International Law Firm
Bachelor of Arts & Law (Hons), Macqarie Uni - Sydney, NSW
Summer Clerk, International Law Firm - Sydney, NSW
Paralegal, International Law Firm - Sydney, NSW
Graduate, International Law Firm - Sydney, NSW
Associate, International Law Firm - Sydney, NSW
I actually got into a straight Psychology degree but deferred for a year and then by the time it came around to actually starting Uni, the idea of doing Law sort of came to me so I changed, applied for a new degree and got into that. I went down that path. The majority of my degree I spent thinking that I would be a psychologist and didn't really like law until about fourth year, I think. Law was a very different way of thinking that I wasn't very good at for the first couple of years so I really struggled and found it really difficult. For that reason, I kind of got put off practicing law, but then it sort of clicked. I did some work experience and found I really enjoyed it. So I went down the law path.
I now work at an international law firm. I specialize in Employment Law, which I think is a very interesting area of law because it's very people-oriented, different to the commercial areas like corporate and banking. So for me it was a really good fit. It tied in with my psychology degree really well and it was a very relatable area of law so it was a no-brainer for me to sort of specialize in that area.
Q: Did you have much experience before applying for clerkships?
I paralegalled in a boutique law firm the year before I was a summer clerk. I only did it about one day a week and the majority of it was sort of office admin type work, but it was really good to have your foot in the door and work out how law firms operate. There was more to just theory involved in law such as all the systems behind it, which I think was a really good base exposure to have before actually getting my foot into a firm that I saw a future with.
Q: What is a summer clerkship?
So a summer clerk is what you would do at the end of fourth year. I think they vary slightly now but most of them are ten-week full-time over summer and in that ten weeks, you get to do five weeks in one area of specialty law and then another five weeks in a different area so it's good because you get to try two things to see if you like it, to see if you actually like being a lawyer and try different types of work to see what sort of lawyer you want to be.
Q: How valuable was a clerkship when starting your career?
I think people underestimate how important a clerkship is to get your foot in the door and to see if you want to be a lawyer because in my experience, the degree is so theory-based, that this is the first time you get in there and you have to actually give the practical side a go and it's very different and you might be really good at the theory, but not have those sort of people skills or the practical skills that make you a good lawyer; or the opposite you might not have been very good at theory and then you get in there and suddenly have a new found confidence and you realize actually I can be a lawyer even if I didn’tget HD’s in every subject.
Q: What was the process to apply for and be offered a clerkship?
So for me, I went to the clerkship fair that was offered by my Uni. I used that opportunity to network with people. I talked to them about what experiences they had at that firm. You sort of get an introduction in to what the firms are like. You then apply, so it's a written application in the first instance. From there most films do a two-round interview process and in between interviews, there are some sort of information nights or network nights and then a cocktail night.
So yeah all sort of areas are tested and you're also going to deal with rejection. I think I applied for about 12 firms and probably only got five first-round interviews. And you're at uni at the same time so, you know, for us, it was right in the exam period and you're going into the city every day to do interviews, prep for those interviews. It was just a very challenging time but definitely worth it.
Q: What was the most challenging part of the clerkship application process?
Because everyone really wants to do it, it’s how you distinguish yourself on paper, which is the really hard part. So yes interviews are difficult but I think once you get yourself in a room, at least you have the opportunity to talk through your skills whereas making yourself look good on paper I personally found very difficult. Generally, your letter is one page to two pages at most. You've got to tell them what you want from them and what you can offer them. I think the thing that law students or any student really forgets in the job application process is that you have some say and you've got some power as well. So it's not just up to the employer to knock you back and say no, it's just as much about you finding the right employer for you.
In law firms in particular, it's about; you’re going to be there a lot of time during the day; it’s going to be where you spend the majority of your life so you have to find one that you're going to be comfortable in, that you like this type of people, you like the culture, you like what they have to offer beyond just your legal career. So the firm I chose is international. I liked the travel aspect of it. I got to do an overseas secondment so that was a huge plus for me. That's something that I always wanted coming out of Uni. It just had a very relaxed culture, a very fun vibe. They did sport. They did other things that I was interested in.
It ticks my lawyer boxes but also ticks my other boxes, which I think was really important. I said that in my letter and then I set out what I thought I had to offer and what made me different so for this international firm, I talked about the fact that I've done a lot of travel. I lived overseas before. As I said, I had a psych background so for me I thought it was quite unique to other candidates I sort of went down that path. And then I talked about interests, hobbies, and things that will make you stand out from everybody else.
Q: What was the key to your success through the summer clerkship interview?
For me it was my first real job interview. In fact, the firm that I ended up taking a job for was the first interview I ever did. I was very nervous. I didn't really know what to expect, but I think you just need to remember to prepare, to relax, to know that being nervous isn't necessarily a bad sign. I think people often try and hide all that and come across as very confident and I think that can work against you in a lot of ways because if you’re nervous, it shows that you really want something and that's what they want to see at the end of the day as much as they want to hear all the right answers.
My experience with law interviews was; half of it is behavioral questions so they asked you to give examples of when you have worked in a team, examples when you've had to overcome a challenge and things like that. Draw on your past employment history and then a lot of it was talking about your legal career so what sort of lawyer you saw yourself being, what practice area interested you, why you wanted to come to that firm for those reasons.
It's a balance of being prepared for behavioral ones but also knowing your CV inside out, knowing what you want out of a law firm, and knowing some things about that firm so that you can tell them why you want to be there, why you're interested. I think it's always important to have some questions to ask back at the end of the interview. There's always that moment where they say to if you have you got anything you want to ask us and if you just say no, well, then you know there's no room to go from there and there's no—you know everybody has a question and you might be a bit nervous about asking it so I used to actually prep some questions beforehand as lame as that sounds, but I would find something out about my interviewers, and then even if it was silly or you know it seemed a little trivial, it keeps that dialogue open. It keeps it relaxed. It shows that you're interested, which I think is a really key thing when you go into these interviews.
Q: How did you BRDG from your clerkship into a graduate position?
The clerkship is probably the harder role to get and sort of the key one. Most of my friends that did clerkships at various firms all got offered a grad role with that same firm.
Q: What was the structure of your graduate program?
For two years, generally, you’re a grad. At the firm that I was with we did four six-month rotations. So much the same as you did those two five-week ratoation as a clerk you get to try four areas of law. You’re generally encouraged to do some front-end (negotiating and drafting contracts) and back-end (litigation and disputes) law so you can work out if you’re more of a transaction corporate-based lawyer or if you're a litigator and you like disputes. And the great thing I think about the rotations is it also gives you a chance to move around the firm, meet people, build up a really good network because even if you end up specializing in—so I do employment law, which is quite a specialist field—you’re still going to call upon those people you've met in other teams down the track because inevitably, any sort of large legal deal has corporate involvement or IP involvement or banking involvement, so if you have an opportunity to work with those people for six months, you can get on the phone, you can call them and vice versa they call you. It works and sort of flows really well that way. So the grad program is not only great to get a feel for what sort of lawyer you want to be but you start those connections to build a network from a very early stage, which I think is invaluable the further down the track you go.
Q: How did you choose your specialty?
It was probably the area I always thought I wanted to work in because I had the psych background. It was people issues that always really interested me. It was their number one preference for me the whole way through the grad program. Luckily I got to do it second so I sort of had done it. I was confident that it was what I wanted to do which meant for my last two, I had a bit more free reign and I could choose things that I wasn't really sure or didn't know much about. I'm not very banking or economic-minded but I did an asset finance rotation which was definitely like being thrown in the deep end and I had no idea what I was doing. It was sort of like starting again. I just didn't know what the documents were. I didn't know what the terms were. It was probably the one I came out of at the end feeling like I'd achieved the most from because I learned so much. There are definitely skills I’ve drawn on since then.
That was really great but I loved all four of my rotations and as much as I knew I wanted to be an employment lawyer, it was quite hard at the end when it came to actually deciding what sort of lawyer I wanted to be. But you do hear stories from people that, what you picked at a junior age, doesn't mean you're locked into that forever. You can always change or move into other areas. You can move in-house. You can do government legal work. I think a corporate law firm is a really good place to get your basic skills down, to start your career, and then go from there.
Q: Classic interview question: What is your biggest weakness?
I think it's important to be honest in interviews, no one's perfect, so I think acknowledging a weakness is also a very brave thing to do. My weakness going into law when I was sort of a clerk or a paralegal even when I started the grad program was definitely my confidence. I didn't get amazing marks at uni so I always sort of felt I was undeserving of the role. And for that first couple of years especially, I struggled in the sense that I didn't think I had a lot of the theory knowledge down. I didn't think I was good enough and because law is a very demanding environment, you have a lot of targets to meet, billable hours but also everyone expects a really high standard of work. So it is that perfectionist environment. You do get told that things are wrong and I did get sort of harsh feedback. For me in the early years it was definitely confidence knowing that I could do it, knowing that I could get there, and I feel like being a few years down the track now, that confidence has definitely been built, and I feel like I'm in a better position to handle criticism and handle mistakes and all those things.
I think as a slightly more experienced lawyer, my weakness now would be delegating. I find it very hard to let go of my work, but it’s a different skill set because obviously, when you're a junior, you do all the grunt work and you have control over that part and as soon as you get a little bit senior and you’re giving that work to someone else, you’ve then go to step into a new role and then check the work and know how to instruct someone clearly so that they can do the work.
For a junior lawyer, you’re kind of in that “in-between” area where you’re not senior yet but you are no longer the most junior in the team. It's hard to let go of your work because you see your billable hours. There's that idea that you can do it better. So for me it's been quite a new challenge having a junior in the team, learning how to instruct that person, letting go a little bit and letting them help you and realizing that that's actually important not only from a cost perspective for a client to have someone who bills at a cheaper rate to do the basic work, but also from a time management perspective. You don't have time anymore to do the indexing and the filing and checking every page is correct. So you do have to let go and let somebody else do that. That's probably my biggest challenge at the moment. It’s getting used to that new role and doing it effectively and doing it well and being okay with letting somebody else help me.
Q: Classic interview question: What is your most valuable strength?
A strength that I have that might go underestimated a lot in the legal world is people skills and communication skills. So especially as you get more senior, you've got to win work from people, you've got to build relationships with clients, so I've been fortunate in the sense that I've got siblings and I’ve sort of grown up in this younger sibling environment. I've travelled a lot. I've worked in retail and for me, I feel like I've got quite a good communication —personality is not the right word—personal skills, which I think will help me down the track and I think people think that lawyers have to just be really smart and to have HD's and I think your interview is your first chance to show them that there's more to you than just really good marks and it is important to have those other skills. I guess that's my strength.
Bachelor of Arts & Law (Hons), ANU - Canberra, ACT
Grad Diploma in Legal Prac., ANU - Canberra, ACT
Consultant, Public Policy NGO - Kuala Lumpur Malaysia
Public Health Policy Researcher, Academia - Singapore
Senior Consultant, Management Consulting Firm- Sydney, NSW
Q: What were the biggest challenges of landing a job in public policy?
Okay, so I was really keen to have something locked in when I arrived and hit the ground running. And I found that in Malaysia, the country that I was in, that that really wasn't going to happen, particularly at the graduate level. So I had to arrive there “cold turkey”. I think I must have spoken with sort of 10 different organizations and even getting a foot in the door was hard. That's where you have to make those sacrifices of; maybe I can intern for three months; if you’re interested in taking me on, I can transition to a paid position. I ended up being paid very, very minimally and then trying to increment up.
I also found that straightaway on the phone (they’re used to receiving emails from all over the world), if you're actually in the country, there's that extra step that you have made to possibly show interest. And then taking any opportunity you can to speak with someone because for no other reason, just to understand the culture, that's something that's really important. So any chance that you have to speak with someone in the field, take it. Even if it's in an area that's completely unrelated to what you're actually interested in.
Q: How were you able to communicate the value of your degree and experience to secure a role in Public Policy?
I think it was amix, I studied Law; so studying Law is something that is well respected in Malaysia. All of my majors we're focused on International Relations and International Public Policy. There was a clear interest there and then the hard thing is as a graduate, being able to demonstrate that I understand it and can actually apply it. So I think, as well, having a good grasp of what are the key issues in that particular country so doing a lot of research.
Being able to show that in my studies, I learned about “X” and I know that’s really important in Malaysia at the moment because of these issues going on. It's showing that you can learn and apply your knowledge to that particular organization the skill set that you have.
Q: Why did you decide to move into the private sector?
I felt that I was lacking a skill set, so I wanted to work for an organization that was driven by profits, that was important. I was looking for a faster pace, I was looking for time frames and them having to be hit because you're accountable to shareholders or a client and there will be repercussions if you don't hit those timeframes. It had to be a particular standard because again, everyone would hear about it otherwise. For me, I felt that I wanted to work with colleagues that had that drive and would push me also to hit that time frame, to hit that level of quality that the client needed.
Q: Why did you decide to move into Consulting?
Having studied Law; Law was the obvious choice. I have a lot of friends working in Law. I spoke with them and I really wasn't sure that I was that excited by it. So I spoke with my friends who are in working Management Consulting. Even if it's not your friend, it's your friend of a friend and asked them to really hash out what they do and what the firm does. There might be different service lines. There might be different sectors they work in. And so I started to get a feel of the type of firms I was interested in.
I realized it's a bit of a jack-of-all-trades. I started to find firms that I could look at and think: they do work in Public Policy; they do work not just in economics and business; and that's what scared me as someone who studied Arts, as someone who studied Law and I'm going to be honest my skill set is not in quantitative analysis and economics, so I thought that Management Consulting really wasn't where I could be useful. But then I found that it is so diverse. It is a jack-of-all-trades; therefore there was an area that suited me. That’s the path that I had headed down.
Q: What is your top interview tip for Management Consulting?
I’d probably say don’t interview with the one that you absolutely love, first off. For Management Consulting, the interview process is quite specific. It can be very nerve-wracking. It is something that you become better at over time. Maybe go for a “scattergun” approach. I’d actually say it. There’s no better way to practice for interviews than to actually do interviews themselves.
There are a lot of textbooks available. I remember the main one that people pointed me to was Ace the Case. This was particularly interesting for someone like me that didn't have a business background. So even just, you know, the ways of analysing a market sector or a business strategy that was something that I hadn't been exposed to. For me, it was a very useful process.
I must say I got to a point where I looked at those books so much that I actually stopped applying logic and reason in my case studies. I found that I would be presented with a problem and I rather than think, okay, logically, how would I answer this question? I would think which matrix I should be applying.
Q: Was that a good approach?
Absolutely not a good thing at all. I came back to Australia, I read Ace the Case and then thought you know what, I'm going to read this but then when I get in the interview, I will apply logic and reasoning. If my friend said to me, I've got this problem and how am I going to solve it? How would I logically go through the steps to answer that question?
Q: The Interview Process: Data Analysis
Generally, the process starts with an online assessment. Essentially, it might be that there is a whole bunch of documents that you’re sent. A partner has a business development interview in one hour and they don't know the organization and they don't know that specific sector. So you need to prepare a one-pager of the key issues that the client might be facing and the key issues in that particular sector.
What they want to know is, can you gather a whole bunch of information and pull out the key insights and the key pieces of information. So they want to see that you can analyse information and what’s the most relevant information and you can present it in a succinct and clear away with a lot of logic.
Some might even start with multiple choice where you have only an hour or 30 minutes to do it. Others may be, can you respond with a three-page maximum and you've got six days to do it. It depends what stage you're up to and it depends on the firm. It takes a while for you to get to the point where you're actually in front of someone. Obviously, with consulting, a lot of it is about your personality and your capacity to communicate, but if you can't analyse information; that is the number one step.
Q: The interview process: Behavioural questions
At some firms you may go to HR, others you may meet with another consultant and a partner or someone a little bit higher than a consultant. And that's where you’ll always start with the behavioral questions. I mean you know what the purpose of behavioral questions is, It’s to gauge how well you can communicate if you're in front of a client. They’re confident that you would be able to speak in a manner that you demonstrate and represent the firm well.
Generally, it’s to get a feel for your personality. If I was stuck for 24 hours in an airport with this person, would that be hell or could I handle it. So we start with the behaviorals and we’ll then move on to a case study. Some might even do back-to-back. So you’ll meet with one person and you’ll have a case study and behaviorals, you walk out and then five minutes later, you're back in the room with a different person from that firm to do more behavioral questions and then a case study.
Q: The interview process: The case study
It may be simply that I sit in front of you and say, our client is “X” and they have this problem… and it's your job to then lead the whole conversation. So you need to ask particular questions that will then provide you with that information.
So as an example, they want to move into a particular market. Say, well the first thing I wanted to know is what's the current state of that market? Okay, great so here's a graph that will show you who the players are, maybe what percent of the market share they have. Others will present you with five documents or five pieces of paper. One might be a table. One might be, you know, key things that our clients have said about the firm. And you're told that they have this key issue and you need to work through it. They don't leave the room. You have to actually straightaway read that information on the spot and be speaking out loud the whole time to communicate, okay, so this is telling me this and this is telling you this and then trying again just to get that information into to some recommendations or the likes.
Interviewer: And then if you did that well, you get the job?
So then if you did that well, let's just say, I think you need to do that two or three times at least.
Q: The interview process: one-on-one interview
You generally finish with a partner or a managing director.
Q: And they ask you how many ping pong balls fit in a bus?
I managed to avoid those questions somehow. Probably that's obvious by the fact that I have a job in management consulting. Yes, that’s the process. So it starts with an online assessment, it's then at least two interviews, at least two or three with managers or other consultants, then finally, it’ll end with a managing director or partner, who may ask you another case study or who may just be really interested in getting to know you.
Q: Can you tell us about your role?
So the thing that I really enjoy about consulting is that, well for the firm I'm working at, I'm on multiple projects at any given time. That means different teams and different clients. The other great thing is that all are at different stages. Sometimes if there's a really large deliverable due on Friday, you might spend the first two days, Monday-Tuesday, focusing on honing in on that deliverable that's due at the end of the week. Then Wednesday, you may have a focus group for a completely different project. So you may be helping to actually run that focus group or you might be supporting the project director. It depends on multiple variables there. So you will be responsible for preparing the focus group so the whole design of the workshop, what are the key outcomes that you want to achieve, and then how are you exactly going to get there. Otherwise you might just be sitting there in front of your desk for a whole day reviewing one hundred documents. That's the shitty part.
Q: Classic interview question: What is your biggest weakness?
I can’t remember what my answer was. I know now my biggest weakness. What I find is with management consulting, you will not learn the entire business back to front because you're working on a particular aspect of that business and so therefore you won't need to learn the whole business and you won't learn the whole sector. But you will be provided with hundreds of documents and you will conduct multiple interviews and provide lots of quantitative data sets. My problem is I love to go down into the weeds and my difficulty is actually pulling myself back out and realizing that I'm getting into too much detail than what is actually required. For me, I actually need to check in every day and say have I spent too much time trying to get into the micros when I need to stay up the macros.
Big 4 Professional Services Firm
Bachelor of Arts, UoM - Melbourne, VIC
Facilitator, Not-for-profit - Sydney, NSW
Juris Doctor, UNSW - Sydney NSW
Senior Consultant, Professional Services Firm - Sydney NSW
My name is Sasha Lawrence. I’m 25 and I currently work for a Big 4 professional services firm in Sydney.
Q: Why did you pursue a Juris Doctor?
I did an Arts degree at Melbourne Uni, which was a lot of fun, but that was basically it. I did a wine tasting subject and majored in some feminist subjects. I always wanted to study Law so I decided to do it as a JD and actually spent a couple of years doing Arts thinking about whether I actually wanted to study Law. Melbourne Uni gave us access to Law subjects so I got to dabble with it and it kind of just firmed that I wanted to study Law.
Q: Where did you work while at Law School?
One of the reasons why I moved up to Sydney was I got into Law School. I was also offered a role at a not-for-profit straight after I graduated from Melbourne Uni. I kind of thought it was a great opportunity to move to a new city and work with an organisation that I already knew. It was an opportunity to develop business acumen and start to develop other skills. I thought I would do the role for a year and then go back to studying. I ended up working full-time and studied part-time for about three and a half to four years with a couple of fails in there. We all make choices and I chose to focus on work because of the development I was getting from the not-for-profit.
Q: How did you decide on a career path after Uni?
It was really hard because I did not like reading legislation and I did not like studying at Law School. Whilst I was really passionate and interested in Law, I hated studying. It just wasn't playing to my strengths. I think, initially, it was really easy for me to prioritize work over study but what ended up happening was I failed quite a few subjects and got to a point where I realized that my career prospects were going to be quite slim if I wanted to go to a law firm or to a big professional services firm.
A turning point was when I did an internship at a professional services firm and it kind of gave me a kick in the butt that I needed to start studying and get through the course. At that point I knew that Law was not going to be my career and that mainly came from a place of, yes, I'm absolutely passionate about it but it doesn't play to my strengths in any way or whatsoever. But at the Big4 firm that I had interned at, there were so many opportunities for me to work in different parts of the business where I could build on my own skills, but also my experience working at the not-for-profit.
Q: How did you land an interview at a Big 4 Professional Services Firm?
I was actually presenting at a conference. So it was through the not-for-profit where I was presenting at a conference and a recruiter kind of came up to me and said you should apply for our internship program. I did, but to be honest it was a really difficult process because I had a couple of fails on my transcript. The partner and director who interviewed me absolutely skinned me for that. He made it very clear that having four fails in my transcript was just not okay.
On one hand, I mean you know that absolutely gave me a kick in the butt, but I then had to really draw upon my experience outside of the university to I guess substantiate why I would be a great candidate for the program. For me, I didn't fail those subjects because I was sitting at home twiddling my thumbs. I just didn't prioritize my time and where I was investing my energy. That interview was pretty gruelling but you know they kind of saw value in my experiences and my other strengths and gave me a go to come in and intern.
Q: How did your not-for-profit experience help through the interview process?
It was really looking at the skills that I’ve developed working for the not-for-profit specifically around relationship building. In professional services, we are a people-business at the end of the day. You can be technically brilliant but the world is changing and that's no longer enough. You need to be able to have a conversation that's meaningful and connect with your clients. Being able to draw upon my experience of building relationships was key.
The other part of it was where corporate Australia or the world is at the moment is a really exciting time to change where businesses are looking and bringing in people who think differently and have different experiences to drive innovation and change. So knowing that that was what was happening in the industry really allowed me to hone in on a couple of key projects that I had worked on previously and experiences where I could demonstrate that it would add value to the firm.
Q: What was the most challenging part of the interview process?
The most challenging part of the interview was in the assessment center. There was a technical piece of work and I sat in that room and looked at that paper and I thought I might as well walk out of the building and I genuinely believed that I would not have received a phone call from the partners.
“I sat in that room and looked at that paper and I thought I might as well walk out of the building and I genuinely believed that I would not have received a phone call from the partners”
The internship was a program in our corporate tax team within tax and so it was a pretty huge, challenging tax assessment. I never studied tax. To be honest, I didn't prepare for the assessment center. Part of it was I really prepared for the interview because I knew that that was where I could wow them. But I didn't necessarily put any time into preparing the assessment piece of it, which in hindsight, I absolutely regret because if I had blown my interview, there would have been nothing else for them to fall back on. I mean, don’t get me wrong, with the interview, what was challenging about that was someone who essentially almost has your future in their hands calling you out on not performing very well at university and that's an absolute ego blow but at the same time it's also quite confronting to sit in the room and go wow in 45 minutes, you can more or less decide which path I'm going to be taking from here. That was quite daunting in there.
“it's also quite confronting to sit in the room and go wow in 45 minutes, you can more or less decide which path I'm going to be taking from here. That was quite daunting.”
Q: How did you transition from an internship into a permanent role?
They kind of sat me down and had that conversation with me about what I actually wanted to do and what I was passionate about and it was really clear that corporate tax was not what I was passionate about and neither was practicing Law. The firm were just amazing at connecting me with other parts of the business to see where I could actually just bring what was great about me and my experiences to a new role.
For a couple of months after I left, it was a lot of coffee catch-ups, phone calls and emails until eventually, I found a role that was really suited to me and it's been so great kind of starting in the firm where the role was just so wrong for me, but with the business being open and myself being open to new roles that I didn’t think of previously. I found myself in a position where I come to work and I can bring the best of myself and I know it's going to add value to what I'm doing.
Q: Were there additional interviews or tests for your full-time position?
There wasn't so much of a testing process after because they had kind of done that. The interview process was challenging in the sense that people looked at my CV where I had a not-for-profit background and I was studying Law and just didn't understand where that pathway was going. I guess my career track hasn't been linear. It's been a bit kind of, where are the opportunities and where can I play to my strengths.
So the challenge in that was trying to explain that it all kind of fit together and that whilst I didn't necessarily wake up 10 years ago and go this is the role I'm going to do, I want to do it right now and there's something that I can learn and this is also something that I can contribute. It was more about trying to convince my interviewers that I actually wanted to be here and I was going to be committed to the role and not be a flight risk.
“So the challenge in that was trying to explain that it all kind of fit together and that whilst I didn't necessarily wake up 10 years ago and go this is the role I'm going to do, I want to do it right now and there's something that I can learn and this is also something that I can contribute”
Q: Can you describe your current role?
Working for a Big 4 firm is really exciting because it's quite dynamic. People often ask me what do I do and I genuinely can't answer that because it changes based on the project I'm working on and what day of the week it is. There are a lot of the times where I’m in lots of meetings and working on projects. Then there are other times where I’m pumping out reports. I guess what's great about that is the diversity of skills that you have to build. That is probably the benefit of working at a Big 4 firm or professional services firm because it's not so specific. But what would be the common thread in everything that I do is people engagement. So how do I take my stakeholders on the journey? How do I sell it to them? How do I challenge a business? And really how do we bring our strategy to life? That is challenging, but, you know, put a challenge in front of me, you know that's what I love. I love chasing after that and bring you change. It changes every day but people would be the core of what I do.
Q: Classic interview question: What is your biggest weakness?
My greatest weakness is I bite off way more than I can chew. My experience at Law School is a great reflection of that, trying to work full-time and study post-grad Law, no one can do that. It's humanly not possible. And equally so, I think for me I just love seizing opportunities. I'll often say yes but then coupled with that I don't like giving anything a half-ass go, so I'll always give it my everything; but as a result of that, by the end of it, I'm just broken because I’ve overcommitted too much. That would be my biggest weakness. Just learning to decipher which opportunities are actually going to be of value to you and which one is going to take you a step further and not just say yes to everything because it sounds exciting.
Q: Is that still a challenge?
Absolutely, coming to a Big 4 firm where there is opportunity all the time and really exciting things to work on, you absolutely want to say yes because on one hand, it's about your development too, about learning something new, but it's also about being part of it. I think in a professional services firm, there is this really great energy that when a project is on, you just want to be part of it because everyone gets behind it and so that's quite contagious; but then you just can't… there's not enough time in the day to actually be a part of everything and say yes to everything. Sometimes just being able to, as I said, decipher which ones are actually important and learn to say no.
Q: Final thoughts?
For me my greatest wrestle was I was at Law School and going through Grad applications and interview processes and it was do I tick boxes and say the right thing; go to a Law firm and you know do the right thing, follow that path way or do I kind of follow my heart and go to what's actually important to me and what I want to do and how do you stay true to yourself. That was such a wrestle internally and trying to work out what to do and I would just say to people, find a mentor, or someone in a business that you really admire that you could learn from and get some advice. I think trying to work through that conflict on your own doesn't really provide you anything different or much perspective, but if you can speak to someone who was in a place where you want to be in five or ten years time, their perspective can just be invaluable. And if anything, it's great to just have someone challenge you on what you think might be to just get a different perspective, speak to other people. Don't do it on your own.
Big 4 Professional Services Firm
Cadetship, Professional Services Firm - Melbourne, VIC
Bachelor of Commerce, UoM - Melbourne, VIC
Associate Director, Transaction Services, PSF - Melb, VIC
Senior Manager, Strategy (M&A), PSF - Melbourne, VIC
MBA, Melbourne Business School - Melbourne, VIC
My entry and pathway into my firm was through a cadetship when I was at high school. I applied and went through the rounds. It's a big call when I was 18 and I decided that it was something I was interested in. I always wanted to get into business.
The process was like any other sort of graduate process, but just on probably a reduced scale. Their marketing towards high school so people in their final Year 12 that are looking to go down that Commerce path. I guess the key differentiator between a Graduate process versus the Cadetship process was just the volume of candidate. The earlier you get in, the easier the chance of getting a job. It's sort of the volume just isn't their relative to the number of people that are finishing off Commerce degrees each year. It's probably an easier process. That graduate band is sometimes the most competitive just by sheer volume.
Q: How did you balance work and study during your Cadetship?
You operate with like a reduced program or reduced study loads so it’d be half the subject volume, while you’re busy at work. You got you got time off during the day to run up the road to two classes and then you go back to work or sometimes you have to make up the time. It was quite a hard balancing act to be honest. I guess especially at that sort of age, there are a lot of people that probably aren't quite mature enough to throw themselves into that sort of balancing act and it does mean that you compromise, not on your Uni experience, but just some of the social things on the side.
Q: What kind of work did you do during your Cadetship?
That was 18 months of just learning businesses. I think that was the benefit of it, but I guess to answer what internal audit is, it's going into businesses, understanding the processes, and where their controls are and try to build rigour and compliance and governance around what they do; and testing those processes to make sure that all the controls are doing what they're intended to do.
For me, it wasn't what I was overly interested in and that's why I was sort of contemplating moving out, but thankfully, with the firm that I’m at, there’s plenty of opportunity and the breadth on offer is tremendous so I was able to move around into something else that I’m more interested in.
Q: What was the biggest challenge of moving into the Deals team?
The biggest challenge was probably the capability of the people that I was going to be working with. It was certainly a step up from where I had come from. They’re a lot more driven. They’re just probably more technical in some aspects, but also just more impressive in the way they had to impress clients, win work. With internal audit jobs, it’s sort of a recurring type work and it would just be about establishing that relationship and it would keep paying its dividends with the transaction work, you got to hunt for food and you need to find that next deal. That just meant during the interview processes, I had to really try and impress.
Q: What advice would you give to a candidate interviewing for a role in a Deals team?
If you're going into a deals environment, just understand some fundamentals about valuations; how a discount cash flow model works, what an enterprise value multiple represents, what are some of the valuation parameters around valueing working capital, normalize recurring EBITDA, growth targets, so understanding forecast, and those sort of financial principles that really fit into sort of M&A.
I’d also say you still have to bring a bit of accounting rigour that helps you interpret financial statements and that'll also go fast. I think a lot of the candidates I’ve interviewed over the years haven't—they might have been really strong in accounting or really strong on finance, but if you can bring them both together, it's a valuable package.
Q: Why did you decide to move into Strategy?
I guess that’s of reflective my personality. I've always been afraid of being pigeon-holed and I don't want to narrow my sort of my capabilities or my goals too early because I like that idea of optionality. I also love just continuously learning something different.
I spent, I think it was, five years in the deals practice and I really felt like I had that sort of very transactional and sort of valuation-focused skill set and capability. What I wanted to do was to solve different problems and broader problems. What I saw in management consulting was there was that ambiguity, that creativity, and the ability to transform a business or change a business but not just around a single valuation or a single transaction.
Q: Can you describe M&A Consulting?
I guess in M&A, the sort of consulting proposition centers around the post-merger integration strategy so designing a target operating model for combining two businesses or coming up with a strategy for an acquisition or even sort of carve out work so helping big corporates to divest subsidiaries for their future business.
Q: What is the process of recruiting into the Strategy team?
There is a rigorous case study process. You typically have between three and four interviews and at least two case studies. The case studies are typical of a sort of management consulting case study. There will be a brief. It'll be numerical, quantitative; it's also about asking the right questions. Having that thought process and being able to articulate how you would approach it even if there is ambiguity or the data is incomplete. What really impresses us is if someone can be very structured with their thinking and they can articulate that and run you through how they have tried to best solve the problem, that's what we’re typically looking for.
The one-on-one interviews; what we typically look for is a candidate that can talk to ideally their experience or their interests if they’re a new graduate. My recommendation would be stay abreast of what's happening in the market. In the financial review is a company and markets page, go straight to it every day; what are the deals in straight talk, who’s taking over, or where the interest is? Watch the business every night on the ABC. It's a great way to just stay on those trends and show that you’re really currently in the know.
Q: Why did you decide to pursue an MBA?
I’ve always had this passion for continuously learning. And what I saw in the MBA was an opportunity to round out some skill sets that I didn't pick up in my undergrad. So my undergrad was very sort of pointed and directional. It was quite technical with finance and accounting and I wanted to learn those particular skills. There are a lot of sort of softer areas of business and management that become important especially when you're either consulting to senior management or if you ever did want to become an executive that you really need to understand.
Particular areas of focus for me were sort of organizational behaviours so understanding people and incentives which isn't on the curriculum for undergrad; strategies—I've done a lot of strategy work, but I just wanted to have that the academic rigor around the strategic frameworks that I've been loosely applying in my job or hadn't even learnt yet. So I really focused on understanding strategy and studying strategy as part of my MBA. And then marketing, I've always loved the Gruen Transfer and love selling and an understanding of how businesses actually go to market.
I felt that learning how marketers go about things and what the right approach to take something to market or to get an audience engaged with something is a really powerful skill. Even if it's my personal brand and then trying to build my brand equity or my firm's brand or advising clients on those other facets of their business that aren’t traditionally covered in finance and accounting sort of qualification. For me, rounding out those skills was something I was really interested in.
Q: Have the skills you developed through competitive sport been useful in your career so far?
Absolutely. Throughout my Cadetship program, I was not only trying to juggle a Commerce degree but also trying to make representative teams for rowing. It was something that I always loved and I loved the competitiveness of it. I think that's probably one of the things I took away from competitive sport was you train and work hard and you’re really disciplined and you get rewards and benefits. For me, that was winning races, but in a work sense, it's about doing a little bit more to impress or making sure that I'm more prepared than probably everyone else and I think as an athlete, being prepared is how you win and in business, if you're prepared and you know what you're up for, you can be more successful.
The other thing I took away from training in competitive sport was just around time management. What it forced me to do was get up at four thirty or five o'clock and get to training and then try to run down to work and then work and then if I finished at a sensible time, getting to the gym after work. I think just being able to be really structured with my time and make it as effective as possible is something that's carried with me post-sport. It's certainly helped.
Q: Did your sporting interests help when interviewing for different roles?
What's important to show is that you've got other interests. You're not just one-dimensional and you’re not a bookworm who just studied incredibly hard for the interview. You want to show that you've got breadth of experience and an interest. Rowing and sort of my achievements in that sport were always something that helped with the interview process when they get down to your other achievements or interests.
Q: Classic interview question: What is your most valuable strength?
My most valuable strength I’d have to say is my passion for learning. And where that has served me is, I guess, academically, I've continued to study. I’ve always tried to learn more, which made me certainly better at my job. It's also meant that outside of that academic sense, whenever I take on a piece of work, I try to understand it to the “nth” degree, go to that extra level of detail, which again shows that I'm more prepared and know that particular business I’m consulting to better than everyone else. I'm a safe pair of hands and I’m trusted to now run a lot of these projects on my own because I'm you know very passionate about trying to learn the business or learn the problem or get to the right answer. It's that sort of detail and drive to learn that more has helped me.
Q: Classic interview question: What is your biggest weakness?
It’s two but they're interdependent. I’d have to say I'm a bit of a workaholic. That drive sort of meant that I struggle to leave work behind sometimes and I don't want to put it down because I know if I do a good job, it'll set me up for success. But then again, trying to find that balance is really hard and a lot of people say that. I guess also sort of driving that is sometimes I struggled to trust people that I haven't worked with before, so I can be, not controlling, but I certainly I’m in the detail of their work as well. I guess, where I have worked with someone at least once before, I get more comfortable with what they’re doing and what they deliver and that sort of means that I can give them more autonomy and room to move.
Q: Last thoughts?
What I would encourage is don't turn down a job at a great firm because it doesn't tick the boxes now. There are opportunities once you get in there, but you need to sort of try and progress those networks. You might not get that your ideal job from the outset but it can happen. It does all the time.
Bachelor of Business, UTAS - Hobart, TAS
Graduate Program, Professional Services Firm - Hobart, TAS
Fund Accountant, Mutual Fund - Melbourne, VIC
Associate, Commercial Bank - Sydney, NSW
Q: What were the benefits of starting out in accounting?
I think accounting is a great base for a career especially in Finance. Accounting is good because when you're looking at Finance, it gives you an understanding of complex business structures that a lot of people wouldn't know.
The Chartered Accounting (“CA”) qualification is really well recognized in accounting firms, but it's pretty much saturated in terms of everyone's got it. It's not like a couple people have it, everyone's got a CA have to do it in Accounting. It's not looked at as highly upon in Banking because people don't understand it. It's good to have. It might get you in the line for an interview, it might not, but it's not as strongly well regarded as a Chartered Financial Analyst qualification.
Q: How did you present the value of your CA when applying for the role?
You understand the mechanics of the Accounting. You can see where numbers are being hidden especially if you're on the buyer’s side and you're going to buy a company.
Q: How did you land the interview for the Associate role?
It took me about 18 months to get into Banking. I probably had, I reckon, 40 coffees with people across Melbourne. That was probably the best thing I did, if you are looking to transition, is reaching out to your network. Working at what opportunities are out there because what will happen is people call you.
So in my situation, I was tossing up doing a Masters or a CFA and I just went to heaps of coffees and the heaps of coffees led to “this person knows this person, and this person knows this person”. Eventually, an opening came up and the interviewer already knew that I had spoken to a vast majority of people so he came in with a sense of what I wanted to do.
Q: What was involved in the interview process?
I did a range of testing. I did four interviews. The first interview was probably the hardest because they really dug deep into my accounting knowledge, which is fine but really they were trying to poke holes. I think if you're going to go to an interview in Banking, you need to be prepared. You’re cant rock up and wing anything. So the best thing about it was leading up to that interview, I had 20 coffees or I had five or six interviews so I was prepared.
Q: What personality traits are they looking for through the interview process?
The one thing they wanted between going from Accounting to Finance, especially at the junior level, isn't how smart you are, isn't what your degree, to some extent were your grades are, but it's how much you’re prepared to work and how much you're prepared to work until 1am in the morning if there's a deal on. That's what most bosses want at the associate level. They want you to be hungry because most people who do a degree or go do a grad program are smart. It's really, at that associate level, how hungry you are to work and you need to go that extra step and that’s what lot of the guys who are directors want.
Q: Were any of your interviews particularly tough?
I was on video conference from Melbourne to Sydney and they are just hammering me and it was my first interview. It was hard because I couldn’t hear them. It can either be like, “oh that was horrible” or it can be about “what can I take from that”? And I took from that don’t ,interview on video conference.
Q: What is your top interview tip?
One thing that I would say to associates or people who are looking for jobs is go to as many interviews as you can because you’ll just get better. You’ll get more relaxed and you know what to say. Everyone will probably have a bad interview at some point.
Q: If you were hiring an analyst into your team, what traits would you look for?
It is important that you have someone who can get along with the team. You don't need someone who is going to upset the team. Secondly, probably more importantly, I just need someone who's hungry. At the associate level, you just need someone who's prepared to, if there's something going on and there’s a tight turnaround, they're going to be there. They're going to be working. They're going to be there to the end. Thirdly, me personally, what Uni they went to and what extra work they've done.
Q: Describe an interesting day in Advisory.
An interesting day is when your boss comes to you with a new idea or a new deal and he wants you to put the mechanics together or the pitch. It's something that's new, interesting, innovative so it hasn’t necessarily been done before, like it's a bit different and you go to the client maybe a week later and you pitch. That for me is like the heart of what I like to do. Working smart people who are aggressive—everything they do is one 100%.
Q: Describe a challenging day in Advisory.
A challenging day would be some really short deadlines or things I haven’t done before. It'd be to do a model of an acquisition in 24 hours using broker reports or a consensus and coming up with a conclusion of what you think the outcome will be, where there might be debt capacity or what the rating would look like or the synergies involved. The flip side of that is it's hard but if you don't enjoy it, you're probably in the wrong job. For me, being under pressure something I enjoy. I prefer to look at it like that.
Q: Classic interview question: What is your biggest weakness?
There are two schools of thought here. You can either lie, and provide a weakness that is actually a positive—or you can just be blatantly honest. It depends on the person interviewing you. I think the latter is probably better. Be blatantly honest. People really respect that a lot because they know the generic answer.
For me, I can completely and utterly go full speed ahead on something. So I look at a problem and I will just thisnk, that's the answer, that's what I need to do and have tunnel vision. That's something I need to work on. I mean, in an interview situation, you can try to turn that into a positive that if you can harness that.
I’d probably say slow down a bit.
Q: Last thoughts?
I think, if we’re talking about Banking specifically, it's quite competitive to get in. I think if you're at Uni right now and you're watching this, even in your last year, I'd really put in a solid effort into your grades. There's a certain benchmark across banking that you need to get and thinking that you're going to wing it won't work anymore. It might have worked 10 years ago.
For someone who doesn't have the grades, there are still heaps of options. It's more about maneuvering your way back into that area. There are probably three things that you can do. You could go work in an accounting firm and get your CA and try to transition across. You could do a Masters and just smash it, get good grades. You could just go and start in a bank and maneuver your way to the front office. There are options to maneuver. It's just that you need to be dedicated to what you are doing.
Associate, Institutional Bank
New York, NY
Bachelor of Commerce (Liberal Studies), USyd - Sydney, NSW
Graduate, Institutional Bank - Sydney, NSW
Associate, Inst. Bank, Asset Finance & Leasing - Sydney, NSW
Associate, Inst. Bank, Asset Finance & Leasing - New York, NY
My name's Monique. I studied a Bachelor of Commerce and Liberal Studies. I'm now working at an Australian domestic bank in Asset Finance and Leasing.
Q: What was the biggest challenge when applying for roles in banking?
I think the hardest thing for me was knowing which stream to apply for because with a lot of them, you have to list your preferences and at that point I had no idea what I wanted to do. You're looking at these streams like Risk, Wholesale Banking, Corporate Banking, and you can kind of infer as to what you'll be doing, but you don't actually know what the jobs would involve on a day-to-day basis. I found it really hard. I didn't have any family, friends, or any older friends that were already in the industry to ask.
So I went to the careers fair and spoke to the people there, but again it’s kind of a very brief conversation. You make an assumption based on limited information you have. It turned out that I made the right choice for the bank that I ended up in because I look at some of the other streams, I was considering applying for and they just wouldn't have been suited to what I want to do.
Q: What was the most challenging part of the interview process?
The panel interviews; I actually found a lot easier than the group testing because you know when you're on a table with six people that you've never met before and everyone's trying to find that balance of putting their hand up and talking and trying to show leadership skills, but not being overbearing because you know that's not what they want to see either. I think that's definitely the hardest stage in getting the job.
Q: Can you describe the panel interview process?
We had two lots of two-person interviews. In both instances, it was someone from the business and someone from HR. I think that was hard as well because I often bounce off the energy of the other person particularly in the interview sense. So I walked into the first one and both people were really relaxed and cracking jokes and really interested to have a chat about things other than work.
Then the second interview, that's where they asked me some more bendy questions about why this stream and why this industry and sort of, I guess, tested my knowledge about Banking and Finance a bit more. All the questions came from the person in the Business and I had the person from HR sitting and staring at me, didn't say a single word. I came out thinking, you know, no chance.
Q: What were some of the questions asked in the panel interview?
There were a lot of behavioural questions. What's an example of a time when you showed innovation? When did you struggle to work in a group? They asked me what my view on the gold price was. Now that I'm in the industry and maybe follow it, you have a broad idea of where gold is. But when you're at Uni and you have no real reason or interest in the gold price, you don’t have a view on the volatility of gold, you know what I mean? They can just throw you a random bendy question to see how you go and how you handle it.
Q: How should a candidate approach one of those tough questions?
If you sit there and flounder when they ask that kind of question, then it says something about you. But if you say, well, I don't know the answer, I haven’t looked into it lately, but my thoughts would be this, then at least you show that you can answer it in some form.
Q: How did you answer the behavioural questions without any professional experience?
Look at other interesting things that you've done whilst at Uni that they’d want to hear about. For example, I’d done an exchange program to Canada. Volunteer experience was another. I'd done a school building exercise in Fiji. I’d done some work volunteering for an indigenous student program that mentors indigenous students. Those were the ones that I talked about mostly.
Q: How was your experience received in the interview?
Although it's not the same as doing a summer internship at an accounting firm, at the end of the day, you’re building skills, you solve problems, and you’ve had to work with people. That's what they want to see. Whether you lived under a hole for your life at University or you've done something. Whether it's work experience or volunteer experience or travel or cultural experiences. They're really interested in all of those things.
Q: What was the toughest question you were asked?
I think the hardest questions was why did you apply for this stream because like I said, you have a bit of an idea of what the stream was, but nothing major. I just sort of winged the answer and spoke about why I didn’t apply for another stream I was considering applying for.
Q: What are some of the realities of working in banking that aren’t well understood outside the industry?
Definitely in Banking, there is an administrative side, which you can’t avoid. We were whinging about all the admin we had to do to our boss the other day and she turned around and said, you know what, Banking isn't all deals. It's not always about getting out there and doing exciting things. Banking is admin. If you don’t like administration, don’t get into Banking. It’s just kind of a harsh truth.
It’s more diverse than you'd expect. It's not like you come in and you know exactly what you're going to be doing or exactly how structured your day is going to be. I feel like there's always a new challenge whether it's internally, you know, you've got to battle with the risk team or finance team or a tax team on something that you're trying to push through as a deal team; or externally, you know, you never know which challenges the client is going to throw at you or what they're going to demand or how the regulatory landscape will change. I think you can't really know how it's going to be or what you're going to be doing on a day-to-day basis until you're in there doing it.
Q: What were the key steps to being offered a role in New York?
Probably it started a long time ago when I was a Grad. My first rotation as a Grad was with my current team. I did a year in other teams and then came back to them. Even as a grad, I flagged my interest very early on whenever it came up in conversation, I'd flag it with my manager that I wanted to work overseas.
I think it's good to plant that seed early. A lot of people have, you know, the best intentions and they’d love to go work overseas, but they never really flag that with their boss. It gets to two years down the track and they're not selected and they kind of wonder why.
I think also it's important to choose a team that you know will offer that. There's only a limited amount of offshore opportunities and although your broader company may offer them, a lot of teams within that won’t. When I started in the team, we were nine people domestically, we had no one offshore. Then in the last two-and-a-half years, it expanded to be I think 18 or 19 people and now we’re in Singapore, Hong Kong, London, and the New York team will start when I head over there next week.
It was kind of having that discussion when I was deciding where I wanted to roll off the Grad Program. Having that discussion as to what are the opportunities and yes it's partly chance as to where you may end up. I think other than that, once you're in the job that is going to offer you opportunities to go offshore, you really need to prove yourself. I think I am more junior than a lot of the people that have been offered a similar opportunity in the past, so I really had to work hard at proving myself to my boss, proving that I can you not only do the work but do it to a high level essentially, when you're isolated and the majority of your business is based in Sydney or Melbourne, then you know you need to have a good understanding of not only your work but how the systems work and I guess link back in because you’re already so distant and you're not able to just turn around and ask someone for help. They need to have complete confidence that you can do the job and do everything ancillary to the job as well. A big trust element.
Q: Classic interview question: What is your most valuable strength?
I think that I'm quite malleable in that I can go in and if I have to do something very meticulous and detail-oriented and analytical, I can sit down there and I can do it. If I need to do something that requires a big personality, to be personable and confident, I can do that. I think I can bounce off the needs of the team well in that you kind of figure out what people need and figure out what your bosses are looking for and try and tailor it to what they want. I think that would be my biggest strength.
Q: Classic interview question: What is your biggest weakness?
It could be similar to the strength in that I do like bounce off I guess what I think the other person, my boss, my manager, whoever it is wants or needs. Say in an interview, when I walked into that interview situation and I was had a stone-cold face staring at me, I didn't feel like I could come in and try and change the mood, I just bounced off them and was quite intimidated at the time. I think it's definitely a weakness to not be able to think that you can go in and change the mood and drive the conversations where you want it to be.
Bachelor of Engineering & Commerce, UoM - Melb, VIC
Graduate, Institutional Bank - Melbourne, VIC
Senior Associate, Inst. Bank, Corp Fin & Advisory - Sydney, NSW
Associate, Investment Bank, Leverage Fin. - Sydney, NSW
I grew up in Melbourne. I went to Melbourne Uni. I did Commerce and Engineering, Finance and Chemical Engineering within that. Now, I live in Sydney and I’m working at an investment bank.
Q: How did you decide which direction to take your combined degree?
When you’re in your final year, you sort of have to, as everyone's aware, you have to have a good idea of where you're going to go early in the year. By that stage, I'd done mainly Commerce and my final year was finishing off Engineering, and when I look back at it now, a lot of what I remember about that degree, a lot of the key stuff I learned was in that last year. I still hadn't even got to that point when I was applying for grad jobs.
So to be honest, I didn't really apply for many at the start of that last year. That was sort of when I made my mind up that I think I’m better off having a year off, you know, doing some travel. I was still focused on sports and playing football back then. I thought it’d be the best thing for me to do and then reassess. I could graduate in December, go through all the applications in January, February, March of the next year, find something to do, have some time off, work, save some money, and I guess have a bit of fun before the career started.
Q: What industries did you target when applying for graduate roles?
I started applying for a lot of companies. I applied for not so much the accountants but some consultants and I also applied for engineering whilst my preference is probably for commerce, you know, I had an engineering degree, I thought let’s go through the interview process. Let's meet some people who are working in the industry and maybe I’ll change my mind. Hopefully, I'll get a couple of offers and I can decide which one is best for me.
Q: What was the biggest challenge through the graduate interview process?
You’re taught that you go to school, you study hard, and you finish year 12, you study hard at Uni, and then you get a job. Then you’re sitting there with a degree, which I thought was a good degree and you hear from people that there’s not a lot of jobs out there, you need some more experience, these sort of things. I hadn't done any internships and this was just after the GFC, and I had an internship at an engineering firm that was cancelled so I was sitting there with no professional experience, yeah, what I thought was a good degree. I was worried about what was going to happen.
It was also a good learning experience because you meet people in businesses and you have a better feel. When you go to a company and you go through the initial interview, you have a better feel for whether you want to work there or not. Some, I had good feelings about, some I had bad feelings and I sort of ruled myself out of those processes. All in all, it's a pretty tricky time. You're under a lot of stress. You’re probably living at home with not much money thinking, well, everything’s supposed to be falling into line now and it's not. You sort of just put your head down to have some faith that eventually it’ll work out. Lucky enough for me it did.
Q: Was there a benefit of having an Engineering degree when interviewing at a bank?
Absolutely, there definitely was. To be honest, I was probably a bit naive to start with. I thought I’ll apply for engineering jobs and I’ll tell them I've got an Engineering degree and Commerce. I’ll apply for Finance jobs and tell them I have a Commerce degree and I did Engineering. Pretty quickly, I realized that people, whether it's right or wrong, do value the Engineering and Science degrees as well. Once I realized that, I tried to leverage it and playoff it.
I was aware that it was probably going to be a point of difference for me, as you say it's not the most common degree, so I absolutely made the most of it. I'd try and push the problem-solving skills, analytical skills, just general maths and ability that would hopefully set me apart from the others. My general experience was that people reacted to that positively, people interviewing me. Certainly, HR people who sit on interviews will always ask me about the engineering and I thought, well, this has to be positive, so I made the most of it.
Q: How did you apply the skills you learned in engineering when interviewing for roles in banking?
As part of my design project in the last year, one thing we have to do is work out the feasibility of a project. Some of it comes back to bankers actually financing something and working out if it's going to make the right amount of money to pay back a loan. Acceptable returns for equity shareholders. That was something that I really actually enjoyed as part of my degree. It was a little bit different to sitting in a classroom and learning formulas and first principles, proofs and things.
I enjoyed that and I mentioned that in interviews. I would say, look, I’ve worked on this project just last year. In my example, I was talking about mining. It was getting something from a deposit in the ground to a full-on production facility that is producing something to sell overseas and make money for shareholders.
That's what I enjoyed and when I went to the bank, I said that's what I've done and I really liked it. I know you have teams that do this. I know these project financing teams who do this in the energy space, who do this in natural resources space, and the infrastructure space as well. That something I have a keen interest in. I want to know more about banking as a whole, and that's something that, if I was successful in this particular application, I would like to go in and put my hand up and say, hey, can I spend some time in that team. And I think going in and saying look, yeah, I know who CBA is, I know who Ian Narev is, but also being able to say I know you have a team that has this particular function, I’m very interested in that. I've done some work in that particular area. I think I’m decent at it and I’m enthusiastic. When you have a tangible team to point to like that, my experience was it is valued highly and it's a little bit different to saying hey, I saw Westpac raised some money last week and I know their share price is tracking at this particular level. Having something you can point to that you're clearly interested in and clearly have worked on, certainly goes down well in an interview scenarios.
Q: What interested you in moving from a Commercial Bank to an Investment Bank?
I enjoy my time at the commercial bank that I worked at. After my grad year, I went in to an advisory team and to be honest, I was essentially on secondment for two years. I worked on one big project financing a mining deposit. I really enjoyed the client interaction. I enjoyed being at their offices working with CFOs and CEOs helping them with their analysis in a small little team working towards a larger goal. I worked on that particular transaction for nearly two years and it closed.
The team that I was in were all investment bankers and I liked the way that they went about it. It was a slightly different culture to the other teams that had worked with as a grad. I really enjoyed that. But we finished this big mandate and the pipeline was a little bit thin. I thought what am I going to be working on from here and I started to get dragged into some other things that really just weren’t as interesting to me; I sort of passively started to think about other opportunities.
Q: How did the opportunity to move to an Investment Bank arise?
As it happens all the time in the finance industry, recruiters get in touch with you and a lot of headhunting happens. I was approached by an investment bank looking for someone with a similar experience to me mainly being debt knowledge, understanding bank financing processes, understanding credit processes, and particularly more complex financial modelling, I went through a couple of processes there, and I was really impressed by what was on offer there. I think the opportunities and the breadth of transactions you can work on at an investment bank was far greater than what was offered to me in my old role at the commercial bank.
Naturally, I was very interested. The people who interviewed me were great. They were ex-commercial bankers themselves who moved to an investment bank and had done very well and had their finger on the pulse of what was happening in the market. Instead of being in a commercial bank where you might just do investment grade syndications, you might just do industrial corporate loans. I had the opportunity to work in a team that did a whole lot of different things in different sort of environments with actual client interaction as we weren't as internally-focused. Naturally, I jumped at the chance there. When I look back, I spent nearly 50-50 of my career in a commercial investment bank. Now, I’m certainly happy with the decision.
Q: What were the key differences when applying for an experienced role in banking?
I think the three main things that I seem to focus on and that people that our current bank focus on when we’re looking at people is really culture and the fit of somebody, technically, are they up to the task, and thirdly, do they have the work ethic—can they do the hours and be productive.
When you’re a grad, I think the focus is mainly on fit and are you the right person. If you've got through the initial online testing and things like that, you’re smart enough. So it’s a whole lot about fit and work ethic. Once you've been working for a little while, the expectation is you've developed some very valuable technical skills. You need to hit the ground running now.
When I was interviewing at the investment bank, the focus was very much more on what deals have you worked on, what did you do on those deals, how would you approach the situation? You interview with a lot of different people who have been in the business for a long time ask you some pretty tricky questions. It's very much more focused on your technical skills and also work ethic as well.
That's another thing that when we’re hiring people from another industry or another company, the concern is have they worked this many hours in a week? Can they do four things at once? Can they deal with the pressure of senior people and clients being aggressive towards them? Can they deliver on everything that we need to? Because mistakes, unfortunately, are not tolerated as much. So those two things were with the key focus.
Q: What was the biggest challenge when moving into Investment Banking?
The people and the culture are a little bit of a challenge. When you first move in and you’re sort of wary of proving that you're up to it, that you are smart enough to be there, and that you can work hard enough. Everyone is very driven, very intelligent people, especially the senior people are quite hard-nosed in their approach to doing deals, everything is urgent, everything is a high-pressure, and everything is a very critical. It takes a little while to adjust. That was certainly one of the challenges early on.
From there, once you sort of find your feet under the desk and you know you meet some people and you become friends with them, it gets a little bit easier. The ongoing challenge is just workload. As with most of the investment banks that have offices onshore, teams aren’t large, and you're expected to do a whole lot more with a whole lot less than what other companies do. You never have any time to do anything and you have to make a lot of personal sacrifices. That's the ongoing challenge really.
Office of the NSW
Bachelor of Economics, UTAS - Hobart, TAS
Graduate Program, State Treasury - Sydney, NSW
Economic Analyst, State Treasury - Sydney, NSW
Policy Advisor, Office of the NSW Treasurer - Sydney, NSW
I finished a degree in Economics. Before that I studied Medicine, Law, Business, and Science. I started studying because I wanted to become a vet. So I’ve studied pretty much everything that UTAS has to offer. I finished Economics majoring in Quantitative Economic Analysis. That's just the numbers side of it. You can do an Economics degree that focuses basically just on the ideas and this is the ideas plus the numbers so you have to do the Math as well.
Q: When graduating, what sort of experience did you have?
I worked in Hospitality during Uni so when I was sort of getting to the crunchy point of my degree, I realised that I needed to get some relevant experience. I offered one of my lecturers to become a research assistant for her. She was an Environmental Economist. I just helped her out, which was really great.
Q: What options did you consider towards the end of your degree?
Doing more study, post-grad stuff, or getting a job. I started applying for everything I could. Organizations or companies that offered a grad program because I sort of felt from my experience, education and work-wise, I was not ready. I had no idea what I wanted to do. I kind of thought I might want to do environmental economics, but truth be told, I had no idea what that actually involved outside of a research role and how to get there either, so I was just looking for grad programs mainly because I figure that's a good way to sort of continue learning and get more of a feel of what my Economics degree actually does in a work environment.
It was pretty broad. I was looking interstae. I applied for some of the Big 4 accounting firms. I applied for the Commonwealth Government. I applied for State Governments. I was open to ideas because I didn’t want to lock myself into something. So I just decided to see what I got offered and then I could make a decision from that point.
Q: How important were grades in the initial screening process?
Marks are important. So many people doing an Economics degree said you have to do Honors before you can get a job and I really didn't want to have to do Honors. Marks definitely played a role but not the be all and end all. I think when I got the job—of all the grads, I think I was one of the few who didn't have honors, but I still got it. I had good Bachelor’s degree marks.
Q: The assessment centre.
I knew for the assessment center that there were three parts. There was an interview, a group work assessment, and a written assessment. That was sort of all I knew.
Q: The assessment centre: The interview.
So I went down to the careers office at my Uni and said I've got this interview coming up. They were amazing. They organized a mock interview. They had a pretend panel. They told me to come dressed as I would for an interview. I think they prepared like 30 questions may be, interviewed me, and then gave me detailed feedback. Each of them gave me detailed feedback on each question.
It was so useful. Every generic interview question was asked. You’ll never get asked all of these questions but hopefully, we've asked pretty much every question you could get asked. All of the like what's your biggest weakness, all of those questions. They told me how to answer them all.
And they helped with all the little things, for example I said “I think I’m good at this” and they told me I should say “I am good at this”. Little things like that that you'd never pick up on yourself and I spoke at the right volume and at the right speed.
Q: The assessment centre: The group assessment.
The group assessment; I went in and they just ask you to work together to come up with a list of solutions to a problem. It’s all about seeing how you interact and some people just came in there and I was with a group of guys and one guy told me to be the scribe. Well, you are out.
Q: The assessment centre: The written assessment.
The written assessment was probably the hardest bit because I was expecting a written assessment but it was actually on computers. It was using Excel. It was using like a really old Windows operating system where I’ve always used Macs. It was quite difficult and you had like 15 minutes or something so I was also trying to work out a sensible answer to 10 questions very quickly. I don't think anyone would’ve got the right answers but it was just that, obviously, it was a work-under-pressure sort of test.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about the grad program?
Treasury’s grad program offered three rotations for different areas of Treasury. It was great. It shows you how broad the work that is done in a state government, specially a State Treasury Department because Treasury is a central agency. You're involved in every government department because you’re managing their budget, tracking their financials, and providing advice on all of their policy initiatives that require funding or that have an economic impact on the state.
It’s really interesting. You're also working on economic policy, ideas and theoretical work. There are parts of Treasury that they do economic forecasting, modelling, interpreting all the data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, financing and infrastructure. There’d be so much stuff that I haven't even touched on like putting together the state budget.
There’s such a broad range of work. It was really interesting doing that rotation and getting to see what different parts of treasury you’re working in and how it all sort of comes together.
Q: How did the content of your economics degree apply on a day to day basis in Treasury?
I think often an Economics degree is almost a way of thinking. Corny as that sounds, it’s sort of a framework to structure your thinking around and how to decide whether something should go ahead and the factors that you take into account. They’re sort of basic economic principles like cost-benefit analysis, you know, all of these ideas that sort of becomes second nature.
Those principles becomes like common sense, you think rationally about ideas. That’s probably what I use more than any of my quantitative economic analysis. Sometimes the Treasury use that. That’s not my strong suit.
Q: Are there opportunities in Treasury for graduates with other degrees?
Basically Economics, Finance, or Accounting were the pools of graduates they hired from.
Q: How did you move into a Policy Advisory role?
After I finished the grad year, I was accepted into the department that I wanted - a permanent role in the area that I wanted which was the Economic Policy Division working in productivity and regulatory reform. From there a secondment was offered to become their departmental liaison officer in the Treasurer’s office, which was almost actually like an admin role but really interesting to work in a Treasurer’s Office and see sort of top-down have the organization was structured and how after you sort of do all the work and send it all up to the Minister's office what happens. Instead of hearing it on the news that there’s a new policy? Then after that, I actually got offered a role to stay with the Treasurer as their Policy Advisor.
Q: What is involved in being a Policy Advisor?
Now, what I do is recieve advice from the Department of Treasury. They might provide options from a Treasury perspective and I look at those options from a broader sense with a different lens. Then it's also working very closely with all the other minister’s officers on their policy ideas because they obviously come to the Treasurer to seek funding and working out a workable solution with them on what we can afford and what’s the best way to do it and the state budget is obviously a huge thing.
Q: Classic interview question: What is your biggest weakness?
I’m a perfectionist. Haha, no never say that ever say that. That’s a big rule…
When you’re under time pressure and wanting to do the work to a certain standard managing between a deadline and the quality of work. So getting that balance right and needing to take advice on that. Almost the same as saying you’re a perfectionist but without being quite so obvious.
From my perspective, it's a really exciting job to come from a little economics degree at UTAS.
Bachelor of Commerce, Macquarie Uni - Sydney, NSW
Service Consultant, Wealth Management - Sydney, NSW
Associate, Institutional Bank - Sydney, NSW
Masters of Applied Finance, Macquarie Uni - Sydney NSW
Senior Associate, Institutional Bank - Sydney, NSW
I hadn’t even heard of what a grad position was until around my last year at Uni. It wasn't stuff that my friends and I were talking about. I thought you just went into a job because you had a degree. The reality is that's not necessarily how it works and a degree now is not that much of a distinguishing feature. You need to have a degree with good marks and a good personality that makes you employable.
Q: What were the challenges of finding a role after graduating?
My first couple of years at Uni, I very much didn't apply myself. I think in my first year, out of the eight subjects that I did, I failed three of them. I knew that I had a year left of Uni and that after that, I wasn't going to absolutely get into a grad program so I started thinking about what I could do. I thought do I want to have another year left at Uni having fun and working in pubs and coaching swimming or do I want to get that first year of a fairly mediocre job out of the way by the time I have my degree and be more employable and more qualified for serious sorts of roles? I started applying for entry level roles in anything in finance. I wasn't specific. It was about what kind of company I was working for.
Q: What was your first graduate role?
I was working in the admin team for a bank-run financial planning business essentially. It's an administrative, call-taking role. I was in that team for 18 months. It was hard. It was work that was not interesting. It was work where you're getting treated quite poorly. Until you've done that kind of job, you don't realize what bottom of the pile means. You genuinely are bottom of the pile in that role. Then I moved over to their investment research team.
Q: How did you BRDG from Wealth Management to Banking?
I applied through the bank that I was working, for their internal mentor program and I intentionally applied for a mentor in the Markets area because I wanted someone who is completely outside of my area, he started introducing me to a very senior people in all these different areas of the bank. From Markets to Banking to Debt Capital Markets and all this sort of stuff and sort of opened up a whole world of banking that I didn't know existed.
I probably applied for four roles and had been told “no” on the first three and then the fourth role was an entry-level role in banking. Luckily, I got offered the role with nothing really apart from attitude and aptitude to learn things.
Q: What was the key to your success when interviewing for a role in Banking?
I didn’t try and tell them how much I knew because I think in this industry, people interviewing you are generally quite smart and they can sniff out fakeness. They're very experienced. They all have 10-20-30 years of experience and trying to impress them about how much you know when you would hope and expect that they know so much more than you, I don't think it's the pathway to convincing them.
What I was trying to impress on them is that, hopefully I’m brighter than the average person applying, that I just want to learn and I'm willing to work harder than the average person to do that knowing that I'm starting a little bit behind potentially than the other applicants in terms of knowledge base.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about working in Institutional Banking?
I learned about all these sorts of I guess instruments and ways of funding that I had no idea existed. It's a very complex world. I think Institutional Banking is complex in a sense of there's just so much to understand that there’s a huge amount of content. I think you can be working, and I speak about this with the senior people in my team, you can be working for 20 years and find out that one of your clients has been funding themselves in a way that you may not have seen previously and you have to get your head around that quite quickly.
It's an ever evolving world. People are always looking for more efficient, cheaper, safer ways to fund themselves.
Q: Why did you decide to pursue a Masters of Applied Finance?
Luckily, I had a manager there who thought quite highly of me. He was doing his Masters of Applied Finance. He encouraged me to do my Masters of Applied Finance and so I enrolled in my Masters. My Masters was a lot more interesting than my undergrad degree. It was something that interests me and I could see the purpose. It was something I was doing not just because I finished school and everyone from my high school went into the Commerce degree. It was something that I was doing for a purpose. I knew what that purpose was.
Q: How important was your Masters in preparing you for a role in Banking?
No education will ever teach you the same as what a role does. All it does is it deepens your understanding on what you're working on. I think that's genuinely what it does. I had all these eureka moments my Masters saying oh, that's why we do that or that's why that works like that.
A lot of times, you do things in your role that you might not genuinely understand the method or the reason behind that, but Uni gets you to that. That only makes you better at your role, but you'll never be able to discuss a role properly. You’ve maybe not done that role, but worked in a role junior or parallel to that sort of role. I haven't experienced Uni being able to teach you how to do a role.
Q: What was the biggest benefit of doing a Masters?
The network has really useful for me and being able to speak with class mates about things in different industries, get advice from some people that are older, some are my age, some are a younger. So you have that full spectrum of, I guess, people in different stages of their careers able to guide you in how they do things and stuff like that. We all still keep in touch. There’s been that direct benefit in terms of my current role.
Q: How did you BRDG to a role in a different Commercial Banks?
I was in an elective subject being taught by someone who actually worked for the same bank that I did and teaching on that subject matter. Another girl in that class was also working in financial institutions at another commercial bank. I've met her a couple of times. We had never really spoken about work and she asked me if I wanted to have coffee with her boss.
I was brought up to this other bank’s office, like very sneakily. I went in and it was an interview, which I was completely unprepared for. I think it was surprise interview to me, potentially not to them internally. There were two executive directors and they were just throwing questions at me.
Q: How did the interview differ when applying for an experienced role in Banking?
Different to my previous interviews to move over to Banking. I actually knew a fair bit more about the subject matter and the role. All the commercial banks really do the same thing and I had done the work at another commercial bank and so I should understand the method around it.
Q: What was the key to your success when applying for a more experienced role in Institutional Banking?
It was more at this point about cultural fit. Through the interview for my current role, I met maybe five or six people face-to-face and awas lso dealing regularly, almost every two or three days, with the HR people over that six-week process. You have these eight people there that you're interacting with and you need to make sure that all of them think that you can do the role. These roles are so marginal. You are never a “shoe-in”. All it takes is for one of them to think this guy's not someone who I like or I think someone will clash with this person and that's it, because I don't want to disrupt the current team that they have. They want to keep their harmony, if you're not going to fit into that. You need to make sure that you are likeable, essentially, I think.
Q: Classic interview question: What is your most valuable strength?
I think you've got to be a bit cynical with that question. You need to know a little bit about what the role is that you're applying for and potentially what they're worried about. For me, when I was applying for my first role in banking, I was saying my most valuable strength was that I work hard and I learn very quickly. I knew that they were worried about me not necessarily having the background to be able to do the role. It's going to be different for each role. You can't have a stock answer. You need to understand what you're applying for and what your weaknesses are and try and cover that off.
Bachelor of Commerce, UoM - Melbourne, VIC
Intern, Professional Services Firm - Melbourne, VIC
Senior Consultant, Professional Services Firm - Melbourne, VIC
Graphic Design Course, Shillington College - Melbourne, VIC
Graphic Designer, Plain Creative - Melbourne, VIC
I currently work as a Freelance Graphic Designer. I used to be an Accountant.
Q: What was the hardest part of interviewing at a Professional Services Firm?
I actually found it very easy. I’m going to be honest. I applied and interviewed at two places and got offers from both of them. I think I was very good at talking inan interview and I just sort of imagined what they wanted to hear.
Q: What was the most important benefit of an internship?
I had no idea what work was going to be like. You still don't get a good idea when you go through the interview process. Like you go inside the building and you meet people who work there and you meet a partner per say or they take you on a tour around the office, but it still doesn't really convey the idea of what it would be like to actually work there.
You get to be a fly on the wall for six to eight weeks and just observe. I mean you're working obviously, but they don’t really give you anything too tricky. I just sort of felt like being an intern, I really got to see what it was like. Both parties got to test each other out. You got to see what that firm is like and they can see what you’re like and see if you’re up to the task or if you can be trained, I guess.
Q: What are some common misconceptions about working in Accounting?
Anti-social, sort of boring dudes who are pouring over the Financial Review every day or something. It was hugely diverse and complex like you have so many different teams and everyone's very friendly and everyone has a social life outside of work.
Q: What were the challenges of working in Accounting?
There were some demands. I started out in Insolvency and I had to travel a bit around Australia. Then I moved into Transaction Services. There was also some travel with Transaction Services but, in general, the hours were very demanding. So having a good work-life balance was a big challenge for me.
Q: What sparked your interest to look outside Professional Services?
I was looking around for a change, but I was looking within corporate, so I was thinking of moving into maybe Investment Banking, maybe going and working as an Accountant in industry for a company as opposed to doing Professional Services, but I started to realize that I wanted something completely different. I was actually talking with the HR department at PWC and they suggested that I go seek some career counselling. So I did that.
I had two or three sessions with a career counselor. She really helped me sort of break open my mindset of looking just corporate. It was kind of like in your wildest dreams, what would you want to be doing and I kind of really tapped into that. I said I was always really artistic when I was young and I wanted to be an artist. So I decided to explore that.
I actually did a lot of research. I looked at a lot of people on LinkedIn. People who were doing things that I would want to do. I looked at what their qualifications were; how they’ve come on this journey. So I found that really helpful. I basically was like, oh, this person is an art director or magazine editor. I just looked at what pathway they had taken to get to that point.
It was kind of daunting because you're talking about starting from ground zero. With a corporate background, it's not going to help you that much in a sort of creative sense, I guess.
Q: How did you BRDG into Graphic Design?
I think to get me in the right frame of mind; I did a painting short course. It was like a six-week painting short course. On a Wednesday evening, I would go along to this place and do oil painting and they would serve wine and cheese. It was nice being around all the people there as well and all the creatives. And the teachers were—they were painters. They work and live as painters. It's nice to sort of meet them and be like oh, you earn a living as a painter and this is your life. It was pretty cool.
After a lot of searching, I found a course. It's run by Shillington, which is a private college and they actually help with people who have career transitions. You can complete the course and enter the workforce pretty much straight away instead of doing like a four-year graphic design degree, which would have been quite daunting I think for me.
Q: What were the challenges you faced while changing careers?
I made this change and I was actually doubting myself the entire course. I didn't back myself or I didn't believe in myself creatively as much as I could have, but I think I needed to go through that process. I didn't want to sort of spend three or four years studying a degree when I wasn't 100% sure. I needed to do something quick that was going to let me know straight away, like, can I do this or can’t I do this?
Q: What were some of the challenges starting your own business?
You're going to be upset. You're going to make a lot of mistakes. But you have to do it. The buck stops with you so you have to do it. You learn so much across all different levels of the business. You learn about administration, you learn about business development, you learn about client management, and dealing with a client and making them happy. What do they want and how can you give that to them?
I've learned a lot about myself as well like running my own business. I wouldn’t take back any of my experience including my accounting business background because that’s been like invaluable with starting out my own business.
Q: Classic interview question: What is your most important strength?
The most important strength I’d like to say is resilience. I think that no matter what happens to my work or in my life, I feel like I can always pull myself back up and keep going.
Q: Classic interview question: What is your biggest weakness?
I think my biggest weakness today has probably been having a bit of a closed mind. I think that's changing for me but I’ve sort of approached things quite prejudiced most of my life not sort of exploring or seeing other points of view or perspective. It's something that I’m working on at the moment.
On the topic of career, thinking that I couldn't make money as a creative or an artist or I couldn't earn a living as an artist. That misconception or that way of thinking pushed me away from studying art when I was younger and pushed me towards studying Math and Science and then eventually Commerce and then eventually move into Accounting. It was all borne from the idea that being an artist or being creative wasn't a real job. It would have been amazing if I’ve had other mentors or someone else to speak to, to open up my eyes a little bit more and help me see what else is out there and understand what else is out there.
International Institutional Bank
Bachelor of Commerce & Arts, Monash - Melbourne, VIC
Graduate Program, Commercial Bank - Melbourne, VIC
Master of Applied Finance, Kaplan - Melbourne, VIC
Why did I study Finance to start with? There was an interest in General Markets, Politics, there was a curiosity in Business. Probably my inter-curiosity was more into entrepreneurship and small business, but somehow I've got myself into big business instead.
Q: What is your top tip for a Commercial Banking Graduate interview?
It's getting the basics right to start with because as a grad, you're not going to know anything about Banking or Finance. It's getting the basics right, coming to work on time, wanting to learn, and willing to support wherever you can.
So in the interview process, that's what you need to pitch. You need to have a very strong work ethic. You're willing to learn. You've got an interest in what you're doing. Yes, you've got to pitch why you want to work in that organization. Yes, you’d like to end up in a certain role, but it's mostly about your personality type, your eagerness to learn, and your willingness to work hard. That should be enough to get someone over the line.
Q: What would be your advice for answering behavioural questions?
It makes sense why they use it and they’ve got to distinguish you somehow. Having interviewed people as well and given these behavioral questions to them, I don't think they're looking for the right answer. They’re just looking for the right way that you answer the question. No matter how hard or how stupid a behavioral question is, if you handle yourself well, I think you'll be fine. If you’re rational, don't get flustered, you can talk through a situation, be it the right way or the wrong way, it has the end outcome, I think that's all that’s required.
I think people get bogged down too much in behavioral questions. It's not about the answer in my opinion. It's about how you came to the answer and how you handled yourself through that process. If you don't have an answer, just be genuine, be honest, be upfront, and talk through at a hypothetical situation.
Ultimately, they're looking just for a human being, someone who they’re going to spend time with in the office. They want to see someone who handles themselves normally even under high pressure situations such as an interview. That's all you've got to show in a behavioural answer.
Q: What do you look for when hiring an analyst?
The first thing which I look for is just a good person. Someone you can trust. Someone you get along with. As I mentioned, long hours in the office and we've got to be able to enjoy their company. With that, once they’re a good person, you can get over that hump. You want to see if they're a smart person, someone who can learn quickly. Depending on what level you're looking for, if it's a graduate level, I'm not looking for technical skills yet, but I'm looking for someone who is willing to learn those technical skills and is capable of grasping them.
Someone who is a fast learner and is willing to take on challenges. You might be a fast learner, but you might be someone who is lazy, who's not willing to put in the time and the effort. I think lastly, I’m looking for someone who is reliable, who you can depend on, that you can give a piece of work to and you know you'll get a positive outcome or response. They'll work to get the right outcome at the end of it all.
Q: What are the key differences between an Australian Commercial Bank and an International Bank?
I’ll start by saying the resources of an Australian domestic bank—you've got a lot more resources at your disposal. There's a lot more staff there, a lot more training. I felt like I was probably utilized for about 70% of my work capacity, which gave me time for personal development, training. I could stop, ask questions.
There was also a lot of support. A typical team structure would have about four different roles in the hierarchy. There was always people more senior you could consult. They would send you off for training. They would invest in you.
The weakness comes that when you get to a certain point when you want to be challenged a bit more. I feel like my current role where I don't have the resources at my disposal, but I feel like I've developed up a stronger platform and base in what I'm doing, I'm now being utilized to about 120% of my capacity. It’s longer hours, there's a lot more work. As such, it's probably the grounding you get at a bank with a lot of resources is that you get that good grounding from day one.
I think it's also important to note that at every organization there are be strengths and weaknesses. I think that, for example, if you worked at a commercial bank in Australia, their products suite and what they do in Australia is quite broad. They do everything because they bank the Australian market.
If you go for a smaller boutique institution, they’ll only do certain niche parts of the market, so you might become more of an expert in the niche if you started at a certain other institution, but you might miss the broader grounding. It's sort of would you rather be a master of something specific or a master of none but sort of you cover all bases. It's a bit of both and there's no right way.
Q: What were your key reasons for moving to an International Bank?
I wanted a fresh opportunity and a new perspective. In this new role that I’m in now, I get that. I'm on different transactions. I’m with different people that can teach new things to me. I’m looking at a different type of market. You got to accept that whilst loyalty is important, your career must come first. These challenges that presented themselves at a different organization were too good to pass up on.
Q: How did the International Bank interview compare with your Graduate interview?
If you are comparing what we discussed earlier, the Graduate interview process, once you're in the market and once you've had the experience in going for the interview, the interview is a lot easier because suddenly the intangible of you’re not sure what the job entails becomes very tangible. You've done it for five years in my case.
I became far less behavioural and more technical. Things like what transactions have you worked on, what type of Banking and Finance expertise do I have, how many years experience do I have, and what markets have I looked at—these types of questions. Suddenly the person interviewing you can quantify how much value-add you can even bring instantly where as it’s hard for them to do so for a Graduate because you're just not sure how it's going to end up.
I found the interview process a lot easier but it was a lot more technical. So things like a financial modelling test was given because after a certain number of years, you've got to have a certain level of competency and they want to test for that. A lot more technical and a lot less sort of pie-in-the-sky behavioral type stuff.
Q: Classic interview question: What is your most valuable strength?
Like I mentioned earlier that what I am looking for when I’m hiring for someone? I'm looking for someone who's willing to work hard and is a quick learner. Those types of things would then have to come out in your strengths question. I personally do try and see and hold myself into account that let’s say reliability is something that I have a strength in.
Reliability can be reliable under time pressure but it's also reliable in terms of willing to get the job done no matter what it takes. These are the sorts of things that your prospective employer will be looking for.
Q: Classic interview question: What are your two biggest weaknesses?
I like to get through the work quickly. It's always been a focus on a personal level to slow it down and focus more on the detail on the granular. I’m probably looking well into the future when I need to focus more on the present getting your immediate task at hand done.
Putting too much pressure on myself. That’s a good answer because he puts pressure on himself to get a good result. So suddenly you turned a weakness into a positive. That's a weakness because you might not get the right outcome. You might burn out in the job and things like that. Whatever it is, that's just one example. But then it's just flipping the weakness into a positive and how you can a positive contributor to a team, I guess is where you go from there. As long as it’s a weakness, I guess that can be corrected. It’d be an issue if it wasn't because you wouldn't be hired then.