At FutureLab Talks with Accenture which took place on the 21st January 2017, we spoke with 4 very insightful and inspiring consultants from Accenture; Ashwin Kandapper, Su-Queen Hong, Tiffanie Ong and Pui Li Ho. Between them, they have over 15 years of experience in management consultancy with Accenture. We spoke to them about the Accenture interview process, how often Accenture hires and for some tips and tricks in the consultancy game. Here’s what they said:
1. Can you tell us about Accenture’s interview process? What’s it like and what are some common pitfalls of graduates applying?
Tiffanie: When I walked into the first interview, I wasn’t expecting case studies. I thought they would focus on going over my CV and such, but the first question I was asked was ‘How many individual french fries does all the MacDonald’s in the Klang Valley sell in a year. Obviously, with this type of question, there are no right or wrong answers. It was more about the process you would take to solve it.
How I answered this was I broke it down into the number of stores there are, then I broke up the working hours into peak and non-peak hours. The number of customers during these hours, how many of them buy small, medium or large in average. Then I assumed how many French Fries were in each packet. When in an interview they want to see the processes you use behind problem solving. It is about breaking it down into different components and what kind of benchmarks you need to be able to arrive at a solution.
For the following interviews I was given a case based on what the senior manager at the time was working on, and they were looking at how to solve problems and answering in a structured manner.
I would recommend ‘Case In Point’ to young graduates looking to practice their case study solving skills.
Su-Queen: During my interview process I was put into a team to see how well we could work together. My assumption is because they want to see what kind of person you are in terms of being a team player, the leader or the sheep.
2. Does Accenture hire all year round or is there a specific deadline for applications to be submitted?
Ashwin: We hire all year round, but the peak hire periods coincide with university graduations around the world, so considering when students graduate from university in Australia, US, UK or anywhere around the world. There are no specific deadlines for getting hired but the state of the market plays a role in how many we take in each year.
Can each of you share an experience as a management consultant at Accenture? What do you remember about your first project?
Su-Queen: When I graduated I didn’t know what to do. I started at Accenture as an intern and from there I became an analyst My first experience was stressful. I was interested in learning and the people around me and my seniors were interested in teaching me, but I was so busy I didn’t really have the opportunity to sit down with them. In consulting you work with a lot of people in a lot of different industries, and it was quite nerve wrecking. I was working long hours starting at 9am up till 2am or 4 am but that’s ok because when you’re young you don’t really need sleep anyways. What I realised during this process was that there’s always an opportunity to learn. When you work in management consulting they say you’re thrown into a river and you don’t know how to swim, but you have friends and colleagues that throw you floats so you can stay buoyant.
Pui Li: For my first project I was put into something called channel analytics. Where we had to look at different customer channels and give them advice on improving customer experiences. For the first few weeks, I was told that I needed to learn how to code. So I spent 8-9 hours everyday learning. It helped me a lot because in that environment it is essential for us to understand data and be able to process it, structure it in a way to be analyzed. Learning how to code gave me an actual tangible skill to be able to create insights from the data.
Ashwin: I started in the same project as Pui Li and I also had to learn how to code, but I could never do it properly. I relied heavily on the support of my colleagues and supervisors, but that’s ok because starting off my supervisors expected me to make mistakes and understood it was a learning process. I took the feedback they gave me and improved myself. I was lucky to have a safe work environment to make mistakes and learn.
Tiffanie: I have a weird background, I came from a research and academic background so I had some preconceived notions about how work should be. In academia everyone is an expert, they have a very specific hypothesis and their perspective is very vertical in a sense that their knowledge is very in-depth in specific fields.
One of the first things I realized is that I never thought that people could be knowledgeable in breadth and in depth. Which I found inspiring because they know everything about a specific industry and they understand functional domains in each operation.
My first project was with an Oil and Gas client, they grew by buying companies so the project was a global operating model alignment project, with the headquarters based in KL. This was terrifying for me because my project lead empowered me to a level I wasn’t sure I deserved given how new I was to the industry and the respective functional areas within the project scope so there’s a lot of thinking on your feet and hard work to be able to not disappoint them and the client.
Another take away from my first experience as a management consultant was how humbling it really was. In academia, I was used to presenting to people who were forced to listen to me, but clients don’t need to. I really had to think about how to convince them that I could help. Here I learned that sometimes hard work doesn’t increase your chances of having your projects passed, without having to go back and revisit it. And this doesn’t increase as your experience increases because as you get better you get thrown into more challenging projects.
3. What advice would you give a fresh graduate or university students looking for their first job and why?
Su-Queen: Don’t be afraid. Try not to doubt yourself if possible because we always do. We question ourselves ‘am I capable?’, ‘am I smart enough?’, ‘am I pretty enough?’… But try to limit it and don’t doubt yourself so much because no matter how far you are into the working world whether you have 3 years of experience or 15 years there’s always going to be self-doubt. Realize that there is no such thing as the smartest person in the world and that everyone is on the same journey of growth.
Pui Li: I was lucky in the sense that I had planned out my university and transition into the workplace quite well. But If I had to give advice I would say: Do more extra-curricular activities. Participate in student bodies because they give you exposure. You are always skewed towards only a few set paths but you should experiment to see what you want to do and where you want to go because the world is growing with more opportunities.
Ashwin: You might have a very good perspective on what you want to do and if you do that’s great. But more people don’t know where to go or what they want to do. In university pick a subject that interests you. One of our best consultants and my old roommate did English Literature in University. Most employers don’t care about what you did in university rather they care about where you did it and how well you did. So always pick something you’re interested in.
Tiffanie: My journey is weird, I did my Ph.D. in neuroscience. What I would tell young grads is that clarity of your end goal is important but its secondary. I was always supposed to be a doctor of medicine. I did the internship and everything, I was first posted to the ER ward but I found that I couldn’t handle watching parents cry. From there I decided to go into clinical psychology because I thought it was more important. I did all the necessary requirements and did a Ph.D. in brain sciences, at the time I thought that I could do research for life but eventually, I realized there were issues with academia that I didn’t enjoy either. I wanted to solve problems but not my own, so then I decided to go into management consulting.
My advice is this: Don’t be afraid to talk to people. A lot of the decisions I made on my journey were made from a single conversation. Don’t feel like you have to have all the answers, you can figure them out as you go along.
4. Could each of you give us one piece of career advice?
Su-Queen: Presentation skills and working with people. If you’re an analyst, consultant or manager you have to be able to interact with people well. You have to learn how to strike a conversation and it will help you along the way.
Pui Li: Don’t always think that you’re always by yourself. There’s a pool of support that you can get help from, reach out and try to get help. Ask for advice and realise that everyone knows something that you don’t and learn from them.
Ashwin: Own up to your mistakes, we all make them. Being honest with your supervisors and your teammates and help solve a problem before it snowballs into something bigger. Being honest with your mistakes will help you grow and will also help the people you work with.
Tiffanie: There’s always timeline pressures. It is not said enough about how important teamwork is. Know your strengths but if you’re not sure it doesn’t matter just do your best. Having the right attitude at times is more important than actual ability. Don’t feel like people are judging you and don’t think that you are alone and you have to outperform others on your team, because if a project goes well, everybody wins but if you hold back just because you don’t want to ask for help and you end up bringing it down, then game over.
5. How can fresh grads practice for consultancy?
Tiffanie: Do case studies. It depends on which part of management consultancy you want to get into. Make sure you work through your calculations and crunch your numbers. Make sure you always check on your process as you get closer to the answer. Also, remember that it is more about the process. You will always sound better in your head: if it doesn’t go well and you don’t think you’re a fit for the firm there’s no harm in trying. I remember during one of my interviews half way through I told them “I’m sorry I don’t think I’m ready for this now, but do you mind if I just talk to you for awhile and learn more about what you do?” and even now I still maintain a relationship with the people in that firm.
It is understated how important numerical skills are. Your brain is a muscle you need to exercise.
Your nerves show in an interview, but the more you practice and the more you talk about it the more comfortable you get with it, it becomes something like pressing the play button. So I’d suggest talking to your friends about case studies and just asking questions.
The most valuable thing to you as a person is life, for as far as we can prove we only have one. So you should use yours in a useful way – when you look back and reflect will you regret your actions? Will you be embarrassed for what you’ve done? At the hour of death can you say that you’ve devoted your life and efforts to a noble legacy? Can you say that you’ve fought for the ascension of the world?
If you want to give back to society and improve the world, start with yourself. As you improve yourself the impact you have on your environment will also grow. If you want change. Be the change you want to see. For mentors please share some of your time to someone who needs some help, or advice. For mentees, BE BRAVE, ask questions and always be learning. Because happiness isn’t a paycheck, it’s progress.
Stay hungry Futurists.
-The Family Ferret
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