Tag Archives: Competency Questions

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.


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…..