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Getting noticed in the Graduate Market

Getting noticed in a sea of graduates seems like an incredibly daunting task, and with the graduate market getting more and more competitive, you really need to pull out all the stops to get hired! Final year Genetics student, Maddie, talks about her application experience and how she got onto the Vodafone graduate scheme.

After doing a placement year in Genetics research last year, I realised that a career in research wasn’t for me. I spent some time over the summer trying to decide what I wanted to do – I knew I wanted to be in a fast-moving environment where there was loads of change going on and I could be creative, so I decided to pursue a graduate scheme in the technology industry.

I started research early – most graduate schemes open around September and the deadline is normally around January, so I began preparing during the Summer break. Lots of the schemes involved a rotation in Marketing, which is something that I was immediately interested in, so in September I managed to secure myself an internship with the Marketing and Communications department at Cardiff University. Not only did this confirm that Marketing is something that I would love to do as a career, but it gave me something to talk about in interviews to demonstrate a proactive and hard-working attitude.

I used the Careers and Employability department at the University to research which employers to apply to – they have lots of resources from independent rankings of employers on categories such as employee satisfaction. I signed up to websites such as Target Jobs and Milkround, which send you suggested roles based on your career preferences, making you aware of positions at companies you weren’t even aware of! I made a list of all the applications I was going to make (which ended up being around 20 different companies) and wrote down the application deadlines as well. Once all the preparation was done, I was ready to start the application process!

Stage One: The Application Form

This is by far the easiest stage, and provided you have an up-to-date CV, this is essentially just rewording that. My biggest advice here would be to big up any extracurricular activities you do alongside your degree. Every applicant is coming in with a degree, so you need to show what else you have to offer. Every part time job, society commitment and volunteering experience is valuable.

Stage Two: The Aptitude Tests

Generally these have a similar format no matter where you’re applying. They generally take 30-45 minutes to complete, and consist of one verbal reasoning and one numerical reasoning test. Before you start, make sure you’re feeling awake and alert, and that no one is going to disturb you. Have a pen, paper and calculator on hand as well. Most of the tests I took had me pressed for time, and I didn’t manage to finish them. This is fine, and most of them are designed that way. If you’re not negatively marked and it is multiple choice, it’s worth spending the last 10 seconds of the time allowance guessing on the remaining questions – you’re bound to get a few right!

Stage Three: Video Interview

This was the worst part of the process for me, just because doing an interview on my laptop was so awkward! There will normally be 5 or so questions, you’ll get 30 seconds to prepare an answer and then have 2-3 minutes recording to answer it. My first few attempts were awful, and it’s definitely something that you get better with practise. The best way to prepare is to make notes on the most common questions. These include:

  • Why do you want to work at [company]
  • Why do you want this role
  • Tell us about a time you showed leadership skills/overcame a difficult problem/were creative
  • Tell us about yourself

Dress like you would for a face-to-face interview and make sure your housemates know not to disturb you. Remember to smile as much as possible (without seeming creepy), and not to fidget!

Stage Four: Phone Interview

Only some companies do this, and for some you will progress from the video interview to the assessment centre. You have already demonstrated your employability skills and competencies in the video interview, so this stage is to find out more about you as a person and to see if you would fit in with the company culture. Have a look on the company websites for the values and aims of the company, and try to match what you say to this. Also, make sure you have one or two good questions to ask at the end of the interview.

Final Stage: Assessment Centre

Making it this far is a huge achievement, and you want to make sure that all of your hard work is worth it! Pay attention to the dress code – most will be formal, but mine was smart casual (cue major panic on my part). I went with smart black trousers, a white blouse and a red blazer. Mixing up the colours toned the suit down from smart to smart-casual, and the colour of the blazer was a purposeful choice; everyone else was wearing black or navy, and having a pop of colour definitely got me noticed. Tailor what you wear to the company – what’s appropriate for one may not be appropriate for another.

The assessment centre will generally consist of a face-to-face interview, a solo exercise and a group exercise. The interview will be more competency questions, and trying to get to know you better. Try to include examples from as many different jobs and activities as you can for these questions outside of your degree.

The solo exercise will be trying to put you in a similar situation to one you might encounter in the job role. At my assessment centre, I was asked to propose three new technology developments to use in trying to promote a theoretical company. This exercise is testing your creativity and ability to think on your feet, so make sure you demonstrate both.

The group exercise is arguably the most important part of the assessment day, as one of the main things recruiters are looking for is your ability to work in a group. You want to make sure that you’re contributing to the task and not becoming a forgettable member of the group, whilst not coming across as overly dominating. It’s a hard balance to get right, but an essential one – I made sure that if someone else made a good contribution, I told them that it was a good idea.

Add anyone you met on the day on LinkedIn, and make sure to thank your assessors at the end of each exercise. After the assessment day, make sure to send your interviewer a thank you email – it reminds them of who you are and can be the difference between picking you or picking another candidate!

Final thoughts

The main thing I would say is that the graduate job market is hugely competitive, and going into it you need to be prepared for a lot of rejection. Out of the 20 or so jobs I applied for, I made it through to assessment day for just two of them – this isn’t a reflection of you, more that companies are receiving thousands of applications and can afford to be really specific with what they want.

The other thing is to keep in mind what makes you different from other applicants, and keep this in mind for every stage of the application! For me, it was that my degree was much more technical than many of my competitors, and so my analytical skills were much better. There will be something you bring to a role that no one else has!

Utilise everything that is available. The internet is hugely helpful – company websites will often be more specific about their application process, plus websites such as Glassdoor have reviews from previous applicants about their experience. You can also find company reports online, which are really helpful for appearing well informed in an interview. The Careers and Employability department at the University are also really helpful with every aspect of job applications – as well as helping you structure your application, they offer practice interviews and other support.

Good luck with all your applications!

Best wishes,
Maddie

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