“BE YOURSELF — AND BACK UP YOUR ANSWERS WITH EVIDENCE”, SAYS TOP EMPLOYER
The Grant Thornton graduate programme regularly wins awards for being one of the most forward-thinking graduate schemes around – and the professional services firm is known as one of the UK’s boldest and most innovative graduate employers. Grant Thornton was the first in their industry to scrap the 2:1 minimum degree requirement and take away the UCAS tariff — and now they’ve launched pre-interview coaching to maximise applicants’ chances of success (yes, they want you to do well!). So what does it take to land a job there? Graduate Fog asked Nadine Barr, Resourcing Brand Officer at Grant Thornton, for her best tips…
Graduate Fog: What sort of applicants are you most keen to hear from for your graduate positions at Grant Thornton?
Nadine Barr, Grant Thornton: “At Grant Thornton we’re looking for applicants who have a genuine passion for business and want to develop into a good business adviser. We’re also looking for people who want to get stuck in from day one, who strive for responsibility. You need to be confident in interacting in your team and with clients, so strong people skills are important too. We especially love to meet applicants who can offer their unique perspective, show initiative and ask lots of great questions along the way.”
What are the routes in for graduates wanting to work at Grant Thornton?
“If you have a degree, or are on your final year, in any discipline, you can apply to any one of our graduate positions. You may have graduated a while ago, or you may have been working somewhere else and have decided on a career change. If you show the behaviours and attitudes we look for and have a passion for us and the role you’re applying to, we’ll welcome an application from you whatever your background.”
Where are your graduate jobs based and what salary do you offer?
“We offer a competitive salary to our graduates and our roles are situated in locations across the UK: Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Gatwick, Glasgow, Ipswich, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Milton Keynes, Newcastle, Northampton, Norwich, Oxford, Reading, Sheffield and Southampton.”
When and how should graduates apply? What stages does the application process involve?
“We open our applications each year in early September for graduate positions starting the following January or August. There are no deadlines, we fill as we go. Having said that, we recommend you apply as soon as you see a role you’re interested in, to avoid disappointment.”
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Do graduates need to have a 2:1 or above in order to apply for graduate roles at Grant Thornton?
“No, we don’t require any minimum academics (A-levels, UCAS points or degree grades). We’re looking for interesting all-rounders who are able to demonstrate the personal and professional experience they have is transferrable to our environment, have a passion for business and identify with the Grant Thornton values and behaviours.”
What made you decide to ditch the 2:1 and UCAS tariffs?
“We pioneered the approach to take away minimum academic requirements two years ago as we found there was no indication to suggest that because someone had achieved lower than a 2:1 in their degree and/or a lower UCAS tariff they wouldn’t be able to progress in our environment and pass their professional qualifications. Last year 20% of our intake were people we wouldn’t have considered previously. We’re proud that we have reframed the way talent and potential is recognised and have led the way in our industry.”
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Do you respond to all applications, whether successful or unsuccessful?
“Yes, every applicant will be notified of the status and outcome of their application at every stage. We recognise the time our candidates invest in our recruitment process so ensure we regularly communicate with them throughout.”
And do you offer feedback to unsuccessful applicants?
“Due to the large volume of applications we receive, I’m afraid we’re unable to offer feedback to everyone at the initial application stage. But at every stage after that, yes we do.”
Any tips for standing out at application stage?
“I’m often asked this question and my first piece of advice would be don’t feel like you have to be ‘outstanding’ to impress. Often people tell me they’re worried as they don’t have any professional experience or direct experience — your experience itself doesn’t have to be relevant, as long as you can demonstrate the skills you’ve learned from it and make those relevant.”
Can you give an example?
“There are so many great transferable skills people can learn from a part-time job they’ve held down during their studies, for example. Our graduates work with our clients on a daily basis delivering a great service; if someone has worked in a customer-facing role and delivered great customer experience and can talk about examples based on this, that can easily be transferred to our environment. Be yourself and also demonstrate that you have the values and behaviours we look for in our employees. Show your passion for the company and for the role you’re applying to.”
What wows you in a graduate interview?
“Again, there is no magic formula. For me, an interview is a conversation with a purpose. It’s a two-way process and it’s an opportunity for the interviewee to find out about the role and company as well as for the interviewer to find about the individual. Your interviewer will want to see that you are suitable for the role, that you are passionate about what you’re applying for and that you are passionate about joining their company. They’re not there to catch you out and it shouldn’t feel like an interrogation. Interviews can be nerve-wracking but try to be succinct in your answers, use real-life examples to back up your answers and really demonstrate your passion for the role and company.”
Is there anything different about Grant Thornton’s application or interview process?
“Last year we introduced video interviews into our recruitment process, which every candidate who passes the initial application stage will be invited to complete. Previously, we had telephone interviews but we felt they weren’t giving our candidates enough of a good opportunity to demonstrate their qualities. Video interviews are a better way for candidates to get their whole selves across, including their personality, at an earlier stage in the process.”
Eek — video interviews can be scary! Do you have any tips?
“We understand that some people find the idea a little daunting and that’s why we’ve introduced a coaching call before the interview and a call after. The call before ensures our candidates feel comfortable about taking the interview and the call after provides them with some feedback from us, whatever the outcome. If we invite you to complete a video interview, my advice would be to treat it like any other interview, preparing as you would for a face-to-face interview and dressing appropriately. Choose a quiet place to take the interview (somewhere you won’t be interrupted), and take advantage of our online practice interview before doing the real thing.
What’s more important in an interview — knowing the right answers or handling the questions well?
“There are no ‘right’ answers — but answering the question is the most important part. If you don’t understand a question, ask your interviewer to repeat it another way for you. If you need a moment to collect your thoughts, don’t be afraid to say so. Your interviewer would rather this than you dive straight in trying to answer a question you’re not quite sure how to answer.”
What is a great question for graduates to ask at the end of their interview?
“The best questions to ask will depend on the role you are going for, but make sure you definitely ask something — it shows you’re interested and engaged in the role and the company you are applying to. A good tip is to prepare a bank of questions — around six is a good number in case any of them are answered throughout the interview. What you ask could be as general as a question on something that interests you about the company’s strategy or you could ask something about the team or the person who’s interviewing you, specifically. You could ask a question on a particular issue or event that’s happening in the wider industry or economy which relates to the role or the team you are applying to. Whatever you ask, make sure it’s relevant and it isn’t basic knowledge you should already know from your own research.”
Any tips for impressing at assessment centres?
“Firstly, always be yourself. Remember to keep in mind the skills your assessors will be looking for you to demonstrate, like good team work and communication. In a group exercise, try not to be too dominant — give others the space to contribute too. If you’re shyer in nature, try to make a contribution — don’t just rely on your peers. Take everyone’s views on board even if they are different to your own. Use the assessment centre as an opportunity to really get to know the company you’re applying to, ask lots of questions and make the most of it. Most assessment centres will have a networking lunch or coffee break as part of the day. These sessions are mostly informal, so try to relax — you’re not being assessed at this stage unless you’re told otherwise. Lastly, be confident and believe in your ability to succeed. You’ve made it this far so seize the opportunity.”
What’s the most common mistake graduates make when applying for a job at Grant Thornton?
“There are a few things which separate a strong candidate from a candidate who won’t progress through. I would say forgetting to demonstrate that you have the motivation to work for us and/or for the role, can be a common mistake graduates make. Think carefully about why you’re applying to the role and our company. What attracts you to us and why you think you’re a good fit? Another error is forgetting to present evidence to back up statements about yourself. It’s great if you say you have certain experience or you believe you have the skills needed to do the job well, but remember you need to show us. However strong a candidate you are in other ways, if you can’t demonstrate clearly how you’ve developed these skills then you won’t progress through.”
Anything else applicants need to know about?
“Yes — our candidate community ‘Grant Thornton: I’ve applied’ is an online interactive platform exclusively for our candidates who pass the initial application stage. Here candidates can interact with one another, Grant Thornton people and our recruitment team. ‘I’ve applied’ is in its second year now and our candidates love it. They feel they get to know us better as a result and it helps them to get fully prepared for stages further down the line. At Grant Thornton we’re always looking for new ways to make our recruitment process clearer and more accessible to applicants and we love to get feedback and ideas about how we can improve. We want to give everyone the best possible chance of succeeding.”
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Applications for the firm’s graduate scheme are now open — click here to find out more