one interviews, recruiters will often ask applicants to respond to their questions using the STAR method as it provides a clear, signposted structure to the applicant’s answer. Whilst the STAR method is not compulsory in the written application stage, I find that it is a great way to structure my responses to behavioural questions. Also, recruiters will be familiar with this technique and they’ll find it much easier to read and digest. ‘STAR’ is an acronym for: Situation: Describe the specific situation that you were in or the context surrounding the event. Task: What task did you need to achieve or accomplish? Action: As a result of the situation, what action did you take to ensure that the task was carried out properly? Result: What was the end result – was your course of action appropriate for the situation and was the task completed? Here’s an example. Q: Describe a time when you had to adjust to a significant change in your life? A: A situation where I had to adjust to a significant change was when I was 19 years old and went to study on exchange at the University of Nottingham in England for a semester. The task I faced was the challenge of living, studying independently and adapting to a new foreign environment whilst on exchange. The action I took is as follows – I approached the situation by doing lots of prior research online, such as researching the university, reading forums about the living conditions and putting together a financial budget to ensure I had the means to cover my own costs. I also sought out some students who had previously studied at the University of Nottingham and kept in close contact with them to ask about their exchange experiences and any potential problems they faced.
The end result was overwhelmingly positive. The experience of exchange forced me to step outside of my immediate comfort zone and, as a result, I learnt that I am a highly resilient character. Studying and travelling alone overseas brought out my strengths and made me more culturally aware of how to interact with others from different walks of life. Research Often, a little research can go a long way. Simple things like knowing what the cultural values of an organisation are, or what they pride themselves on within a particular industry, or even any industry news or ‘wins’ (i.e. new client, successful tenders, release of a new product, expansion into a new market etc.) they might have had can add to your application. Your first port of call should always be the firm’s website, but then expand your research out to a general Google search for current news and industry insights. Most importantly, weave this research into your application. Use it to think about how you would fit in to the organisation and what value you could add to it. From a recruiter’s perspective, it’s always reassuring to see students’ taking the time to research their respective firms, thinking about how they could fit in and knowing that they haven’t applied just on a whim. If “Why are you choosing ‘x’ company within ‘y’ industry?” isn’t a question on the initial written application, I guarantee you that you’ll hear it somewhere along the other interview stages. Here’s an example of how I answered this question for an application to NAB: Q: In 250 words or less, please tell us why you would like to be considered for a position in the 2016 NAB Graduate Program. A: I graduated with a BCom from the University of Melbourne with Marketing and Accounting majors. I’m looking to join the Marketing stream and I see a big 4 bank, like NAB, as the perfect union between my financial commercial knowledge and my creative, strategical marketing mind. What differentiates NAB from the other banks is its brand and product campaigns – such as the famous ‘Break Up’ campaign from 2011 by Clemenger BBDO, the ‘more give, less take’ slogan coupled with no monthly account fees and, more recently, the NAB Footify project.
Furthermore, as with any organisation, I strongly believe it is the culture, values and people that set it apart from the rest. Having been to countless careers fairs, I have had many opportunities to speak to NAB’s representatives. Everyone that I spoke to had a welcoming and genuine disposition and addressed any questions that I had with personal insights and honesty. Furthermore, from my conversations with graduates, NAB’s commitment to continuously provide constructive feedback and support to its graduates is one that I deeply admire. Undoubtedly, the transition to full-time work will require some adjustment, but NAB’s emphasis on work/ life balance is one that will certainly direct graduates in the right direction. Other Tips •
Write and save all your application responses in Word first. This will help to ensure that all your spelling and grammar is correct. This also provides a saved reference point for any future interview stages so you can refresh your memory on what you previously wrote.
Try and not use the ‘university group assignment’ example. Every student has worked ‘as part of a team’ and has completed a group assignment. Try and use examples that are unique to you to showcase the work experiences you have had.
Less is more. The typical graduate program receives thousands of applications each year. Recruiters don’t want to be spending all of their time reading through your waffle and padding – signpost, be concise with your answers and – most importantly – answer the question!
(On another note, make sure you stick to the word allocation limit if they’ve provided you one.)
Do not write ‘refer above’. This is plainly frustrating to the reader and adds a sense of confusion to your response as to where the reader should ‘refer above’ to.
Don’t submit your application right away. Finish writing it, leave it then come back and re-read it later on with, hopefully, a fresher perspective. This will enable you to pick up on any mistakes or disfluencies you may not have realised previously.
Check online forums like Whirlpool. If it’s been a while since you heard back from the firm or if you’re unsure about how your online written application is progressing, you can check sites like Whirlpool. Whirlpool is an online, collaborative forum where applicants can share details about the progress and status of their application and whether or not they’ve progressed to the next stage.
What About Cover Letters? I am of the school of thought that if you’ve done a good enough job on the rest of your written application, cover letters are redundant. Usually, cover letters are ‘optional’ in the recruitment process and I’ve never bothered with submitting a generic one. Why? Because your written application and CV combined should already say everything that is included in your cover letter. Simple as that.
Chapter 5: Online Testing Online testing, or psychometric testing, is used to assess a student’s aptitude, as well as their personality and motivations. By employing the same psychometric test on all candidates, these tests provide a fair, standardised result to compare and rank all students against, regardless of university studies or work experiences. Online tests are typically broken up into two categories: aptitude tests and personality/motivational fit tests.
Aptitude Tests Aptitude tests are typically broken down into numerical, verbal/comprehension and logic/spatial reasoning tests. These tests weren’t meant to be easy – they’re inherently designed to rank every candidate in the pool of applying graduates. Therefore, the tests have to give a chance for the very best to shine and will weed out the weak. Contrary to what some sources may suggest, there’s no real way to ace these tests. Sure, definitely do the practice questions (this is a good website for some additional practice) and familiarise yourself with what type of questions you’ll be expected to answer. After doing a few practice tests and some real tests, you’ll soon realise all the questions are quite similar in nature. Keep an eye on the set time limit and try to work as quickly, but as accurately, as possible. Note that some tests don’t allow for you to skip questions and then go back to the blank questions at the end. Make educated guesses, mark down the ones that you’ve guessed and, if you have time and if the test allows for it, you can give those questions another crack at the end.
Personality/Motivational Fit Tests These tests are designed to understand your personality, as well as what motivates you to work within an organisation. Unlike aptitude tests, personality tests are typically untimed and there is no ‘right or wrong’ answer. They’ll be a series of situations or problems that, as a hypothetical employee at an organisation, you’re likely to face. A series of choices will be available for 36
you to choose from and, based on your personal preference, you’ll select one that aligns with your personality. These tests will assess your emotional intelligence (i.e. capacity to recognise and manage your emotions, using your emotions to guide your decision making etc.) and, ultimately, whether or not you’ll fit in to an organisation. Personally, I know that every student just wants a grad job at the end of the day, but I think it’s really important that you answer the personality test truthfully. The test acts as an indicator as to whether or not the culture of an organisation suits you. If you have provided responses that you ‘think’ an organisation wants to hear, and then you get the job, you might feel as if the firm isn’t the best cultural fit for you.
Game Changers Soon, these aptitude and personality tests may be a thing of the past. Big 4 professional services firm KPMG have taken to ‘gamifying’ their approach to hiring graduates. Instead of traditional testing, KPMG have introduced ‘gamified recruitment assessments’ which combine gamification with ‘analytics, big data, predictive psychometric models and cloud technologies’. To break this down, candidates are given 10 minutes to complete a game that will measure their mental agility, cognitive speed, attention, spatial aptitude and numerical reasoning. The overriding concept behind this is to provide a better opportunity for ‘digital native’ students to showcase their talents by immersing potential graduates in a game-like assessment where they will respond naturally. This process will filter out 60% of candidates before KPMG recruiters even look at a single resume. Gamification assessments are already widely used in the United States and are predicted to take up a larger market share in the Australian graduate recruitment market in the future.
Chapter 6: Interviews General An interview should be a conversation with a purpose. Those that do succeed in securing a grad job don’t get through by sheer luck. The best way to ensure your success during the interview process is to prepare and research. This means preparing your own responses to commonly asked questions (see the end of this section) and researching the company you’re interviewing for. Above all else, make sure you can articulate confidently why you want to work for this firm and what you can bring to it. Also, remember that during this process, you are also interviewing the firm too. During the interviews, you’ll get a good feel of how the firm operates, what type of people work there and whether or not you’ll fit in. Make sure you take notice of this and consider what may be best for you. In addition, try and keep up to date with the news – including national, business and industry specific headlines. You never know when this may come in handy. Finally, if your interviewer is just responding to you with a blank face and giving you absolutely no indication at all they are even hearing what you are saying, don’t take offence. This technique is used to ensure that there is no bias in assessing candidates. For example, if an interviewer is overly enthusiastic with one applicant, and less enthusiastic with another, there may be an unfair bias towards the former candidate. The following chapter will be broken down into the specific types of interviews you’re likely to encounter, as well as my tips and suggestions for each of them.
Video Interviews Video interviews are the new version of phone interviews. They provide recruiters the chance to finally put a face to the name behind an application and the opportunity to virtually meet you.
Therefore, you should treat the video interview as if you were actually meeting your interviewer for the first time. Prepare, dress up and make the video as professional as possible. That is, try and find a white background to film in front of, make sure you’re wearing a professional shirt/blouse (and tie, if applicable) and try to ensure there isn’t any noticeable or distracting background noise. Depending on the type of organisation, the format of the video interview may differ. Some video interviews will consist of a set of pre-recorded questions where you’ll be given 1-2 chances and a set time limit to record your answer. Other video interviews will have pre-recorded questions but infinite opportunities for you to re-record your answer until you’re satisfied with it. Another more innovative approach, known as the ‘selfie interview’, will ask applicants to record a 2-4 minute introduction of themselves. This allows candidates to showcase their verbal communication, personality, creativity and – ultimately – how well they can sell themselves. Here are some general tips to succeed in the video interview stage: •
Prepare! (I honestly can’t stress this enough!) Think about the prerecorded questions that are likely to come up (see the end of this chapter for examples and responses) and make sure you’ve prepared appropriate answers for them. Usually, you won’t have enough time to articulate and think up a great response on the spot, so it’s vitally important that you have some examples at the tip of your tongue!
It will be awkward. There’s no sugar coating it – talking to your laptop, when you’re dressed up in a fancy business attire in your bedroom – will be awkward.
Just try and imagine that your interviewer is sitting on the other side and don’t do anything that you wouldn’t typically do at a real interview.
Look into the camera. Again, if you imagine your interviewer is in front of you, you want to be making eye contact with them (and you don’t want to make it look like you’re staring at their ear the whole time).
If you’re reading from notes that you’ve typed up on your laptop (tick – good preparation), make sure you don’t make it too obvious and try not to read it word for word.
Be genuine. Getting to the video interview stage is a great achievement and it’s your first opportunity to let your personality shine through! Smile, use hand gestures and be genuine, enthusiastic and thankful for having the opportunity to be part of this process!
Assessment Centres An assessment centre is where a group of students are invited – typically to the employer’s offices – to participate in a set of exercises designed to simulate different aspects of the work environment. This will usually be the first chance that recruiters have to finally meet you in person, so assessment centres provide a great opportunity for recruiters to assess your overall personality and, more importantly, how you communicate and work with other people. The most common type of activities – both in a group dynamic and, less likely, as an individual – you’ll encounter during an assessment centre include: • • •
Problem solving activities – i.e. following instructions to build something as a team. Case studies – i.e. coming up with a solution to a hypothetical business problem. Public speaking – i.e. presenting your group’s findings from the case study back to the wider group/audience.
During each activity, an assessor will sit with on your table to rate each individual on pre-defined core competencies. Some of the main competencies include: • • • • • •
Leadership Teamwork Negotiation Problem solving Initiative Adaptability to change
At first, it may seem intimidating having an assessor rate you’re performance, but it’s really important to just focus on the task at hand and soon, you’ll forget they’re even there! Having sat through countless assessment centres, here are my personal tips on how to stand out: •
Be a team player. Putting your team first is vital to your success. This may sound counter-intuitive (after all, you’re the one trying to get the grad job, not the whole team…) but acting in your team’s best interest shows that you understand the task at hand is not all about your individual success. 40
o Furthermore, keep in mind that the activities you do within the assessment are designed to simulate real-life work experiences and decisions. Your capacity to be a team player in these activities will be indicative of how you perform within the organisation.
Participate in every activity. Whether it be a simple brainstorming of ideas, solving a case study, or presenting information back to a group, make sure you offer your insights and put your hand up for everything.
Volunteer to be the scribe and/or time keeper. In group activities, this is a simple way to take initiative and show that you’ve thought about recording down your team’s ideas, as well as having the attention to detail to keep a close eye on the time (and steer your team back on track at the five minute warning mark!).
Be the devil’s advocate. Offer contrarian opinions and don’t be afraid to think outside the box. For example, if your team is largely focusing on the short term benefits of a given proposal or strategy, suggest some long term implications that may impact upon its viability.
Bring in quieter members of the team into the discussion. Part of being a team player means being inclusive and listening to everyone’s opinion. There will inevitably be some members of your team that either:
a) feel intimidated by the level of discussion that is happening;
b) naturally are soft spoken and just like going along with the crowd; and/or
c) actually want to participate but feel as if they would be interrupting the flow of ideas.
If you notice that someone hasn’t said anything for a while (or at all), feel free to say “What do you think about this ?” or “Is there anything you would like to add ?”.
This shows the assessor that you’re aware not everyone has had their say and that you are interested in ensuring that everyone’s opinions are heard.
Try and get the balance right. In every assessment centre that I’ve ever been to, there is always someone in the team who is the loud dominant one. They’re usually pretty easy to identify – they’re rather obnoxious, overly assertive and generally thinks that the team activity is all about them. You don’t want to be this person. As suggested above, you want to be an inclusive team player that doesn’t shout over the ideas of someone else. In my experience, this loud, dominant applicant hardly ever gets through to the next round.
By the same token, don’t be too quiet. I know it may be hard to offer your opinion when everyone else is shouting out theirs, but try to find an opportunity to say what you think. 41
Be weary of your team size. This may sound like a strange thing to say, but from personal experience, the size of your team drastically affects the overall team dynamic. Generally, a team of 3-6 people is a good size that allows everyone to have their say. However, anything above a team of 6 people may mean that it becomes rather difficult for you to get your point across. In these circumstances, you may need to adjust your behaviour to become slightly more assertive to ensure that you’re heard.
Finally, treat everyone at the assessment centre like a future colleague. Show that you’re a great person to work with, not only to the assessors, but also to all applicants at the assessment centre.
Final Interview First up, congratulations on making it through to the final interview! By this stage, you’re probably part of the elite ~5-10% that have made it through from the many hundreds, if not thousands, of applications. Having said all of this, you can be sure that the remaining applicants are also of a pretty high calibre. I think this adage best sums up how to succeed in the final interview: “failing to plan is planning to fail.” That is, preparation is key. See the following section ‘The Type of Questions You Should Anticipate’ for some general themes and questions that are likely to come up. Other than this, here are some general tips on how you can ace your final interview: •
If you know who your interviewer is, do a quick Google search of them. This will give you an idea of their professional background, how long they’ve been with the company and what division they belong to. You may be able to use this information to your advantage by asking relevant questions in your interview.
Be aware of your body language. It is said that 55% of our communication is delivered by our body language, 38% by vocal signals (i.e. tone) and the last 7% by our words. Things like smiling, using open hand gestures and maintaining eye contact can help to engage your interviewer in a genuine conversation.
Use the STAR method. As reiterated above in Chapter 4, using the STAR method to answer an interviewer’s questions will provide a familiar structure and clear signpost to your response. 42
Focus on you. As narcissistic and egotistic as this may sound, the interview is all about you. Even when asked questions relating to team work and cooperation, don’t speak about the overall team’s achievement, but focus on what you did to facilitate the team’s success.
Answer the question! This sounds simple enough, but I’m an absolute shocker when it comes to this… I tend to waffle on and on and then, when I finish waffling, the interviewer will probe me even further on the same question (and that’s when you know you really haven’t answered the question).
One way to overcome this issue is to begin answering the question by rephrasing the question itself, or by using the STAR method above to help keep you on track. •
Make it sound like a conversation. As said before, an interview should be a conversation with a purpose. Yes, interviewers will want to know about your personal experiences and decision-making process, but above all else, they want to see how you communicate with others. Talk to them openly about what makes you you and, if the time is right, don’t be afraid to crack a joke.
Lacking confidence? Try power posing. This is best articulated by Amy Cuddy’s famous TED talk on how our standing posture can affect our level of confidence. Don’t believe me? Watch the vid.
Don’t be afraid to pause. Sometimes, you’ll just need a moment or two to gather your thoughts. Don’t be afraid to take a bit longer than usual to start responding to the question and, if you’re really stuck, ask if you can come back to that question later.
Refrain from making derogatory remarks about prior employers or colleagues. This just makes you sound and look like a bitter, negative person that enjoys gossiping and talking about others behind their back! A general comment like “I didn’t feel like my prior workplace had the most conducive learning environment” would suffice.
Ask questions. Even if you don’t have a particularly pressing question, still ask a question. Why? Asking questions shows that you have thought deeply about the position and the organisation and, with anything in life that you’re interested and invested in, you want to know everything about it. Here are some good general questions to ask if you’re stuck:
o Are you able to provide me with any more details on what my responsibilities might involve? o If successful, what do you think is the single most important thing a graduate should learn or do in their first year? o What do you enjoy most about working here? 43
o How do you see the company evolving in the next three years? o Can you tell me what your typical working day looks like? o What sort of training or career development opportunities do you offer?
The Type of Questions You Should Anticipate This section provides examples of the types of questions you should anticipate receiving not only at the final interview, but also throughout other stages of the application process. Tell Me About Yourself Summarise your professional and educational background and make a connection to the position and organisation you are applying for. Then, mention your strengths and abilities and why you are well suited to the role. Here’s an example of what I would say when applying to be an auditor at a professional services firm: I’m in my final year of a Bachelor of Commerce degree, majoring in Accounting and Marketing, at the University of Melbourne. During my studies, I have held several leadership positions, actively participated in a variety of extra-curricular activities and have worked as a self-employed piano teacher, research assistant and annual giving caller. For example, as an annual giving caller, I would cold call alumni from the University to ask about what they were currently doing, as well as asking them to make a donation to the University’s fundraising campaign. I am able to easily strike up a conversation with a stranger and build rapport over a short period of time. I believe that this would be a useful skill to possess when building and maintaining a working relationship with new clients. Why Do You Want to Work Here? This is a question that you’ve got to think deeply about and perform the necessary research to determine what stands out about ‘x’ company. It’s also a great way for you to demonstrate your knowledge about the organisation and why it takes top spot on your list. This may be the company’s commitment to developing graduates, or their focus on corporate social responsibility or even how you’ve been impressed by how others describe the firm’s culture and work environment – either way, find something genuine that clicks with you. Here is an example of what I wrote to explain why I wanted to work for Telstra’s marketing team: 44
I would love to work in an organisation that is passionate about innovation and adding value to everyday Australians. Despite an increasingly saturated telecommunications market, Telstra has delivered wonderful marketing campaigns that have set its brand apart from its competitors. For example, Telstra’s core message to deliver a ‘brilliant connected future’ was highlighted in the ‘Count on Me’ marketing campaign and this promise to customers has been backed up by new product launches and consistent improvement of their network coverage. All these reasons above make Telstra a fantastic place to work and I would love a spot in the graduate program so that I can learn more about Telstra’s brand positioning, customer service and development. It would facilitate my career dream of being part of a fully integrated marketing division that places a huge focus on innovation, technology and a developing a better way of doing things for all future Australians. What Do You Think Will be Some of the Challenges You Will Face as a Graduate? Articulating the challenges you think you might face – and following up with action steps on how to overcome these challenges – is a fantastic way to let assessors know that you’ve thought deeply about the job. Here are some challenges (again, what I wrote as part of my Telstra application) – and some ways to overcome them: •
Experiencing a steep learning curve. As with any new job, there is often a learning curve at the beginning where new employees learn about expectations, key skills and the culture of the firm. Often, this process can be quite overwhelming, but I think it is necessary to embrace it and be a sponge to absorb as much information as we possibly can.
Fitting into the firm’s corporate culture. I’ve always believed that a firm’s culture plays a huge role in determining its success. I’d like to think that I share all of the firm’s values such as taking responsibility, being determined as well as having an immense desire to learn. However, culture is an intangible item that is very difficult to articulate in words and something that can only be truly experienced when you’re in the firm itself.
Finding that work-life balance. As important as work is, I’m someone that strongly believes there is much more to life than just work. Striking a work-life balance is something that will be challenging, particularly in the first couple of months as work load expectations are set. However, having spoken to friends who are working or have worked at this firm, I do believe that finding that a work-life is very achievable.
What is Your Greatest Weakness? This is a question about self-awareness. It’s easy to name your greatest strengths (after all, we do like to focus on what we’re good at), but it’s much harder to pinpoint and name your greatest weakness. You may have heard others tell you that you should turn your greatest weakness into a strength. For example, “My greatest weakness is being a perfectionist, but this also means that I exhibit strong attention to detail skills and my work is of an exemplary standard.” Personally, I don’t like this approach. More often that not, interviewers want to hear candid, straight responses about an applicant – not something sugar coated. Surprise them by admitting a real weakness – albeit one that doesn’t really impact on the job – then describe how you overcame it by using strengths that are relevant. For example, you can refer to overcoming nervousness at public speaking by thorough organisation and preparation. Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years? Outline your career goals in the industry and how securing this particular graduate job will help you accomplish them. Include specific steps on how you plan to achieve your overall career goal and how you intend to take initiative and action to successfully reach them. Why You? This two-word question is probably the toughest one yet. The key here is articulating your motivation, why you believe you are better than every other candidate and what key strengths you can bring to the job. The best way to answer this question is to think of it as a sales pitch: Draw on your experiences, outline how they are applicable to the role you’re applying for and what key attributes you possess.
The Type of Behavioural Questions You Should Anticipate The following are some common behavioural questions that might be asked in your final interview. As these questions are often context and individual specific, it is best for you to personally consider how best you would answer them depending on your own circumstances.
As always, remember to use the STAR method when answering these questions. • • • • • •
• • • •
Describe a time when you came up with an idea that required you to get the support of others. Describe your greatest personal or professional achievement to date. Describe a time when you were faced with a stressful situation. How did you cope and what was the result? Give me an example of a time where you set a goal. What steps did you take to try to achieve that goal? Were you successful? Tell me a time when you had too much to do and too little time. How did you manage to complete all your tasks? Give me an example of a time where you had to cope with interpersonal conflict when working in a team. How did you deal with it and what was the result? Give me an example of when you showed initiative and took the lead. Describe a situation where others you were working with on a project disagreed with your ideas. What did you do? Describe a time where you demonstrated leadership skills. Describe a time when you were able to successfully work with someone who you found difficult.
Chapter 7: What Happens If You’re Unsuccessful It would be foolish of me to claim that if you followed everything in this book to a tee, then voila, you’ll get yourself a grad job. Who am I kidding? All of us – no matter how much of a gun you are – are going to receive one of those trusted rejection emails. You know the ones I’m talking about: “Unfortunately, due to the high calibre of applications we received this year, we are unable to process your application any further.” So what should you do when faced with such regrettable rejection?
Feedback The smartest graduates actually use rejection to improve and make their next application even more effective. Until you land a job, you should constantly be asking yourself “What could I be doing differently that might get me better results?” If you’ve progressed through to the assessment centre stage or further, always ask for feedback. If you’ve been rejected earlier on (i.e. during the written application or video interviews stage) then you’re more unlikely to receive feedback – simply due to the sheer number of applicants – however, it doesn’t hurt to try and ask anyway. Email the HR recruitment division (or your particular interviewer), be appreciative, thank them for their time and ask them if they have any feedback for you to improve upon your next application. You may feel as if you’ve already given each application everything you’ve got, but realistically, there is always more you can do to increase your chances. Accept this, use the feedback you’ve got, stop repeating the same mistakes and wasting your time and energy.
What Next If You Don’t Receive Any Offers From Your Applications? I know this can be a gut-wrenching feeling, but it’s really important to not lose motivation. You may not have been successful this time around, but opportunities are always there. Here are some things you can do before next year’s opening grad intake: Follow the Careers Social Media Pages of the Firms You’re Interested In •
This is more commonplace in professional services firms, but there may be the chance for the opening of additional graduate roles later on in the year. This may be because some employees from the firm have left (a high turnover of staff is particularly prevalent in professional services) or it may be due to more clients coming on board, which require more staff.
Lower-end retail or customer service roles may be advertised that are well suited to students. Although it may not be as promising as a fullyfledged graduate job, it’s still a great way to get your foot in the door.
Cast a Wider Net •
Consider the small-to-medium enterprise (SME) space. Sure, these jobs don’t have the ‘prestige’ of some of the larger companies, but they are still a fantastic way for you to get industry related experience. Furthermore, SMEs usually: o Have a shorter and less competitive recruitment process. o Have a more personable work culture. o Allow you to have broader work experiences, responsibilities and opportunities across the division. o Are less hierarchical in nature. o Have more flexible working arrangements.
Don’t limit yourself to one sector or industry. You might have your mind set on working in a business related field, but perhaps you could also reconsider sales or an administration type of position?
Focus on Getting Work Experience •
Time and time again, I hear that employers are much more interested in your relevant work and life experiences rather than education credentials (this is why further postgraduate studies may not be the best option around). Take up a part time job (your university’s career portal is
a great place to start looking), create your own opportunities, or even just take some time out to travel and soak up what the world has to offer. Consider doing an unpaid internship. Personally, I’m not a fan of these ‘unpaid internships’ as, to some degree, you could say it is labour exploitation of students. However, these unpaid internships are very popular in both the UK and US and, if you’re desperate for some work experience and the organisation really takes your fancy, then why not give it a shot?
Just be aware of your employer’s and your own expectations – do you expect to get a paid job at the end of your internship or is it merely for work experience purposes only? The ‘Hidden’ Job Market •
It is said that 20% of jobs aren’t actually ever advertised anyway.
It pays to ask those who are in the know. You can do this by attending loads of networking events, being active in LinkedIn groups, keeping in touch with your professional contacts etc. Sometimes, internal hiring opportunities will arise down the track and it always helps if you’re a visible candidate.
Chapter 8: Grad Life Grad life is great. As a graduate, managers typically would not expect you to have a great deal of technical knowledge. They’re only expectation is that you give everything a go, you take initiative and you put your best foot forward to learn all that you can. This essentially means that graduates have permission to ask countless questions, to try new things and to make mistakes. In fact, I would argue that it’s vitally important to ask all the questions you have and fail as many times as possible during your grad year as, when the next lot of graduates come in, they’ll be turning to you for the answers.
4 Things You May Not Expect to Happen During Your Graduate Year •
Be prepared to do the grunt work. Keep in mind that in the corporate hierarchy of importance, you’re at the very bottom. Someone has to do the work that is, at times, monotonous, repetitive and downright boring. When this happens, take it in your stride and see it as a rite of passage. Remember that everyone who has ever worked in your profession has done something similar and utilise the vacationer students when they come in!
The prized ‘9-5’ doesn’t really exist. Of course, this is highly dependent on what industry you work in, but the general expectation is that you work until whatever you’re working on is completed (or until your manager/colleagues leave).
You’ll be pretty tired for the first month or two. Most graduates finish their final year at university, have a nice three month holiday/break then dive into a full time graduate role. The first one or two months will be an adjustment phase for your body and mind, so be prepared to feel somewhat overwhelmed and tired with the hours and demands of full time work.
Sometimes, you just got to fake it till you make it. This is particularly the case when you’re dealing with clients who expect you to know things. I would recommend just going with the flow – it usually all works out.
Of course, I’m just focusing on some of the negatives so that you have an holistic idea of what to expect.
Top 3 Tips to Making the Most Out of Your Graduate Year •
Find a mentor. Whether this is your assigned buddy, a manager you get along with particularly well or anybody else, make sure you have a ‘goto’ person who you can ask all the stupid questions to. This person’s experience and knowledge will be invaluable to you, particularly as you’re learning the ropes.
Prioritise learning over working. When you first start, you’ll obviously need to learn how to do the work before you actually do it. There may come a point where you’ve learnt all you need to do the job at hand and it just becomes easier to focus on completing the work and not stepping outside of your comfort zone to learn more. Always try to remember that working is secondary to learning and, ultimately, learning and your professional development will add more value to you than just getting the job done.
Make a good impression by setting great habits. In any team or workplace, everyone has some sort of reputation. Try to set and build your reputation from the very first impression you make. Have a strong work ethic, be thorough with your work and don’t be complacent. I once worked with someone who was meticulous with every piece of work they submitted for manager review and, needless to say, she became very well respected amongst the team for her work and commitment. Be the person that everyone else wants to work with.
As you climb up the ladder in an organisation, you’ll begin to have more responsibilities and higher expectations from your managers. Make the most of your grad year by asking questions, taking chances and learning anything and everything possible. All the best, thanks for your company and I wish you all the very best for your graduate job hunt and beyond!