What are professional services firms looking for in their graduates?

Commercial awareness

Knowledge of the business world is crucial for any job in the finance industry—and professional services firm roles are no exception.

Professional services firms, particularly the big ones, work with clients in practically every industry out there in the public and private sectors. With this in mind, it’s particularly important to them that the graduates they hire have a great understanding of how businesses work and the business landscape.

You can develop this commercial awareness primarily by engaging with business news on a daily basis. You can check out publications like the FT and the public affairs and business sections of national newspapers, as well as online versions, business blogs and news broadcasts. As you keep up with various industry developments (it’s a good idea to check out the core industries your professional services firm of choice works in and to key an eye on these), think about how each change will affect the business as a whole and how it could affect the type of work you’ll be doing in your position of choice at the firm.

Any work experience you can clock up in the run up to applying for a graduate role will also show you how commercial awareness in the day-to-day functioning of a professional services firm.

A minimum of a 2:1 degree

Professional services across the board will be looking for applicants with at least a 2:1 degree or the equivalent in the initial stages of their recruitment process. Most of their graduate positions are open to applicants from any degree background. They’ll also usually require applicants to have at least a B in GCSE maths and GCSE English language.

This means amidst all of that excitement at university, it’s important not take your eye off the ball when it comes working hard to make sure you get the degree result you need.

Teamwork skills and leadership

Professional services roles often require you to work with teams from other departments, not just in your own on projects. Each project usually brings a new set of colleagues along with it too, so you’ll have to show a prospective employer that you’re a strong team worker; both on paper with some extra-curricular activities and in practice in the group exercises at an assessment centre.

Professional services firms value strong leadership too, so think of examples which demonstrate an aptitude for this too in advance of an interview.

Knowledge of the role you’re applying for

Use any industry contacts you have to find out all you can about life in the role you’re applying for. The more you know about the workload and potential challenges it involves, the better chance you’ll have for adapting your answers to questions on your suitability for the role.

Knowledge of the company and what they do

It’s a golden tick box for any job you go for, not just professional services firms! Recruiters want to see that you know exactly what the firm does: the industries they work with, the revenue they make, and big deals they’ve been working on recently. You should be able to pepper your answers to questions with some relevant examples of the things you’ve found out. Don’t forget to find out about competitors too, and know your reasons for choosing one professional services firm over the other.

Numerical aptitude

Pretty much all graduate roles with professional services firms will require you to have a head for numbers. You’ll have to pass numerical reasoning tests to meet their standards. It’s probably a good idea to be sure you’re comfortable with working with numbers ahead of applying, or else you could be in for a bit of an uphill struggle.

If numbers aren’t really your thing, you can still look into other areas of the finance industry like HR or marketing, which have a skills focus aside from numerical abilities.


Professional services firms are looking for applicants who have a real passion for what they do and have an idea of where they want their career to progress within the finance industry. Enthusiasm is something you can’t fake; a genuine interest alongside the above factors is ultimately the thing that’ll swing an interview in your favour.