How to ace a Mercer consulting interview

We have a treat today…a guest from Poland who has offered to share his experience applying for, breaking into and working at Mercer in Warsaw. As over 40% of our readers are from non-U.S. locations, we thought it might be fun to mix it up a bit and give you an on-the-ground insider perspective from a business culture that is truly up-and-coming.

Earlier this month, we featured Mercer as a part of our Firm Profile series on the site.  Check it out here if you missed it!

Enjoy!

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1. For the benefit of readers, can you give us a summary of your background? Where you are from, education, extracurriculars, previous internships/jobs, interests, etc.

My name is Will.  I’m 25 years old, and I come from a small town near London. Although I didn’t really appreciate school, I held down various part-time jobs from the age of 13 to the end of university. I was also a charity volunteer and did a stint as a teaching assistant in a local school. These experiences gave me a realistic attitude on life and the drive to work hard early on.

At university I majored in French. I also studied theatre in France for a year. During my time there I was part of various drama troupes, while back in the UK I was part of the photography and karate societies.

After completing my finals in 2009, I moved to Warsaw, Poland in order to be with my girlfriend (I had met her in France). My first job out of university was as an account manager for a local food manufacturer – it is worth noting that I got this job due to my language skills.  I stayed for 18 months at the food manufacturer before getting a role in ops at Mercer.

I worked in ops for around a year and a half, and was promoted during this time. I then applied and was accepted for the role of junior consultant which I began in November 2012.

2. What key steps did you take to get the Mercer interview invite – from nuances of your application to any networking you did?

I honestly did the bare minimum. Prior to my application, I found the idea of HR consulting interesting so I researched the company as it was unfamiliar to me. After sending in what in retrospect I realize was a fairly vanilla application, I read plenty of literature on the HR field but that was the extent of my preparation.

As I was still new to the country, and to Warsaw as a city, I did not have any sort of professional network. I’m still amazed that I got the interview invite – I really didn’t do anything right.

3. Mercer is a great boutique consulting company, but there isn’t a lot of information about the recruiting process available. Can you tell us the insider’s view of the case interview process – how many you did, what seniority you interviewed with, case style, etc.?

I first interviewed for a role in ops and then interviewed internally for the consulting position. For the ops role there was an initial telephone interview with an Associate, followed by a standard interview with the same Associate and my soon-to-be boss. This was followed by a selection of tests on math and language.

When I applied internally for the consulting job, I had 2 interviews with the senior consultant to whom I am now reporting. As we had worked together closely previously, there were no case studies but we discussed a quite heated work-related disagreement we had had instead – the behavioral part of the interview was very important (read more about Mercer case interviews).

4. What were some of your other choices, and why did you decide to join Mercer?

That is a really good question! Honestly speaking, as a fairly recent arrival in Poland with only a shaky grasp of the language my options were fairly limited. I could have continued in an account management/sales role, drawing on my sales experience and languages but the idea of working for an international FMCG company in that capacity did not appeal to me.

A viable alternative would have been to seek additional qualifications as a language teacher and then open my own language business but I was put off by the additional work it would have taken before bearing fruit and my lack of experience in teaching.

I can tell you one thing – it wasn’t about the money! As a UK expat living in Warsaw, Poland I currently earn well below what I could in the UK. However, the work is interesting and we have a variety of benefits including an annual variable bonus. And thankfully, cost of living is quite low.

5. What do you enjoy most about working for Mercer? What is the most challenging aspect of the job?

Without a doubt, I enjoy the variety the most. I work with clients and Mercer colleagues across Europe, the Middle East and Africa on a daily basis and deal with a wide range of projects in the HR space. Each country presents unique challenges and there is a huge amount to learn.

As to what is the job’s most challenging aspect, it’s the need to work with the experienced professionals I have just mentioned. Being fairly new into the industry, it can be intimidating to dial into a call where the combined experience of the participants can be measured in the decades, but still want to make your point clearly and succinctly. I imagine that this is the norm for junior consultants though, and it is something I am getting used to through constant practice. 

6. What advice can you give MC readers about breaking into consulting in Poland/Eastern Europe? How is it different from other geographies?

Good question. Given the country’s recent history, I would say that the consulting industry is not as well established as in the West but that this is likely to change as the market develops (which it is, rapidly). Due to this and partly due to Poland’s business culture, I would also say that networking is tougher – it’s more difficult to “network” through new relationships, as trusted relationships are valued so much more.

Regarding my entry into consulting, I would credit it partly to hard work once in the company and also to my internal network. Having good working relationships with my senior colleagues, in particular my leads and recommenders for consulting, had an enormous influence on my success in changing roles. I believe that these two factors outweighed my previous lack of professional and academic focus.

On another note, should anyone want to come and live in the region I do heartily recommend learning the local language. It will make a massive difference to your personal well-being and your career prospects!

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