Given that KPMG is one of the world’s largest and most reputable professional services firms, it’s little surprise that getting through the application process as a graduate is an extremely demanding process.
The assessment process comprises a number of different stages, designed to test a wide variety of skills and attributes. These range from analytical and numerical tests, to communication and interpersonal skills, commercial acumen and interest, and understanding of current business developments.
Knowing what to expect and how to prepare for what lies ahead can make the process much less daunting, as well as significantly increasing your chances of success.
Here is a breakdown of the various stages of the assessment process, what each stage involves and how best to go about preparing for each:
Stage One: Situational Judgement Test
Soon after submitting your application you will be sent a link to a kind of test called a Situational Judgement Test, which you will have seven days to complete online during a single 30-minute window.
The SJT presents you with a series of fictional scenarios and challenges that you might encounter during a typical workday. You are given a series of options as to how to deal with the situation; your task is to select the most and/or least effective option from the list, or to rank all the options in order.
Tips for success:
1. Don’t rely on assumptions: common sense and experience will help guide your rationale. Above all, seek to base your answer based on the information presented to you.
2. Practice: familiarity with the SJT format and time frame is arguably your strongest weapon here. Get used to the style of question and start timing yourself to be able to answer all the questions during the time period set. You can practise these tests via Job Test Prep, AssessmentDay and Graduate Monkey.
3. Research: visit the KPMG website to learnt about the firm’s key competencies and values. The answers you give here represent the first of many ways that you will be assessed as to your understanding and adherence to these during the course of the assessment process.
Stage Two: Online Aptitude Tests
The first stage of the application process is conducted online, with candidates required to undertake two separate assessments: a numerical and a verbal reasoning test.
As the name suggests, the numerical reasoning test assesses your numerical skills and mental arithmetic. It comprises 24 questions, which require you to interpret information from six different sets of data and select the correct answer from a number of options. The test is typically 20 minutes in length.
The verbal reasoning test aims to evaluate your comprehension and analytical skills. The test typically comprises 10 different passages of information with four questions on each. A multiple-choice structure is used, with the candidate asked to choose between ‘true’, ‘false’ or ‘cannot determine’.
(Based on data presented) If Mr Smith reduces the budget for the four activities by 35%, what will be the total amount left in his annual budget? A: £1,500; B: £1,250; C: £1,750; D: £2,000
Tips for success:
1. Study the data/information: watch out for small details that can easily be overlooked and glossed over. Read, read and re-read.
2. Watch the clock: one of your key tasks should be to find out the total number of questions in the test and allocate a set amount of time for each question based on this.
3. Learn how to calculate percentages (for numerical reasoning): this is one of the most popular types of test question and yet often causes the most headaches. Swot up on your technique and then keep practising until you have it mastered.
4. Practice makes perfect: of course nothing beats the experience of actually having taken the test or a near equivalent. There are several firms offering examples of KPMG’s numerical and verbal reasoning tests; we recommend Job Test Prep, AssessmentDay and Graduate Monkey.
Stage Three: Telephone Interview
Assuming you pass the online section of the process, the next stage is a telephone interview, lasting approximately 45 minutes. While each interview is different, you can expect to be asked to talk about your skills, as well as answering a series of roughly 15 competency and scenario-based questions, with around three follow-up questions for each.
“Tell me about a time when you had to convince people to come over to your way of thinking”.
Tips for success:
1. More research: read up again on KPMG’s core competencies and values, and try as far as possible to make your answers align with these.
2. Practice: read through and practise answering the key competencies questions available on this website.
3. Compile a ready-to use list of examples you can draw on to answer questions like the one above. Remember, these don’t necessarily have to be 100% true to life, but should provide as much detail and context as possible.
Stage Four: Assessment Centre (morning)
The assessment centre is where the real challenge begins, with the ultimate success rate of those reaching this stage estimated at between 40 and 50 per cent.
Over the course of the assessment day you will be asked to sit a series of individual and group-based exercises. The day will be split between computer-based exercises in the morning and role-playing/ interview sessions in the afternoon, with a break for lunch in between.
The morning session will typically begin with a repeat of similar numerical reasoning and verbal reasoning tests completed online. The next step in the process is an e-tray exercise, often referred to as an in-tray or virtual office exercise. This is basically a simulation of a typical employee workday, with a series of challenges sent your way, which you must prioritise and take the appropriate action to deal with. These may arrive on your ‘desk’ in the form of tasks, emails, voicemails and videocalls. You will be given an hour to complete the various tasks within the exercise.
Don’t worry, you will be told before you begin of the exact composition of the exercise and you will also receive supporting documents, informing you of the outcomes you should be aiming towards.
Tips for success:
1. Read the supporting documents provided for the e-tray exercise: these contain all the information you need in order to understand and complete the various tasks. Take your time and read them carefully before you begin.
2. Plan ahead: you will know before beginning the exercise the number of tasks, emails etc. you can expect to receive. Take some time at the start to set yourself an order of how to approach these. Many people advise getting the tasks and emails out of the way first, leaving time to concentrate fully on the voicemail/ videocall at the end.
3. Focus: it is vital you pay close attention to the voicemails and video calls, as you are usually only allowed to review them once. Try and take notes if possible.
4. Hone your technique: the ability to compose a well structured email is one of the main skills being tested, so don’t go in blind. A strong business email should have a clear layout with a solid opening and end. Start your email by introducing your analysis/ recommendations and then finish strongly by summarising these. Remember to support your analysis/recommendation by referring back to the supporting documents.
5. Practise some more: as always, the more practice you have writing emails and of the e-tray format the better. This will allow you a clearer idea of what to expect and how to divide your time between the different parts of the exercise. Job Test Prep has a comprehensive range of practice tests to try out.
The third part of the morning assessment is an analysis exercise. As the name suggests, the aim of this task is to assess your analytical and report-writing skills and to see how well you are able to compile, evaluate and summarise large quantities of information.
A typical exercise will provide you with information regarding a fictional company. Using the background information provided, you will be asked to compile a report, usually 1,500 words in length, for your KPMG line manager, outlining how KMPG would look to service the company and how you would approach the project.
You can expect to be given an hour to read the information and compile the report.
Tips for success:
1. Keep things simple: the aim of this exercise is to see how well you are able to take in and re-convey complex or dense information. The key is to produce a report that shows structure and clarity and that contains the key information. Stick to the word limit suggested and break down your report into easy manageable chunks, using sub-headings and bullet points where possible.
2. Remember who your reader is: your report is likely to be aimed for a KPMG manager so should be tailored as such. It needs to be formal, factual informative and adhering to the company’s tone and values (you should be quite familiar with these by now...).
3. Don’t sit on the fence: leave time to make recommendations at the end and to really show off your analytical skills. Don’t be afraid to show your creative side and think outside the box.
Stage Four: Assessment Centre (afternoon)
Assuming your morning endeavours haven’t sent you running for the hills, after lunch you’ll be ushered through to the final task-based stage of the process: the role-playing exercises.
Consisting of two exercises, this stage requires you to play the role of a KPMG employee in two fictional work scenarios. The aim of these exercises is to assess your commercial acumen in a realistic business setting. The assessors are also looking to see how well you are able to demonstrate core competencies and skills such as communication and negotiation.
The first role-play typically places you in a client-meeting scenario and focuses on your interpersonal and business development skills. Your role is to convince the client that your firm’s services are the best option for his or her needs.
The second meeting is between you and your line manager, who is usually played by an actor. Your objective here is to report your findings from your earlier client meeting. You must provide as much detail as possible and explain what your next steps will be to proceed with the client account.
Tips for success:
1. Build a strategy: you will be given roughly 15 minutes preparation time before each ‘meeting’. It’s important you use this time to review the information you’re given, make notes and think carefully about how you plan to begin each interview and the strategy you want to take.
2. Differentiate: realise that your approach and especially your communication style will need to be different for each meeting.
3. Review KMPG’s core competencies/values (again): it’s imperative that you stick to and don’t contravene any of these. The values relating to open, honest communication and commitment to clients are likely to be the ones to be most aware of here.
Stage Five: Final Interview
The last stage of the assessment day may seem like a relative formality given the challenges you will already have faced, but it’s not to be underestimated.
The interview, usually conducted by a director or partner at the firm and lasting around an hour, will seek to examine how well you fit with the firm’s competencies and values, and to assess your motivation for joining the firm.
▪ Why do you want to work for KPMG?
▪ What are your career ambitions?
▪ Please talk about a recent business news story you found interesting.
▪ What do you expect to receive from your training at KPMG?
Tips for success:
1. Prepare: spend time researching some of the more common interview questions and think about the answers you would be likely to give. Go through your own CV and application letter with a find comb, making sure you are able to justify your decisions to date and account for any gaps or question marks. Rehearse and fine-tune your answers until your delivery feels polished and confident.
2. Be current: spend time sifting through the financial and business press as the assessment day approaches. This will help you identify some interesting stories to talk about and will also give you a stronger idea of current economic and business developments.
3. Review, review, review: it’s those pesky competencies again. Ideally your answers should look to chime with these as much as possible, while also staying true to your own beliefs and ambitions. By now you really should know these like the back of your hand.
So there you have it: everything you need to know to make you the next great chapter in KMPG company history.
Not quite. As with everything in life, how well you perform at assessment will come down to a number of factors, most of all how seriously you undertake your preparation for the process and how much time you dedicate towards it. Do the hard part well and the rest will come (relatively) easily.