The Application Process

Most graduate schemes follow a similar process – and every stage is a obstacle with its own unique challenges to overcome.

Application Form
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Seems easy doesn’t it?
 
The initial application form looks deceptively simple. However, it is worth exercising great caution to get it right, particularly if you are applying the typical scatter-gun approach of applying for five or six companies at a time.  Hundreds of perfectly capable candidates rush the initial application form, write a lot of rubbish and fall at the first hurdle every year.
 
The application forms for most graduate schemes are very standard, mostly comprising of questions on basic personal details, qualifications and skills. It is the crudest form of filtering used at any stage of the recruitment process, and is generally used to weed anyone obviously unsuitable for the job. But never forget – recruitment costs money, and this is the cheapest stage to get rid of people.
 
There is usually the additional complication of the ‘extended answer’ question. Most forms will require answers to at least three or four open-ended questions, usually of around 250 words. This is where many fall down, not because the questions are hard, but because they are vague and very easy to answer badly. The trick is to draft and re-draft your answers in Word beforehand – check the spelling and flow, and make sure you actually say something rather than just waffle.
 
If you can be interesting, a little memorable and (crucially) relevant, your place in the next stage is assured.
 
Typical extended answer questions include;
 
  • “Give an example of where you have worked in a team”
  • “Explain a situation in which you have shown leadership”
  • “How do you adapt to change and learning new concepts?”
  • “Please list the extra-curricular activities you have been involved with in the last three years”
  • “Describe your understanding of what the job of consultancy entails.”
  • “In what ways does our company improve the quality of our client’s businesses?”
  • “Describe what you think you will be doing on a day-to-day basis as an employee of our company.”
Aptitude / Psychometric Tests
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Telephone Interview
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Not done by every company, getting to the telephone interview stage is a sign that you are, at least on paper, probably capable of doing the job.
 
If you have a telephone interview it will probably be your first human interaction with the firm, and as such it is crucial to get off to a good start. You will be given some forewarning of a time when they are likely to ring, so there will be opportunity to prepare. Use it.
 
Usually the telephone interview is not excessively taxing – often it covers off any supplementary questions arising from the answers you gave on your application form. It is a rare for a company to put you through a case study on the phone. However, you should remember that telephone interviews are often used when your application is ‘borderline’ i.e. you’re close, but the firm is not 100% convinced of inviting you to their assessment day. Obviously, you have to convince them!
 
A few pointers;
 
  • Find somewhere where you won’t be disturbed for the interview
  • Review your application form
  • Make sure your research on the firm is at your fingertips
  • Stay calm – speak slowly, clearly and evenly
  • Don’t waffle; take your time to think through questions before giving your answer
 
 
 
Assessment Day
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This is it – death or glory. Every company assessment day is different – some last all day, some half, some only a few hours. Either way, they are grueling experiences, and require a lot of the applicant. Usually they will start first thing in the morning, and you will be joined by between seven and ten similarly nervous applicants.
 
There are normally a number of activities over the course of the day, which may or may not include some of the following;
 
  • Introduction/presentation from a senior company figure
  • Initial Interview covering general questions
  • Case Study Interview
  • Document Review exercise
  • Team Problem Solving
  • Discussion with recent joiners
 
The discussions with senior figures and new joiners are a good opportunity to ask questions, though remember you will also have the chance to do this in interviews. New joiners tend to be more candid in their answers. Bear in mind that some interviews may be held by HR representatives rather than consultants, so they may be in a less strong position to answer questions on the day-to-day job.
 
Initial Interviews tend to be slightly less stressful, focusing as they do more on career ambitions, why you’re interested in working for the company and other standard interview gambits. Find some do’s and don’ts on the initial interview here.
 
Case Study Interviews – usually the biggest trial of the lot – are dealt with in more detail here.
 
Document Review Exercises are focused on how precise you are under pressure.  You will be given a typical business document – often something quite long – and will have to spot as many mistakes as possible in the formatting, spelling, grammar and content. Try to make sure you get through the whole thing and pick out the biggest mistakes, then go back and find more. There will usually be far too many mistakes in the document for you to get them all.
 
Team Problem Solving is one of the most variable aspects of assessment day. Some companies present the entire group with a logic puzzle or esoteric question and leave them to it for a hour, with assessors watching how the participants make their input to discussions. Deloitte in particular is well-known for this approach. Others, such as Accenture, split the group in to threes and fours, posing a more specific business problem. Group exercises are definitely one of the most challenging elements of the day. The best approach is not to pretend to play a role you are not comfortable with – be yourself and make sure you get noticed for the right reasons, rather than just for being loud and obnoxious.
 
You’re safely over the first hurdle, meeting the minimum requirements and giving convincing answers to the open-ended questions. Now it’s time to prove that you earned that degree by virtue of your brain power, and not copying the person next to you in the exam.
 
Aptitude tests often come in pairs – one verbal, one numerical. They tend to be used for two purposes; a measure of reasoning capacity and an indication of how you perform under time pressure. Tests are usually deliberately set to give you insufficient time for completion. Keep your head, don’t make silly mistakes, and you should be fine.
 
Practice helps. We’ve trawled the web for the practice tests provided by consultancies as a warm-up for you.

 

 

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candidate, HR, interview, jobsearch, recruiter, Recruitment