A Student's Comprehensive Guide to Internship and Graduate Applications - Part 2

Previously, I shared some background information about internships, the typical timelines and key things potential recruiters may look for. This time, I will explore and elaborate on the application stages.

1. Online Application

In this stage, generally, you will be asked to respond to questions like, "Why did you apply to Company X?", "Why did you choose your specific service line/division/role?". These are examples of motivational questions, and a solid response will require research into the company/service line and articulating your interests in line with that.  An excellent place to start is to look at the company's website, specifically selections relating to the division you are applying to work for. You should have a solid grasp of the role and function of that division. A company's annual reports also provide an abundance of useful information like its vision, values, diversity and inclusion policies, Environmental Social and Corporate Governance initiatives and future outlook. Take your time to thoroughly review these reports and highlight aspects which appeal to you and align with your personal beliefs and values. These form the basis of your response to the “why” questions.

LinkedIn is also a handy resource to find out more about the nature of the role or division you are applying for. You can do that by looking for employees in similar roles or within that division. Specifically, look at descriptions under their work experience section which will provide insight into the sort of work they are involved with. Taking it a step further, you may wish to reach out to these employees via an inbox message to politely ask if they would be willing to share some career insights with you. The worst that can happen is not receiving a reply - you have nothing to lose, so don't stress!

Remember to keep your responses succinct and relevant. You are usually constrained by a word limit, so make every word count. You can also demonstrate your understanding by including relevant data in your response, for example, ‘Company X decreased greenhouse gas emissions by 30% from a 2015 benchmark, which aligns with my belief in the importance of striving towards carbon neutrality and opting for more sustainable solutions to address exacerbating global warming conditions’.

Lastly, once you have drafted your responses, remember to proofread at least twice. An excellent answer can be ruined by avoidable typos and grammatical errors - a safeguard against this is to get someone to read over your draft!

2. Psychometric Testing

The next stage of the application process will likely involve some sort of psychometric testing delivered through a third-party provider. This could include numerical, verbal, inductive reasoning, situational, and personality, or a combination of all the above.

The numerical portion is timed and will usually require you to quickly analyse information from a table and/or graph and come to an answer from the information provided. Excel is your best friend in terms of numerical assessments, otherwise, make sure you are quick with a calculator and focus on the essence of what the question is asking.

Verbal relates to ‘coming to a conclusion’ about a particular statement given a set of information or paragraphs; the three choices are typically 'true', 'false' or 'cannot say'. The trick with verbal is to read the statement first and then skim through the passage while looking for keywords or statements. Be careful with the wording of the statements and pay close attention to words like "all", "most", “always” etc. Do not make any assumptions and purely draw your answers from the information provided.

Inductive reasoning incorporates pattern recognition via shapes, numbers and/or puzzles. My advice would be to get plenty of practice with all the tests mentioned above. There are plenty of practice tests via psychometric testing providers on their websites, and I encourage you to do at least one run-through to get a feel for the time constraints, and level of difficulty. Recently, more and more companies have been adopting gamified tests utilising providers like Pymetrics and SHL. Likewise, with these tests, practice makes perfect! Although you should take caution, results from psychometric tests generally last for 6-12 months, so make sure that you are sufficiently prepared for the tests!

Situational tests will put you into a commonly faced scenario within the division you applied for, and you must select responses based on most likely and least likely. The key to these sorts of assessments is to hypothetically place yourself in the given context and answer based on the values and beliefs of the target company.

For personality tests, these assess your traits and how compatible you are with the company's culture, values, and beliefs. It is worth researching these aspects and answering truthfully. Arguably, this is perhaps one of the more quintessential tests which companies administer since cultural fit is crucial to collaborative, high-performing and diverse organisations.

3. Phone/Digital Interview

Phone interviews are quite straightforward. You will face similar questions found in the online application such as "Why Company X?" and "Why your chosen division?". Besides these motivational questions, recruiters will usually ask about your degree major specialisations and year of graduation to ensure eligibility. Easy-peasy right?

In contrast, digital interviews are more content-heavy and will require you to respond to pre-recorded questions with limited preparation and response times. Similarly, the key to doing well in digital interviews is preparation. You will commonly find a mixture of motivational and behavioural questions. A vital thing to remember is the purpose of recruiters asking you behavioural questions: past experience and performance is a good indicator of future success. Recruiters want to see that candidates can excel in similar contexts and conditions. Be prepared to have a range of examples to draw from when answering behavioural questions. Typical questions include; "Can you tell me about a time where you worked in a diverse team?"; "Tell me about a time when you were faced with demanding deadlines and how did you handle this?"; "Tell me about a time where you demonstrated leadership."

You can draw on examples from previous work experience as well as extracurricular activities or volunteering, to highlight the breadth and depth of your capabilities.

Some fundamental things to keep in mind when approaching digital interviews is to maintain eye contact with the camera most of your response. To keep recruiters engaged, try to vary your tone, so you do not sound monotonous and place emphasis on the core things that you wish to convey. Finally, remember to smile! Digital interviews may feel very foreign and unnatural, so it is always wise to get lots of practice beforehand, either in front of a mirror or to record yourself in front of the computer. That way, you can assess how you present yourself and identify areas for improvement, such as incorporating more hand gestures or maintaining more eye contact. Practice makes perfect.

4. Assessment Centre

The tricky thing about Assessment Centres (ACs) is coming to terms that yes, you are pegged against other candidates and are required to outperform them to stand out from the crowd. At the same time, you don't want to be "that person" who dominates group discussions or shuts down ideas. What you want to do is demonstrate your ability to collaborate and respect the diversity of thought from people of varying backgrounds and experiences.

The typical scenario in an AC goes like this: You will be grouped with numerous other candidates and asked to work on a case study as a team. The objective is to provide a conclusion and recommendations. Here is the crucial part: while working with your team, there are usually one to two assessors observing your team and judging how you are performing. After the allocated amount of time given to work on the task, you will generally have to present your work to the assessors.

How do I perform well in these group tasks without coming off as assertive or dominant? Great question! The key is - you guessed it -teamwork. You must have a sense of respect for others and appreciation for their ideas and contributions. You want to be seen as a leader and an enabler. Do not interrupt someone when they are speaking. Do not shut down other people's ideas. Thank others for their contribution to the task. If a group member brings up a good point and you wish to add to it, say something along the lines of, "Awesome point which you brought up there Candidate X, adding to that, I think we should...". If you see a group member not contributing much, provide them with that opportunity by saying, "Candidate Y, we've come up with some great ideas so far, did you have anything that you'd like to contribute or perhaps any other ideas?". When it’s time to present to your assessors, another great tip is making sure your group divides up the content and agrees on who is going to talk about what. There is nothing more frustrating and scarier than having another group member cover all the content you were supposed to present.

Some further advice that I can provide you for ACs is to engage in some small talk with your group members beforehand to break the ice, this will make it much less awkward and daunting moving forward. When presented with the task, make sure to take turns so that everyone in the group has an opportunity to contribute. Write down in dot point form the main points your group wishes to convey for the presentation. Finally, leave some time in the end to consolidate everything, and finalise everyone's roles and what will be presenting. In terms of the actual presentation, follow the advice that I gave in stage 3: maintain good eye contact, vary your tone, and exude positive body language.

5. Final Interview

You have endured and survived the long and arduous application process. Here is the last and most critical step - the final interview. How these interviews work varies between firm to firm, but in general, you will find yourself on the other side of the table being interviewed by one or more senior members of the company. The most common type of questions will once again be motivational and behavioural questions, with an emphasis on the behavioural portion. It’s worth noting that bulge bracket investment banks like Morgan Stanley and UBS conduct interviews very differently compared to the Big 4 professional services firms. There will be a mix of motivational, behavioural and technical based interviews undertaken by investment banks extending multiple rounds, which is beyond the scope of this guide. That aside, typical final interviews will be heavily weighted towards behavioural and cultural fit questions.

You will frequently encounter a "Tell me about yourself. Walk me through your resume." question at the commencement of interviews. On the surface, it may seem like a reasonably simple question; however, many people do not answer it to their full potential. This question provides you with an opportunity to tell an engaging story about your past experiences, extra-curricular involvement, and interests. The trick with answering this question is to highlight the key components of your resume aligned with the role. Place specific emphasis on your work experience, extra-curricular involvement, and studies. You should also talk about what you do in your free time, which extends to your hobbies, passions, and interests.

When it comes to behavioural questions, a great technique is to use the STAR method: Situation, Task, Action and Result. These questions usually follow the pattern of, "Tell me about a time where...". The basis of which is usually tied to soft skills valued by the company and/or similar situations in which you may find yourself in when working at the firm. Suppose you get the question, "Tell me about a time you had a difficult task, and how did you handle it?".

  • Situation - During my time at Company Z, I was placed on a demanding engagement for a client in the Consumer Staples sector.
  • Task - The work consisted of competitor analysis based on available data and leveraging business analytic tools like Power BI in which I have not had experience with.
  • Action – Through research and consulting co-workers with experience in Power BI, I was able to bridge the information gap which was previously present.
  • Result - As a result, I was able to accomplish my tasks to a sufficient and satisfactory standard. From this experience, I was also able to gain a new skill in leveraging PowerBI to communicate data insights via engaging graphics and dashboards.

As you can see, the STAR method helps structure your answers in a coherent, articulate manner. Reiterating my previous point, make sure you have a variety of examples to draw from stemming from your work experience, extracurriculars or university coursework. It is also beneficial to run through a few mock interviews with a friend or even your parents. Prepare a list of common questions (here’s a good resource) and get someone to ask you these, and note where you went well or not as well. Use this list as feedback to make improvements.

Before your final interview, it is also a good idea to read up on current economic developments and company-specific news. If you are privy to who your interviewers will be, search for them on LinkedIn and thoroughly go through their profile/recent activities/posts. This will provide you with a solid understanding of who they are and what their background is. Potentially, you will also be able to identify aspects which could be a good topic for conversation. An example could be if your interviewer previously held a role in a different industry and made the jump to their current industry; use this information to question why they made that career transition etc.

At the end of the interview, a common concluding question is, "Do you have any questions for us?". In my opinion, this is just as important as any motivational or behavioural question you may get. I highly recommend preparing a couple of these questions before attending your interview. It is an opportunity for candidates to gain more in-depth insight into things of particular interest. On the other hand, it is also an opportunity to demonstrate your global and business acumen. A question to show this could be, "Global warming is of increasing concern to society in addition to its disastrous ramifications. How has Company A addressed this and what strategies are in place to address this in the next 5 years?".

Concluding Remarks

To quote Wayne Gretsky, "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take". Apply to as many openings as you can as this familiarises you with application processes. Also, do not let rejections beat you down too much. Remember it is part of the learning process. If I had a dollar for every rejection I received, I would have enough money to pay off my HECS debt. Behind my success in securing two internships, I have been rejected after the final interview with companies like Credit Suisse and Grant Thornton. I took these rejections as constructive criticism, and the feedback I received allowed me to focus on where I could improve, which ultimately propelled and empowered me to secure internships at KPMG and PwC. Remember to always ask for feedback so you can learn from your mistakes and pinpoint where you can improve - this is an integral part of the learning experience.

Please find below some handy links to keep track of internship/graduate openings:

If you have any further questions which I can help you with, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn. I wish you the absolute best with your future applications and hope you are doing well in these challenging, tumultuous times.

Michael Luo
Michael Luo (pictured in the middle), BCom student

Thanks for reading!