Category Archives: Must Read

Questioning your Interviewer – Guidelines + Qs.

There are two types of interviewer in this world: HR and The Business. These are two distinctly different people. They typically come from different spheres of interest.

Grasping this notion will allow you to pose appropriate questions at appropriate moments that will both provide you with as much pertinent information as is needed to make a career decision and help you further engage with your interviewers and assessors.

Why is asking questions important?

Astute questioning not only conveys a keen interest and mental curiosity but also demonstrates, however seemingly unnoticeable, an ability to understand how to interact with your interviewer. Some may clock onto this and some may not, but to elucidate, think about what you as a graduate might be tasked to do or even think about what consultants generally do.

They interact with clients and often have to gather information and requirements from various stakeholders each with their own issues, styles and agendas. It is therefore paramount that the right kind of questions are posed and in the right manner depending on who is being interviewed; you wouldn’t ask a techie person about finance stuff and you wouldn’t ask a finance person about techie stuff, at least not in the same way.

Therefore, think about what kind of impression you create by asking irrelevant or imprecise questions; a Partner will not be impressed by a question about holidays or how expenses works. Sure you won’t be rejected just because of this and some may not even bat an eyelid, but it makes sense to bear this in mind as there is an opportunity here to add to an overall great impression by asking good questions, which is simply too easy to pass up.

So what is HR interested in?

HR is usually somewhat divorced from the business. I apologise to those HR functions, resource managers etc. who are very much embedded in their businesses, but typically, questions about culture, day-to-day work activities, working styles, business strategy etc. should be saved for a consultant. HR is likely to regurgitate the info on the website.

Instead, questions around how graduates and consultants get resourced onto projects, salaries, expenses, benefits, logistics and practical matters are far more relevant. Also feel free to probe into the recruitment process: how many positions they have, how many have they filled, do they have a lot of people in process.

-An interesting curve ball is to ask also about why people leave the organisation [HR often conduct exit interviews]-

And the Business?

Funnily enough, this is your opportunity to ask anything relating to the business: working culture/ style; long-term vision; market position; recent projects and client work; why they joined the company; what keeps them there; where they see themselves in 3/5/10 years time; what they don’t like about the company etc.

-don’t be afraid to turn some of the questions posed to you, back on to the interviewer-

Any final questions?

Sometimes, before moving on to broader questioning, it is worth asking if the interviewer now has enough information to make a decision or if there were any areas or competencies they would find it helpful to revisit. Phrased differently, you can ask if they have any concerns about your performance at this stage that you might be able to address. A further spin might be, whether the interviewer has any concerns about your ability to do well at this company.

You might get prompted to provide more evidence or dispel an impression, but sometimes you may just get the ‘that’s fine, I’ve got all the info I need to process and evaluate’ stock answer.

In Summary:

  • Consider who the interviewer is and what their domain is, ie. know your audience
  • Ask relevant and interesting questions
  • The quality of the question will determine the quality of the answer and therefore the impression you create
  • Be precise and confident, not flimsy and lackadaisical in your questioning
  • A good question is an opportunity to be memorable and outshine the competition

Competency Corner – Commercial Awareness

A Little Knowledge goes a Long Way

A significant part of business rests on the notion of credibility. Credibility then leads to trust which leads to deals and ends in riches. Although you will need to exercise some social aptitude in winning over your interviewer on a personal level, the main thrust of this article concerns itself with how to establish credibility through commercial acumen and how to tackle the often onerous task of research.

In recruitment parlance, this is the Commercial Awareness competency.

1-3 hours spent researching a company and current affairs is mandatory for interview success. But although this may seem like a fruitless and maybe even futile endeavour as there is simply too much to know, there are some guidelines which can be followed to make this genuinely effective and efficient.

The Company

  • Many consultancies have quite complex organisation structures. Know the main services offered. Simplify them and don’t bother drilling down into the numerous sub-divisions (unless you’re applying specifically to one specialism). A quick sketch will suffice to order your thoughts and make it stick.
  • Jot down some client names and client examples of projects – the detail is usually unnecessary. 5mins spent memorising 5 client names and project types (outsourcing/ shared services programme/ IT implementation etc.) will be very impressive when rapidly regurgitated. Make sure you know at least one project in some detail to cover if you’re asked to elaborate.
  • Find out how the company is doing, whether they have ambitious growth plans or have made any sales or acquisitions lately. Search for the firm in one of the news sites, BBC or Times Online etc. Also have a look at consulting news.

Current Affairs

  • Consultancies tend to have a couple current business concerns/ issues highlighted on their home page. Skim through these. You now have a good overview of the current commercial landscape. Use these as an anchor for your broader reading.
  • The Times Online is a wonderful resource. The ‘need to know’ heat map is quite useful too. Skim the titles to develop a broad picture and formulate some generic phrases to summarise eg. The Financial services sector, specifically retail banking is still quite volatile [insert headline – for eg. RBS is blah blah blah].
  • Make sure you know at least one major news story in detail. A merger or acquisition is usually a good candidate for healthy discussion in interviews where you’re asked to talk about this kind of thing, as you may then be asked to suggest how xyz consultancy could help.

You’ve spent a couple hours doing research, now try and group all the info and headings into themes or sectors or big issues. You’ll be surprised at how learned you come across when you produce the fruits of your research in an interview.

A couple news articles and some neat packaging is all you need to create a credible impression. Initially of course.

It Helps to be Good with Names

Using someone’s name is arguably the easiest and most basic means of initiating a relationship and establishing a rapport. The sooner you use someone’s name and the more often you use it initially, the quicker you break through the fundamental fog of unfamiliarity such that strangers rapidly become acquaintances and acquaintances potentially become friends.

I often expect people to not remember my name, perhaps because it’s not a conventional one or sadly because I’m not especially memorable or a bit of both, so when someone who I’ve just met supplements a question or prefigures some snippet of conversation by using my name, I naturally warm to them. Maybe I even feel obliged to reciprocate. I’m fairly certain, or rather hope that this feeling is not utterly unique and peculiar to myself revealing some sort of low self-esteem insecurity.

Therefore, as I mention under tips in ‘Group Exercises’, when you’re thrown into an assessment centre or group situation where a familiar face is often lacking, take real stock of people’s names and use them. The warmth will flow and you’ll feel more comfortable for it. I can’t make people necessarily remember my name and use it, but by knowing and using others’ I almost feel like I’m establishing a bond whether they like it or not which ultimately contributes to a feeling of ease and familiarity which hopefully translates to confidence.

In addition to creating that rapport, from an external perspective, if you are using people’s names assessors are more likely to adopt an impression of you that leans readily towards a team player, a facilitator and someone who quickly builds relationships; especially if you’re confidently using 4+ people’s names in a group exercise when you only met them an hour ago. If everyone’s bandying names about, then great, this is a confident and comfortable team. If you’re the only one putting names to faces, then you’re a strong confident binding agent. Obviously, using names is only one aspect amidst all the other great team-working skills, but it is nevertheless a simple and very effective ‘tool’ that’s just too easy to leave unused.

But I’m rubbish with names!

Yes, because you choose to be rubbish with names. I used to be rubbish with names. The one change I made, was to make a conscious effort to remember names. Simple. Too often you’re worried about saying your name or shaking hands that you completely blank out the other person’s. Just by concentrating on the person’s name, you’re likely to remember it. Try also repeating it as soon as you hear it. Maybe write it down. Use it when you ask that person a question. Repeating the name 2-3 times within a short space of time, you stand a better chance of remembering it as it typically logs itself quite nicely in your mind from then on.

So don’t neglect the simple power of using someone’s name. Just don’t overdo it and don’t take any liberties with nicknames unless given permission.

[As always, please share your thoughts]

The Ultimate 10-point Strategy

10 steps to landing a grad scheme.

Graduate job-hunting is incredibly difficult. Application forms are laborious and the entire recruitment process for many consulting firms is incredibly time-consuming and mentally draining, often spanning 1-2 months and beyond. Consequently, it makes sense to formulate a strategy to make this terribly stressful and emotionally turbulent time in a graduate’s life as efficient and productive as possible. I therefore present:

Consultinggrad’s 10-point GCS Realization Framework

(GCS – Graduate Consulting Scheme)

1. Understand Consulting

Of course the first step is to understand exactly what consulting is, its general subdivisions such as technology/ business/ strategy and finally who the main players are, eg:

“We help leaders make distinctive, lasting, and substantial improvements to the performance of their organizations. We tackle their most difficult issues and serious challenges.”

“One firm – a powerhouse of a commercial enterprise that does the right thing for our clients, our people and our communities.”

“Accenture collaborates with clients to help them become high-performance businesses and governments.”

Generally, firms aim to improve client businesses by increasing efficiency, improving performance and driving growth, by addressing business challenges and problems. Wonderful.

2. Write a cracking CV

Write a good cv with the mindset that you are now embarking on a quest to become a consultant. CV Rationalisation may be a good place to start, but also understand what competencies these firms are looking to identify so you can describe your experience and achievements in the right language.

3. Sign up to websites

Milkround is great for pulling up a list of consultancy companies currently recruiting. Gradfutures does very much the same thing. Set up a Linked in profile as well as you may come to love this social networking site as much as I do when gathering info on companies and making useful contacts across the industry. (Links are in the Blog Roll menu on the right)

4. Organise your objectives

Identify all the companies and schemes that you can and would like to apply to, then group them in terms of similar styles and capabilities ie. technology; strategy; business; accounting – (KPMG, PwC, Deloitte, EY; Bain, Booz, BCG; Accenture, CSC, Capgemini etc.). I would advise you keep a spreadsheet so you can track your progress as you may find that it quickly becomes difficult to manage. Eg.

5. Application stage i – online form

Apply to each of the firms making sure to keep a record of the competency answers you write for each as it will make subsequent forms easier and quicker. This is key to making sure you’re being as productive and efficient as possible. I found that after completing 2-3 application forms, I was mostly cutting and pasting from my stock-pile of competency answers. Yes, you will find some firms have some unique questions but you’ll be surprised how changing some syntax and the odd word can produce a suitable answer. Which reminds me, make sure you replace company names!! KPMG’s tremendous market credibility is not something you want to talk about in an application for PwC!

6. Application stage ii – Tests

Brush up on your GCSE maths skills (% increase/ decrease, ratios, currency conversions etc.) and get some practice in with the sites listed under the Testing section.

7. Application stage iii – Competency Interviews

Formulate and revise all your competency examples. Most of these firms have very similar competencies such as teamwork, communication, building relationships etc. so once you’ve done the work and preparation for one interview, you’re part way their already for the next, and so on. For help on competencies, take a look at the competency pages on the right in the menu.

8. Application stage iv – Assessment centres

Well done, give yourself a pat on the back for getting this far and take comfort in the fact that this is the final hurdle. You should be comprehensively clued-up on your competency examples and have researched the firm to the nth degree so that any further interviews will be a breeze. Tests similarly should not pose too great an issue. Check out Group Exercises for help on this portion of the assessment.

9. Offers

Compare and choose your future career. The usual things to consider: a) training and career progression b) salary and benefits c) company credibility and culture

10. Celebration

Smoke a fat cigar/ buy some shoes

Final Words

It pays to keep your job-hunting concentrated, as work and effort applied to pursuit of a job in one consultancy can be quickly shifted to focus on another. In this fashion you work efficiently and with greater ease than if you approached job-hunting dis-jointedly. It takes a great deal of effort to psyche yourself up only to be psyched out to then have to psyche yourself up again. It is exhausting, mentally and emotionally. By adopting the Consultinggrad 10-point GCS Realisation Framework you focus on creating as many opportunities as possible that will tend to mature at relatively similar paces. This allows you to focus on each stage of an application with as much undivided attention as possible.

Since you’re going to be helping companies improve performance, increase efficiency and accelerate growth, you might as well start closer to home.

How to Prepare for an Interview – 3 steps to better performance

Some like to wing it, others like to prepare rigorously and many find a nice balance. But it is often difficult to know exactly how to prepare, and moreover what to prepare, then how much to prepare. And after all of that, will it land me the job? So lets start from the ground up.

What is an Interview?

Therefore, the simplest and most effective approach is to treat your Interview like an Exam. How do you prepare for an exam? You identify the topics, you compile the notes and you revise. Now you can cram it all in the night before, or, you could set aside a week or even two prior to the interview and systematically work through your revision thoroughly to ensure you give your best performance possible. So here’s how we do it:

1. The ‘Topics’ (aka. Competencies)

Because firms tend to adopt the ‘ol competency based interview format, your ‘topics’ for this assessment will be the companies’ core competencies or values which should be clearly visible on their website or careers web page. For example, click below to see each consultancy’s competencies page:

So now you know exactly what they look for, you can formulate an idea as to what kinds of examples you will be asked for in the interview. Take a look at the competency question pages on the right for guidance and be sure to use wikijob’s forums to get a heads up on specific questions.

Then, under each competency, bullet-point as many examples that you can think of that exemplify the skills asked for, and under each bullet-point detail the main components of a strong answer (remember the S.T.A.R format?). You now have your notes.

2. Commercial Awareness

This is a competency, however, it is to an extent unique to each firm, therefore should be treated as a separate topic. Your revision notes should comprise the following:

  • Knowledge of the Consultancy/ company as a whole, including services, culture, values, clients, accolades and recent/ major events or press releases (such as acquisitions, new appointments, statements on vision etc.)
  • Trends in the market/ recent news stories (eg. new legislation, challenges, merging companies etc.)
  • Client Case Studies
  • What you think consulting is all about and what challenges the industry is facing
  • Why you want to pursue a career in consulting
  • Specific points on why do you want to work for the company
  • Insightful and engaging questions to ask interviewers

3. Revise

Right, you’ve compiled your revision notes to encompass every foreseeable question. Now all you need to do is allocate a couple hours to revise the material and practice delivering it in a clear and concise manner. However, be sure to revise in such a fashion as to allow you to use your knowledge flexibly so that examples can be chopped and changed at will and you are able to come across as confident and dynamic rather than stilted and awkward. You’re not memorising a speech.

Of course you may be faced with something outside of your preparation, and the interviewer may spend more time talking about how he’s noticed that you play acoustic guitar rather than quizzing you on competencies, but as long as you have prepared the basics, you should be able to deal with unexpected turns far more capably than if you were also worrying about the simple easy stuff.

The Financial Crisis – A Dummies’ Guide

With all the broo-ha-ha in the news about bankers’ bonuses and all the chatter concerning the recession, economic downturns, market volatility, global recovery etc. it’s safe to assume, consultancies will want to see some awareness of what’s been going on regarding the Financial Services industry, especially since a huge chunk of their work came directly and is still pouring out from the big banks. PwC for example, have netted £154 million in Lehmans-related fees according to recent court filings. Furthermore, it has had a profound effect on nearly every other industry sector. [I’ll talk more about this in another post perhaps].

But first! The recession is (technically) over; so before you lose the chance to gain a strong understanding of how it all started while it remains relevant today, here is an excellent post from the Wikijobs blog I stumbled across, using an inspired analogy graduates are sure to absorb:

The financial crisis explained in simple terms

Heidi is the proprietor of a bar in Berlin . In order to increase sales, she decides to allow her loyal customers – most of whom are unemployed alcoholics – to drink now but pay later. She keeps track of the drinks consumed on a ledger (thereby granting the customers loans).

Word gets around and as a result increasing numbers of customers flood into Heidi’s bar.

Taking advantage of her customers’ freedom from immediate payment constraints, Heidi increases her prices for wine and beer, the most-consumed beverages. Her sales volume increases massively.

A young and dynamic customer service consultant at the local bank recognizes these customer debts as valuable future assets and increases Heidi’s borrowing limit.

He sees no reason for undue concern since he has the debts of the alcoholics as collateral.

At the bank’s corporate headquarters, expert bankers transform these customer assets into DRINKBONDS, ALKBONDS and PUKEBONDS. These securities are then traded on markets worldwide. No one really understands what these abbreviations mean and how the securities are guaranteed. Nevertheless, as their prices continuously climb, the securities become top-selling items.

One day, although the prices are still climbing, a risk manager (subsequently of course fired due his negativity) of the bank decides that slowly the time has come to demand payment of the debts incurred by the drinkers at Heidi’s bar.

However they cannot pay back the debts.

Heidi cannot fulfill her loan obligations and claims bankruptcy.

DRINKBOND and ALKBOND drop in price by 95 %. PUKEBOND performs better, stabilizing in price after dropping by 80 %.

The suppliers of Heidi’s bar, having granted her generous payment due dates and having invested in the securities are faced with a new situation. Her wine supplier claims bankruptcy, her beer supplier is taken over by a competitor.

The bank is saved by the Government following dramatic round-the-clock consultations by leaders from the governing political parties.

The funds required for this purpose are obtained by a tax levied on the non-drinkers.

In real terms…

Of course, the lending surrounded the sub-prime (super-risky) mortgage market in the US. Rising drinks prices = rising house prices. And when prices peaked in the US by mid 2006, and people started defaulting on payments – the s**t really hit the fan as the banks had backed multiple securities with these sub-prime mortages which were now rapidly disintegrating.

The hope of making some money by investing in a financial product that primarily relied on joe-public paying his mortgage sounds like an obviously silly idea, but as robust risk -management was considered a bit of a party-pooper in such prosperous times, investments became increasingly complex, convoluted and divorced from the truth. Capital and credit divebombed and the financial system exploded into a complete meltdown. The effects of which quickly became globally felt as these products were traded around the world.

For a more detailed explanation have a look at this genuinely fantastic video (MUST SEE):


So where does that leave us…..what next? Welcome to the ‘Zombie economy’ (next post coming soon).

How to Make Graduate Applications 36% More Effective

You’re filling out yet another application form: Why do you want to work for us? What sets us apart from our competitors? What colour carpeting do we have? These are some of the most obvious questions you are sure to face whether applying to Grant Thornton, IBM or KPMG. Naturally, you as a budding ambitious graduate will want to know, or rather have to know absolutely everything about this company, often understanding its structure and services to a depth even beyond existing employees (‘uh, application services sits within infrastructure advisory, siloed in restructuring effectiveness…I think..yeh that’s it’).

According to posts on WikiJob, some of you lucky few interviewing with CSC have even been asked who the CEO is and who the top exec in the UK is and what the share price is and what the latest revenues are – sure it shows you’ve done some bleedin thorough research, but does it affect a decision of whether you could be the next CEO – in the words of Topper Harley, ‘I don’t think so’.

I, just like you, have found myself spending much time trawling the internet and company websites in an effort to produce unique, precise, eloquent and punchy answers to these questions, presenting as best an application as possible to secure an interview or at the very least an invitation to take some wonderful online tests. But how can I come across as unique when everyone has access to the same info I do, usually helpfully presented on a graduate careers web site? Everyone can talk about the company values and impressive portfolio of clients and global presence and brand credibility and bloo blah blah. Indeed, I’ve copy pasted numerous answers making sure to replace relevant values and names in order to save time and preserve sanity. I calculated that I have increased my efficiency by approximately 83% by applying the use of best-practices (so to speak) or modifying an off-the-shelf solution accordingly (if you like) to generate tried and tested sometimes-successful answers. But for those companies that are just too competitive for their boots, this might not be enough. Also, there’s 17% more efficiency to be gained, so what’s the answer?

Ask existing employees the same questions and assimilate their answers. Simple. Surely those working in the company will be able to sell it best and know what sets them apart from the competition. Naturally, the more senior the individual and the longer they’ve been with the company, the higher the chance of some incisive insights. Granted, it’s an obvious one, but I’m not sure how many grads have really thought about this beyond just asking relevant relatives or friends; or how many grads will actually have the courage to call up random people.

Even after a year learning to love the phone, stacking up a (probably) record-breaking 14 hours phone time in one week as a recruitment consultant, there’s still something about the phone that makes me ever so slightly anxious and hesitant. Maybe it’s the fear of rejection or embarrassment. Who knows.

Of course, if your daddy works for the company then that’s your first port of call, ask him to buy you a pony as well. But for the majority, you’re probably wondering how the devil you’re going to go about such a task. Let’s break it down:

1. Who you gonna call?

  • Contrary to popular belief, NOT The Ghostbusters. Aim for Partners, Directors, Senior Managers and Senior Consultants. Preferably 1-2+ years in the company. Ideally in the service area you’re applying to. This way you can also ask about trends and gather market info you can use on the application and even in interviews to really impress.

2. How do you find this person?

  • Try the company website first, they often list main contacts and senior types aligned to services. Some firms have directories on their main site as well with direct lines! Bingo.
  • Failing this, try Linked in. For the uninitiated, this is a professional networking site, like facebook but for business people. Set up a profile and search for people by company and keywords just like facebook stalking. Your results may be limited at first as your network will be small – try to enlarge it, not with pills, but by connecting to open networkers and me. Also check out this useful site: useful site. And this useful article for a more dialed down bit of info: useful article. Paul Zag also has some great info about increasing your network in a specific industry here. (I think you’ve got enough reading material now – nice bit of spoon feeding there)

3. How do you get hold of them?

  • If you know the name but not the direct dial, call through the main office switchboard number and ask to speak to them. Practice that calm authoritative telephone voice – something between Gordon Gecko and Barry White maybe.
  • If it’s impossible to get through or you’re hitting voicemail, ask for an email address as a last resort. Some will not give this out, in which case you might be able to guess it as many companies have standard formats.
  • Send a message through linked in. You’re likely not going to be able to use inmail, so click to add the individual as a contact, explain your plight briefly and ask if he or she would be open to talking or could email you.

4. What do you say?

  • Be honest. Explain you’re a grad looking to apply and wanted to learn more about the company and the service line; ask for 5 mins of their time; understand they’re extremely busy; say you would be most appreciative, it would really help. Ask some specific questions:
    • I’ve read this and that but what are the best things about xyz consulting from your view personally?
    • Is the culture really like this….?
    • What message do you take to clients/ How do you present your services to clients/ Main unique selling points?
    • What trends are you seeing?
  • Be enthusiastic and impress them with your gusto and maturity. Remember, these guys want to sell their company to the cream of the future, they want people like you.

So after all that work how has this benefited me?

In conclusion, you have hopefully gathered some useful and comparatively unique information to impress on your application and potentially in an interview. You can also honestly say that you have spoken to people who have impressed you or have reinforced the information online. This equals pro-activity, enthusiasm and networking/ communication skills in itself. If you built a rapport with your contact, they are now a contact, maybe ask to add them on linked in, maybe mention them in an interview to impress even more (perhaps ask them first of course if they wouldn’t mind), and start networking before you’ve even stepped inside your potential future company’s offices.

Fight the graduate mentality, be pro-active and remember, ‘he who dares…..