With mounting demand for accounting services of the highest standard in the global business arena, multinational firms are finding creative ways to recruit top talent through rigorous selection processes.
As one of the world's largest professional services firms, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) employs more than 146,000 staff across 150 countries and regions around the world. This includes more than 9,000 top-notch professionals in Hong Kong, Macau and greater China.
In a bid to uphold industry standards, the firm seeks only the best accounting candidates. Now in its eighth year, the PricewaterhouseCoopers Scholarship programme, with a cash prize and a six to eight weeks' overseas internship, attracted a record number of quality applicants this year.
Cream of the crop
The first of a four-city series of award ceremonies for the scholarships took place in Beijing on 6 June, and in the coming weeks ceremonies will be held in Shanghai, Hong Kong and, for the first time, in Guangzhou.
"During the scholarship process, hundreds of applicants undergo stringent selection procedures, including a performance review at a special assessment centre, an English examination, debates and presentations," says Dave McCann, human resources partner, China and Hong Kong, PricewaterhouseCoopers.
A panel of professionals, this year chaired by Mr McCann, then interviews the 10 finalists. "This army of top-notch professionals provides added perspective to our endeavour," says Mr McCann, noting that highly experienced facilitators at the assessment centre observe behavioural traits identifying students as emerging leaders, taking into account also time management abilities, relationship skills and empathy.
"Building relationships is part of the business," Mr McCann says. "Academic skills are a given. We are looking beyond that and our assessment centre offers a more powerful assessment of student capability." PwC seeks candidates that are capable of innovative and creative thought and have good problem solving skills, he adds.
Annie Wang, an accounting major at Peking University, was this year's Beijing recipient. Ms Wang impressed the judges at both the assessment centre and in her 30-minute interview by demonstrating strong leadership skills and motivation to succeed, plus a good command of spoken English, well-developed presentation skills and superior business sense.
PwC launched its assessment centre for graduate recruitment seven years ago. "This was a groundbreaking decision," Mr McCann says. "Employing the centre in this way is part of our overall strategy to establish PricewaterhouseCoopers as a leading accountancy brand within universities."
Apart from the scholarship winners, nine runners-up are named at each of the award ceremonies and are offered local internships. The firm also stays in contact with all the nominees and finalists through a "premium development programme", which affords students the opportunity to engage with the firm, for example by meeting recruiters and attending skills workshops.
The scholarship programme was originally launched only in Hong Kong, but for the past four years it has been extended to mainland China. "It is increasingly difficult to differentiate between students from Hong Kong and the mainland," says Mr McCann. "All the students have always been academically strong, but those from the mainland have in recent years been displaying noticeably greater interpersonal, leadership and organisational skills and judgment than before."
Refining recruitment techniques is a priority for PwC. The scholarship programme this year shifted from its previous approach of calling for universities to nominate candidates to encouraging applicants to nominate themselves through a written essay. This produced a much bigger pool of candidates. "At the same time, the students could showcase their self-assessment skills," remarks Mr McCann.
Previous PwC scholarship winners have served internships in London, New York and Berlin. The eagerly anticipated experience usually starts with two weeks of training in PwC business units before the interns are exposed to a range of job functions. Performance during the internship is assessed so as to help the young aspirants identify individual strengths and any areas for further improvements.
Without exception, interns thoroughly enjoy the experience, says Mr McCann. Past winners found that the experience provided them with a wider global perspective, a sense of pride in their accomplishments, as well as the impetus to further develop their accounting careers.
The scholarship competition has proven a viable recruitment tool, Mr McCann notes, saying that every Hong Kong winner during the first five years of the programme stayed on with the company.