At a time when it’s becoming increasingly difficult to secure an analyst job at an investment bank, PwC’s Asian graduate hiring numbers look mouthwatering.
This year the Big Four firm is taking on 2,100 graduates in mainland China, 500 in Hong Kong and about 280 to 300 in Singapore. Its 2017 intake will be similar, says Ewan Clarkson, human capital partner at PwC Hong Kong and China.
The catch is that getting a job at PwC is still extraordinarily demanding. In Greater China, the firm received more than 30,000 applications for 2016 graduate jobs: more than 90% of people didn't make the cut.
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of PwC’s Asian graduate recruitment process, which runs from August to October, is the so-called “super day”. It’s similar to what you’d face at an investment bank: interviews with managers and recruiters, a group business assessment, and an individual presentation.
How to ace graduate interviews at PwC
To get through the super day graduates need to “spend more time on understanding what PwC does as a business”, says Clarkson.
And this means doing in-depth research, not just reeling off what the firm’s key divisions are. “Besides seeing PwC as a career platform for yourself, explain why you want to join us,” Clarkson tells us.
Ideally, your research into PwC should begin long before you graduate. “I’d recommend you build up a deep knowledge of PwC early on in your university career and attend one of the ‘PwC Campus Voice’ sessions, the two-hour interactive events we hold at Asian universities in late September and early October,” he adds.
Graduate interviewees who can match their own values to PwC’s stand the best chance of getting hired. So start pondering the following “five core attributes” that PwC demands from all employees: leadership, business acumen, technical capabilities, global acumen, and relationships.
“Give tangible examples – from your work exposure, university experience and hobbies – of how your skills match these attributes,” says Clarkson.
Graduates should also “actively contribute” to group exercises during the super day. “It’s good to have opinions. And remember that an interview is a two-way conversation – we welcome students to ask questions.”
Clarkson says he enjoys asking interview questions that encourage graduates to express their point of view. For example: “If you were the assurance leader at PwC, what would you change?”
“Many grads in Asia feel they don’t know enough to express a point of view, but we are keen to provide them this kind of platform, which can give them the conviction to express their thoughts and ideas.”
These are the type of grads PwC wants to hire in Asia
At 65% to 68% of PwC’s recent Asian graduate intakes, assurance (i.e. audit) still dominates campus recruitment at the firm. Tax accounts for about 11% to 13%; advisory for 6% to 8%; risk assurance for 10%; actuarial for less than 1%.
But Clarkson says numbers aren’t everything. “Gen Y employees want interesting and meaningful work. Some of our transactional work, like audit checks, is being automated or offshored to provide a better experience for our grads. So the size of our intakes in Asia won’t necessarily keep expanding.”
PwC in Asia is also looking to hire a “more rounded intake of grads” – including more people with science, technology, engineering and maths degrees – and it is expanding its advisory practice.
In reaction to key market trends, PwC is building three new specialised units in Greater China – including food safety and supply. “This is obviously a huge issue in China. We’ve hired several grads from agricultural universities in China,” says Clarkson.
Chinese urbanisation is another growing area for PwC, as is cyber security. “There’s a new cyber security law in China, so we’re now targeting universities such as HKU that have strong cyber programmes.”
PwC also recruits from international universities for Asia-based roles. “We have a sourcing team in New York to engage students in US and Canadian universities,” says Clarkson. “We received 4,000 applications from Chinese students at US universities and of those we offered jobs to, we had around 200 conversions.”
Despite the big application rates, attracting the best Asian graduates isn’t straightforward.
“Ten years ago in Asia, the Big Four firms were all focused on competing with each other,” explains Clarkson. “Now the war of talent expands beyond the Big Four. Many large Chinese state-owned enterprises are becoming more attractive to students, and we’re also competing with the tech companies such as Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent. We’re more focused on them than the Big Four.”
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