Warrane College UNSW | college accommodation for students at UNSW
Warrane College UNSW | college accommodation for students at UNSW

PwC executive offers insights into recruitment trends

Debra Eckersley giving her talk after formal dinner

Managing Partner, Human Capital, with PwC Australia, Debra Eckersley, offered Warrane residents insights into the attitudes and skills that leading firms, like her own, are seeking from graduates.

Speaking at the College on Wednesday 16 September 2015, Ms Eckersley emphasised that firms like PwC sought to maximise the potential of employees to ensure that people operated at their best to serve their clients.

The firm was therefore interested in people with a wide range of skills, not just commerce students, but people from all disciplines, including science, engineering and so on.

While PwC was once known as an accounting firm, it was now considered a “professional services consulting firm” and over the past 10 years had focused on solving complex problems and building trust in society.

“If there is a complex problem, we want to help our clients fix it,” she said. “We want to be the people our clients call when they have problems and so we need really diverse skills and thinking.

“If it is an easy problem, one or two people who think the same way can solve it. If that was the case the client would do it and they wouldn’t hire us. So there is no business in that for us.

“We need great diversity in terms of thinking and approach. If you think you already know the answer when you start with a complex problem, you don’t. We can’t go in there thinking we know the answer. We have to go in there with a very open mind about what are the issues.

“That kind of approach of broad thinking is what we are looking for when we look at potential employees.”

Ms Eckersley said that when PwC recruited new people, those who were doing the recruiting were not supplied with details about candidates like the university they attended or the marks they had achieved.

“We have a blind CV,” she said. “We want to know more about you as an individual,” she said.

“So by the time you get to an interview that individual who is taking the final decision on whether to hire you is looking across a much broader sweep than capabilities.

“They don’t know what university you went to, they don’t know what school you went to, they don’t know what your ATAR is, and they don’t know what your university marks are.

“They are looking for potential – someone who has got the ability to learn and has the enthusiasm and passion to do it regularly, not just when they feel like it.”

Ms Eckersley said there were five attributes that recruiters looked for. The first – the obvious one – was technical skills.

“It is the least important because I know you all learn lots of things at university and I remember a long time ago, I did too. But they are not the technical skills that we are always looking for because we are going to train you when you arrive, frankly, to do the work that we want you to do.

“We look at technical capabilities, but the other four are the most important -every question asked through an interview process led back to these capabilities. Firstly, there is ‘whole leadership’.

“That’s about you as an individual. What we are looking for there is: ‘I lead myself so I know who I am. I lead myself and I lead others to make a difference and deliver results in a responsible, authentic, inclusive, and passionate manner – in a way that is inclusive of others.’”

The second attribute is “business acumen”, which involved business knowledge, innovation and insight that would create “distinctive value” for clients and for PWC.

“One of the questions we may ask is: ‘Tell me about a current business issue that is interesting to you and why it is interesting?” Ms Eckersley said.

“So, at least, please read the Fin Review before you come in and talk. We solve business issues, so if you don’t know what is going on in the business world, you don’t really look that interested.

“You are going to spend your whole life thinking about these issues and if you couldn’t read a couple of articles before you came in it doesn’t show us that you are very interested.”

The third attribute that had become important in recent years is “global acumen” because firms like PwC now worked much more across borders.

“We operate and collaborate with a mindset that transcends geographic and cultural boundaries,” she said. “So you need to know what is going on in the world with networks that are not just what you grew up with.”

The final attribute involved the ability to establish relationships – “building relationships of high value which are genuine and built on trust”.

Ms Eckersley explained that much of the work once done by accounting firms was now being automated.

“Our ability to build relationships with people is what makes them ring us when there is a problem,” she said.

Job seekers were therefore asked questions about how they solved relationship problems and were expected to be able to give examples.

“Don’t just give us motherhood statements,” she said. “Give us an example of where you have done something different, like community service…

“The essence of what our clients actually value from us, is not accounting, it’s solving complex problems and building trust.

“This is where leadership skills, relationships, and having some smarts is actually going to make the difference and so that is what we look for.”

It was crucial for students wanting to find employment in the future to take every opportunity available to them…

“You have got to have some passions for things outside the academic and partying. Make sure you do get involved in community service or some other thing that shows you are prepared to step out and do some things rather than just do the basic stuff.

“Show your potential employer what you are passionate about. We want people who are excited about stuff. We want people who drive things and really take things by the neck. So what are those things that you are doing now that you are passionate about?

“Then probably most importantly, do research on who you are interviewing with or who you are talking to.

“We always ask: ‘Why do you want to work for us?’ It’s such a basic question. But if you say because I want to join a global company because I want to travel – that might be true, but don’t tell us that – surely you have got something else. There are other companies that you can do that with.

“What’s special about us? You need to show us that you care and understand what makes us different to someone else.

“Try to get under the skin of what makes your employer different from anyone else.”

Ms Eckersley said that people in her firm often spoke of “looking for purple unicorns”.

“Business studies, languages, science, technology – that whole kind of breadth of thinking is really attractive to us,” she said.

[Warrane College offers a lot more than just student accommodation at UNSW: find out about some of our other guest speakers.]