EY: how to excel in a strengths-based graduate interview

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EY uses strengths-based assessment to select its graduates, industrial placement students and interns. This aspect colours every stage of the application process: your initial application, online assessments, job simulation, assessment centre (known as the ‘EY Experience Day’) and final interview. The process is designed to reveal where you naturally work best. Strengths can be ‘realised’ or ‘unrealised’:

  • A ‘realised’ strength is one that a candidate has obvious experience of doing. It is something inherent to their character that they do on an almost daily basis without having to think about it.
  • An ‘unrealised’ strength can essentially be re-termed as ‘potential’. These are areas where you can develop but perhaps have not yet had the opportunity to do so.

It will help if you bear in mind the strengths EY focuses on in its recruitment literature:

  • strong communicator
  • team player
  • adaptable
  • analytical
  • numbers savvy
  • accountable
  • agile
  • resilience
  • curious
  • in the know (aka having an interest in current affairs, global trends, market activity and technological innovations)

Strengths-based preparation for EY

The strengths-based approach to questioning in EY’s interviews means that you’ll be asked several questions in a quick-fire manner. The overall point of the strengths approach, as opposed to the usual competencies-based approach to graduate interviews, is for EY to identify where you can naturally play to your strengths.

It’s difficult to go into your graduate interview with specific answers in your head as it’s almost impossible to judge the kind of questions you will receive. Far better to have a thorough understanding of yourself and your experiences, as you can use these for some flexibility in your answers.

The example questions from previous EY strengths interviews, below, are a good starting point. Even if you’re not asked these particular questions, you’re likely to face something similar so you can think about how you’d answer them – just don’t try to memorise your responses word for word.

EY interview question 1: What do you do well?

Approach to take: Keep it tight – how does your answer relate to the job role? There’s very little point in running off on a tangent about a project where you got good results if the interviewer cannot follow your train of thought.

As a graduate on the business consulting scheme, for example, EY says you will be ‘working with a variety of clients from start-ups to recognisable financial services organisations’ and ‘analysing trends in industries like banking, insurance or telecommunications, media and technology’. EY welcomes applications to this programme from all academic backgrounds so you will not necessarily be expected to have an in-depth knowledge of these sectors beforehand. Any examples of times when you got to grips with unfamiliar topics, cultures or organisations quickly could stand you ahead of your competition. These could come from either your degree, work experience, extracurriculars or independent travel, for instance.

EY interview question 2: What activities energise you?

Approach to take: Think about the kind of tasks you enjoy doing and explain what aspects of these appeal to you – EY is trying to determine whether you’ve applied for a role that you would feel motivated in.

Remember that the work of a graduate on the technology risk scheme is going to be very different to the work of a graduate in tax. Although both require a great deal of research into the client company, the strengths required in each team at EY are different. Someone helping clients to manage their tax affairs has to work within set guidelines – but being too focused on rules could hamper someone’s capability of testing risk, as they will probably have to think of creative models outside of some set parameters to do their job correctly.

EY interview question 3: When do you feel that you are most like ‘yourself’?

Approach to take: Don’t just give a basic answer, such as ‘with my friends’ – this says nothing. Instead, explain why you feel that way, how you fit into that group and how that reflects on your personal qualities.

Think about a circumstance that might relate to a situation at EY. For example, some client engagements will involve the process of due diligence, something any aspiring auditor will need to know all about. Researching, analysing and being able to break complex information down into usable segments will all be essential – so you have to ask yourself, ‘When have I done that, and do I feel as though those are my natural strengths?’

EY interview question 4: When are you at your best?

Approach to take: Not to be confused with ‘most like yourself’ – indeed, many people are at their best when taken out of their comfort zone and forced to address things that go against who they inherently are.

Given that your final interview comes after the EY Experience Day, you could even take the lead from your assessment centre activities and identify your strengths either by highlighting what you naturally did well or, if you found any of the tasks difficult, by comparing this with a task where you felt comfortable. Perhaps you mediated between two people with differing ideas – did you do so because of who you naturally are? Remember to relate back to other experiences; don’t rely on the assessment centre activities alone.

EY interview question 5: How can you capitalise on your strengths more?

Approach to take: Think about the opportunities at EY in terms of the training on offer – that’s one approach. Another would be to think, ‘What can I do between this interview and actually starting my job here?’ If your interview is in April and your graduate scheme begins in September, that’s five months when you could be enhancing your skills. Do you already have plans to do this, and are you making sure you’re doing something extra to what you have done in the past?

What should you ask at your EY graduate interview?

Every applicant will be asked whether they have any questions for the EY assessors, so it’s wise to come to the interview with some in mind. Here are a few topics you might like to consider:

  • How your role will interact with others across the business – you should know the basic links between these roles anyway, but does EY have a particular way of communicating between staff?
  • What are the company’s aims regarding particular economic markets in the current climate? The markets you need to understand for one client will be very different to those if you are working with another: EY needs employees who are capable of relating to the needs of both, so show your awareness.
  • The opinions of your interviewers on certain things at the company – but be careful not to be sycophantic! Did they join EY as graduates, and if so how has the graduate program at EY changed? Why is that?
  • Any further details about the specifics of the training that you’ll receive and the professional qualifications offered.

Remember, they’ve heard all the generic questions before. A good question is one that is specific to you, because that will not only show your interest, but will also make the detail of your research clear. EY recruiters want to hear questions that relate specifically to the work of the division you are applying to.

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