'Describe a situation in which you've had to deal with a difficult person.' Hints on PwC interview question

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This section covers approaches and strategies for answering questions you might encounter in your PwC interview. 

Before your interview, you’ll need to:

  • review PwC’s competencies and strengths
  • read about PwC’s interviews
  • review information about assessment centres at PwC

PwC interviews are not as technical as you may fear

Vimal, an associate in the assurance division at PwC, notes that PwC graduate interviews are not necessarily as technical as some students fear: ‘Before we joined PwC, we associates knew about financial statements, regulation and the government, and how businesses have to have an audit-opinion in their financial statements, but we knew none of the actual nitty-gritties of how you go into testing and the processes involved. PwC’s really good at that, – they don’t expect you to know any of the technical elements involved when you come for an interview.

Vimal continues, 'They just expect you to know about businesses in general, like what’s currently going on in the business world, why they need to have auditors and to have a general understanding of how businesses are run and what Financial Statements actually are, rather than exactly how they’re produced. You need to have good commercial awareness. Technical details are taught at college or on-the-job once you start working.’

PwC graduate interview questions you are likely to encounter

We can't tell you exactly what questions you'll be asked at your PwC interview (telephone or face-to-face) but we can talk about questions applicants have faced in the past, and offer advice on good approaches to take. It's likely that the questions you'll be asked will be similar, so practising in advance how you'd respond to these will help your chances of interview success:

What are your major achievements to date?

Approach to take: You won’t be able to include everything here – that’s why PwC is asking for ‘major’ achievements. This could be almost anything, but keep it recent. It could be a successful campaign to become a student committee member, winning an essay prize, or raising a significant sum for a charity, for example. Almost anything is valid, but don’t be vague. You can work outside the box a little on this one by using a more personal achievement, such as overcoming shyness, as your example. The important thing is that you can put your finger on how you achieved your goal.

Key thing to remember: It’s not enough just to reference a position – you may well have been president of the finance society at your university, but if you can’t give a specific example of a major achievement while in that post, it’s irrelevant. Bear in mind that PwC wants to see evidence of certain competencies, such as adapting quickly to change, so choose examples that show your flexibility.

Tell us about a time when you led a team

Approach to take: Focus on yourself – several applicants fall down on this question by saying what the team did, rather than what they did. Think about the kind of team you’ll be involved with at PwC – if you’re applying for a role in audit and assurance, you may well be the person in your team who takes responsibility for researching a particular topic. You’ll need to be able to relay your research to colleagues, and will sometimes have to take the lead in determining how to apply that research. Is there anything from your background that matches this kind of scenario?

Key thing to remember: Know your CV inside and out!

Describe a situation in which you've had to deal with a difficult person

Approach to take: Imagine, for example, that you were part of the team at PwC working on the case of a computer gaming retailer who recently went into administration. Hundreds, potentially thousands, of jobs could be lost and you’re attempting to sell at the best price while saving as many jobs as possible. On one side, you’ll have concerned employees, and on the other you’ll have hard-negotiating business people looking to keep the sale price as low as possible. Bear scenarios like these in mind when selecting your example for this question – try to think of a similar situation where you’ve had to consider the interests of two conflicting groups. Explain the problem you faced and explain how you went about your actions. Don’t complain about the difficult person: you need to show that you were capable of managing the working relationship.

Key thing to remember: Think about the competencies you will be tested on. For example, this question could be an opportunity to demonstrate that you have courage and integrity. But don’t just cite these buzzwords!

Can you discuss a recent piece of financial news that's been in the press?

Approach to take: Now we get to the questions students really fear. All in all, this comes down to research – research the division you’re applying for and the work they get involved with, then find a news story that’s relevant to this and do some thorough research. There’s no point talking about PwC’s findings that electricity consumption in the UK could rise by 84% by 2035 if the work you’re going to be doing has absolutely nothing to do with energy usage. You may want to talk about the potential financial ramifications of the news story you’ve chosen – make sure you’re prepared to back up whatever you say with evidence and further examples. Finally, think about the potential consequences for PwC and its clients.

Key thing to remember:This doesn’t have to be about PwC necessarily, but it does have to relate to their business and the markets they work in.

Tell us about a time when you’ve shown courage, or done something out of the ordinary

Approach to take: Think of the cowardly lion from the Wizard of Oz. Courage is not necessarily about fighting off evil hordes in battle armour – it’s about facing something you don’t want to face. You’ll find in your first years with PwC that you’ll frequently be put into new scenarios and, whilst this is exciting to some, it can be extremely daunting to others. If, for example, you’re given the task of working through the line items in the accounts of a relatively small firm, you’re likely to find you’re given a broader field of personal responsibility, and this will change to some degree for every single company you help to audit. Go back to times when you’ve been taken out of your comfort zone whilst at university – perhaps in doing a presentation on a topic you knew nothing about, or taking the lead on a project when you hadn’t been given that kind of responsibility before. You’ll probably find you had the courage all along.

Key thing to remember: ‘Out of the ordinary’ does not have to be something completely bizarre. Think of this more as doing something out of the ordinary for you. When have you had to do something you wouldn’t ordinarily do, given the choice?

What do you anticipate you will be doing in your first year at PwC?

Approach to take: The groundwork needs to be done first – some of you will be conducting research to help clients rearrange or sell parts of their business as they go into administration (Lehmann Brothers being the prime example of a PwC client in this situation). Others will be preparing documentation and presentations on things like sector surveys – for example, one of PwC’s surveys revealed that several charities are now looking into mergers to keep their businesses going. Other graduates will be interviewing members of staff for audits of companies. Many of these tasks will overlap, but each will be distinct to divisions and their sub-divisions.

Key thing to remember: Don’t jump the gun and state everything that you want to achieve in your career; you may well be asked where you see yourself in five to ten years, but that’s not what this question is about. You need to stay focused on what you will be doing day-to-day in your team – PwC wants to know that you’ve made an informed choice and that you’ll be happy working for the organisation.

Graduate view

‘My overall strategy was to research the competencies that PwC was looking for, and to write out my examples for each one. I’d then come up with a list of questions I might get and have an answer ready for each.

'I didn’t learn my answers word for word as when you’re actually in an interview you cannot recall in that kind of detail. Instead, you should just talk naturally; as long as you have examples in mind that should help you hit the competencies the interviewer wants to see. You should review your own skills against the employability section of PwC’s website.'

Vimal, assurance associate at PwC