Turning professional skills to good account

by Nicolette Wong

Dave McCann, partner, human resources
PricewaterhouseCoopers China, Hong Kong and Singapore
Photo: Lewis Wong

Big-four accounting firm places graduates on the high road to career success

Organisations in Hong Kong have resumed recruitment activities as the economy steadily improves of late. Budding professionals who aspire to a long-term career in the accounting profession, in particular, now see more choices with a rising number of job opportunities in the sector.

"There is ample scope for young people to join the industry, since Hong Kong and mainland China are quickly rebounding from the global economic downturn," confirms Dave McCann, partner, human resources, PricewaterhouseCoopers China, Hong Kong and Singapore (PwC).

Cream of the crop

A global professional services firm boasting a clientele of some of the world's most reputable companies, PwC conducts an annual graduate recruitment programme that paves the way for young aspirants to achieve long-term growth in the fast-paced accounting industry.

Through a well-established and rigorous hiring process, which runs usually from September to December, the firm kicks off the programme with aptitude and English-proficiency tests for a pool of short-listed candidates. Those who pass the tests are assessed through a series of interactive activities, such as presentations and debates.

At this point, experienced managers at the firm identify the participants' development potential, as well as their business acumen, communication skills, capacity for teamwork and passion for the demanding but rewarding profession before drawing up a shortlist and inviting candidates to the final interviews.

PwC is looking to recruit up to 400 graduates in Hong Kong this year, and about 1,300 in mainland China. About 60 per cent of the appointments in Hong Kong will be accounting majors, while the rest are expected to be business, engineering and science graduates, Mr McCann notes. Candidates from the mainland, some of whom are currently at university in Hong Kong, should make up nearly a third of the intake in Hong Kong.

"In our experience, students from disciplines other than accounting can be very successful in our field, provided they have a good analytical mind and a real interest in the job. The mix brings diversity to our profession," says Mr McCann. "Our mainland recruits are keen to start their careers in Hong Kong because of the city's highly sophisticated accounting industry and the opportunities for international exposure."

Since building lasting relationships with clients lies at the core of the firm's operation, new recruits must demonstrate that they are dedicated to this aspect of the job. They should also be keen to learn and take on new challenges as they progress. Mr McCann points out that strong academic ability and communication skills are among the most important attributes sought by PwC when selecting future managers and partners.

Graduates are offered competitive starting packages and can look forward to significant financial rewards as they progress in the future. "Salaries increase significantly over the first five years, as they make their way to management level," Mr McCann notes.

A three- to four-week orientation, followed by intensive on-the-job training, equip graduates for their professional life ahead. The first part of the orientation immerses the recruits in the firm's business background, identity and culture, strategy and global network, while the second familiarises them with specific business areas, such as the audit, tax and advisory.

"This initial training prepares the graduates for their first engagement, and helps them to build on practical experience once they settle into their roles," says Mr McCann. "This is particularly useful for those who don't come from an accounting background, for example engineering graduates." All new employees are assigned mentors and buddies for ongoing guidance and support.

Keen competition

Every year, the PwC graduate recruitment programme attracts a large number of applicants, but there is intense competition for talent from the banking and finance industry, with other major accounting firms making equally lucrative offers to high-calibre candidates, Mr McCann points out.

He cautions that graduates making their first major career choice should pay careful consideration to the exposure that their chosen employers can offer: "International exposure is important if you want to work for top global clients across a range of businesses in the long run."

With an aim to promote excellence in the industry and to encourage accounting studies at universities, PwC is offering graduates in Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Beijing and Shanghai a number of scholarships which comprise cash awards, fully subsidised six- to eight-week internships to an overseas destinations and job offers. Runners-up also receive cash grants and internship opportunities.

The scholarships are also a platform for potential future recruitment, as the PwC team gets to interact with top accounting students at an early stage. "They're under no obligation to join us, but many do so after completing the programme," Mr McCann concludes. "We want these young talented people to have a good experience working with us and in our profession."

Doing the sums

  • Accounting firm to hire 400 graduates in Hong Kong through its annual recruitment programme
  • Comprehensive training gives young recruits a head start
  • Scholarships comprise cash awards, subsidised overseas internships and job offers

Taken from Career Times 4 June 2010, A14

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