All entries for January 2013

January 15, 2013

Aptitude tests – practice makes perfect

This blog has moved to a new address.
If you are not redirected automatically, follow the link to perfect-2.

TabletWe know that aptitude tests can strike fear into the most confident student, but we also know that most of you are likely to encounter them at some stage. It's better to face the fear and find out what's involved - crossing your fingers and hoping for the best just won't cut it. Jenny Bell, one of our careers consultants, tells us more...

Aptitude testing is used by many graduate employers - across all sectors - as part of their recruitment process. No sooner have you pressed “send” on your completed on-line application form then you're be invited to take some verbal and numerical reasoning tests. If you are applying for more specialist roles, perhaps within IT or financial modelling, you might also be asked to take some diagrammatic reasoning tests as well. Aptitude testing is often the first part of the screening process, but if you succeed at this stage and progress to further interview rounds or an assessment centre, don't be surprised if you're asked to sit further tests.

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail

While it is in your interests to take them as soon as you can – the sooner you take them (successfully), the sooner you can be invited for interview – it is probably NOT a good idea to take them unless you have done a lot of preparation. “Why?” - I hear you say – “I have enough to do without practising some basic numerical and comprehension test I could have taken at GCSE level. I’ve seen the questions and they really aren’t very difficult.” I got an A in maths GCSE - how hard can it be?

Unfortunately, many people, who are very able and otherwise excellent candidates, are unsuccessful in the tests. We're used to seeing disappointed students who've been rejected by their chosen employer because they failed to meet the required standard. This is why you need to practise:

  1. It isn’t so much the difficulty of the questions; it’s the time pressure of answering the maximum number in the short time available. The more you practise, the easier it will be. Some recuiters will incorporate negative marking into their tests, so you'll need to work quickly but methodically. Guess incorrectly and it could cost you dear.
  2. You may be rusty on some of the basics. If, for example, you haven’t done any maths since GCSE, you may not be as quick at working out percentages, ratios, etc. as you were then and you don’t want to waste valuable test time trying to remember how to perform simple calculations. Bear in mind some tests will allow calculators but others won't so you'll need to get up to speed.

Don't be complacent

There are some Arts and Humanities students who think they'll have no problem with the verbal reasoning tests as 'they're about words'; similarly, there are STEM students who feel confident they'll ace the numerical reasoning tests because they're 'good at maths' It ain’t necessarily so….anecdotal evidence suggests that the people who perform best on verbal tests are engineers and scientists who are good at spotting the salient points quickly. Numerical tests can be difficult for Arts students (particularly for those who've avoided all things numerical since GCSEs!) but they can also present a challenge for scientists and engineers who may be used to working on more advanced and abstract material, not the basic arithmetic - or statistical - interpretation required in most numerical reasoning tests.

Practice makes perfect

So… do you practise? You will find lots of information and links to practice tests on our website. The tests we offer are completely free and will give you on-line feedback about how you compare with your peer group (other students and graduates). Taking any test will help you with your technique and coping with the timing. But, generally speaking, the more demanding employers (e.g. banks, consultancies) the more difficult the test and/or the higher the pass mark. If you think you will need to take a more difficult test, check the external links at the bottom of our aptitude test webpage. If in doubt, start with eFinancialCareers or Inside Careers. Don't forget about the resources in the Careers Hub; we know books seem a bit retro now, but it might be worth your while to browse the shelves. There's a wide range of books covering numerical, verbal and spatial reasoning tests, pitched at varying levels of difficulty.

We know that some people practise by applying to employers they don't necessarily want to work for so they'll be better when they apply to the one they really want. This isn't really an approach we'd endorse, as it takes a lot of time and effort to produce a high quality application form - certainly one that's good enough to get you to the next round. It's better to spend your time using the available resources, online and otherwise, to get you ready for test day. Put the time in now and you won't get caught out later on!

January 11, 2013

Preparing for telephone interviews

This blog has moved to a new address.
If you are not redirected automatically, follow the link to

Phone interviewWhen we think of interviews there is a pretty typical scenario we conjure up: office, suits, candidates waiting nervously outside the door. Well, unless you're really lucky and manage to find a job without a formal interview (rare but it can happen!) this is probably a scenario you're likely to encounter at some stage in your job search. But your very first interview may be altogether different - it may just be on the other end of a phone. Telephone interviews are frequently used as a screening tool by graduate recruiters to help select candidates for the next stage of the selection process. Just like any other interview you need to practise and prepare, so don't wait until your phone rings. Find out now what to expect and how to respond.

Don't get caught out...

  • Some employers will ring out the blue, so make sure you're ready to take the call. Have some (brief) prompt notes and a copy of your CV/application ready to hand. Jot down some examples of key competencies for quick reference.
  • If you are given a specific time, then you can make more effort to manage your environment and minimise distractions. If you're using a landline switch off your mobile and vice versa - you don't want to be interrupted by other calls and text messages.
  • Always keep your phone fully charged and find a strong signal. Losing your connection or conversational flow, can affect your confidence and may well frustrate the interviewer. They are time poor, so not likely to be terribly forgiving of avoidable mistakes.
  • If you're expecting the call, try to approach it as you would a face to face discussion. And treat it with the same seriousness. By all means, make your surroundings more comfortable (and it's always a good idea to keep a glass of water handy to help with the dreaded dry throat) but lying on your bed, with the TV on (even with the sound off!) is probably not conducive to a good interview performance.

During the interview

  • Don't assume that the interviewer has read your CV or application thoroughly - some will, but others merely scan the documents prior to the interview. You need to provide comprehensive answers with good, relevant examples - just as you would in a face to face interview.
  • On the other hand, don't waffle on. Telephone interviews are quite tightly timed and may only last 15 or 20 minutes. Do your research beforehand (this is not the time to wing it...) and try to condense the salient points into concise interview notes. With this preparation under your belt you should feel more confident about providing good, crisp answers. If you focus on evidence and examples you should do well.
  • It's normal to feel nervous and you may be tempted to write out verbatim answers, particularly if you're not a native speaker or are worried you might 'go blank'. Try not to do this. If you rehearse and regurgitate answers it will make you sound forced and robotic.
  • Word of warning: the interviewer is likely to hear you tapping away on a keyboard, so you might want to think twice about 'googling' information during the interview. Unless you are a highly proficient, stealth typist using an inaudible touch screen, it's probably best to avoid doing this.
  • If you don't hear the question properly or need further clarification - ask. You won't get another chance and it's much better to take the initiative than meandering round the question.
  • You can't judge the reactions of the interviewer or pick up subtle clues from body language, so if in doubt ask the interviewer if they're looking for another example or need more evidence. You can simply frame this in terms of, "Have I answered that question fully? Would you like me to elaborate?"
  • Smile! This may seem an odd suggestion given the interviewer can't actually see you, but smiling (and being animated) will help convey energy and enthusiasm.


  • Some firms will use an external recruitment agency for telephone interviews so you may not be speaking directly to an employee of the firm. They may have a checklist of standard questions, so the process can feel a little impersonal.
  • Depending on the sector, questions may range from the broad and general to the detailed and specific. If you're applying to financial services organisations you may be subject to a more thorough grilling, including technical, competency and motivational questions.
  • It's probably sensible to brush up on your commercial awareness, just in case. Almost all employers - regardless of sector - will look for some commerical insight, and many applicants are still failing to deliver the goods.
  • Try to prepare one or two questions to ask at the end of the interview. Ask sensible, intelligent questions (not things that can easily gleaned from the company website or promotional material). This is your opportunity to leave a positive, final impression.

If you have a telephone interview coming up and are worried about what to expect or how to handle it, you can talk it through with a job search adviser or careers consultant. Practice makes perfect, so why not book a mock interview to help you hone and refine your interview technique.

January 08, 2013

Looking for something different? Try procurement…

This blog has moved to a new address.
If you are not redirected automatically, follow the link to different-try-procurement.

SamHeard the word procurement and switched off? It's certainly true to say that procurement has had something of an image problem amongst students. Well maybe it's time to think again and consider a career in procurement. But don't just listen to the recruiters - read what Sam Teasdale, a business studies student on an industrial placement with National Grid has to say...

I'm currently working for National Grid, taking a year out from my business studies degree. Getting a 2:1 in my first year helped me progress past the preliminary stages for placement applications, as generally placements expect minimum 2:1. I am currently working in procurement (think of it as developing purchasing strategies and then purchasing everything the company requires) and hope that this post will encourage other students to consider this field and also recognise the benefits of taking a 'year out' to acquire some professional work experience.

The assessment centre - not as scary as you think!

Personally I thought one of the daunting experiences in the application was going to be the assessment centre; however on reflection this wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated. National Grid’s assessment centre is a two day event whereby you attend a dinner with the other candidates on the evening of first day and then complete the assessment day on second day.

The structure of the assessment centre was split into 3 tasks; interview, presentation and group exercise each are designed to test your skills in the 4 competency areas; developing oneself, building relationships, planning to achieve and presentation skills. Ensure you have some relevant examples to back up any questions surrounding these competency areas but overall the process really wasn’t that scary! Honest!

Using the skills I've developed at University

My placement is situated within Global Procurement which is responsible for annual spend in the region of £4.3bn globally making this department a crucial function to National Grid, more specifically I work in Global Procurement Strategy (GPS) as a strategy analyst. During my 12 months here I will be spending time in each of the 4 teams that make up GPS; Market Intelligence & Sustainability, Data & Systems, Performance Management and Process. Currently situated in Market Intelligence I am responsible for using my research skills developed at University to create high quality reports for buyers regarding market analysis they may require, this includes who’s out there, regulations, key drivers and generic market information. I then collate this into a slide deck and present back to the buyer, this is a very popular method and the buyers really do use this critical information.

Working in areas I'm passionate sustainability

The second part of my current job lies with sustainability, looking at how National Grid Procurement can become more sustainable for the future, whether the answer is to source more sustainable products or to change the specifications we usually use to procure to include increased energy efficiency, reduced carbon output or reduce our water usage in the supply chain. This element of my placement is particularly exciting as sustainability is a key prority - not just for National Grid - but other large corporations. Being able to do things now that are going to impact National Grid for years to come is particularly rewarding.

Team work, communication, organisational skills? Welcome to the world of procurement

I believe the key skills required to be successful in procurement are excellent communication, you will regularly be talking with your internal team and external teams. Once you start project work you could be working with other areas of this vast business and key stakeholders. Additionally another vital skill is team working, everything we do here in National Grid will centre on working as a team, and whether this is daily tasks or project work you will need to be able to blend with others. You will also need to be highly organised and be able to prioritise tasks accordingly, organisation is key as you will need to organise your workload and you must be able to prioritise your workloads each week for what needs to be completed and what can be put on the backburner for a while.

Why National Grid?

The support umbrella here at National Grid is fantastic, my line manager and the team are really supportive of me and interested in my personal development and how to maximise my potential. If I have any issues I can usually resolve them with my manager or team however if I had an issue that couldn’t be resolved ‘in house’ I have a dedicated Business coordinator to speak to and a personal buddy, as you can see there are enough people to support you during 12 months here. Upon enrolment in National Grid you are asked to join Newnet which is a community of new starters, Newnet organises socials, talks, visits and networking events to really make your experience here at National Grid a good one. This is a great opportunity as the services they offer are invaluable as a networking tool; moreover site visits and talks enabled me to learn more about National Grid as a whole and accelerate your integration into the company. I have felt like a valued (permanent) employee rather than a placement student

Overall I believe procurement is a fantastic department to have a placement, the experience and knowledge gained is invaluable and will ensure you develop as a person ready to secure that graduate job.

* The graduate guide to procurement is worth a look if you're considering other opportunities within the sector.

January 02, 2013

New year, new perspective?

This blog has moved to a new address.
If you are not redirected automatically, follow the link to

New YearThe holiday season is coming to a close, and with it that transient state of denial when we defer our worries, spend what we want, eat even more and exist in a virtual bubble of seasonal goodwill. And then New Year comes knocking, forcing many of us into a period of uneasy contemplation, thinking about what we've achieved and what still lies ahead. For some, this is a time to translate thought into action, defining goals for the year ahead in a series of 'resolutions'. I've never managed to make any resolutions, much less commit to them but I can see the value in taking stock. I'm just not convinced it needs to be date stamped. By seeing the New Year as a 'before' and 'after', you're in danger of setting yourself up to fail. 'Should' is a word laden with high expectations and offers nothing but a one way guilt trip. “I should get a job by the time I graduate” is an oft-heard refrain. Well great if you do, but what if this doesn’t quite materialise? By all means keep this aim in mind, but if you truly want 2013 to be a year of career success, you may need to see it as part of a longer journey, not just a final destination.

Be realistic

If you're a final year student and haven't really thought much about your career until now, you may struggle to combine the pressures of academic work and job search. Concentrate on the former - without a good degree, you'll find it hard to compete for any graduate level job, much less the highly prized graduate schemes. This doesn't mean you should neglect your career development - far from it - but you need to be honest about what you can achieve over the next few months. Finding a job is pretty time consuming, and you don't want to cut corners and apply for something that isn't right for you. There are small practical steps you can take now that will give you a firm anchor until you're ready (and have the time) to commit to your job search.

  • Talk to a careers consultant. They can help you make sense of where you are now, and offer reassurance that you're not alone. It might feel like everyone else is sorted - they're not!
  • Get your CV and LinkedIn profile up to scratch. This is something tangible you can do now, and it's also a good way to see how 'job ready' you are. Ignorance is far from bliss. Pretending you don't have gaps in your skills or experience won't make them go away. Better to know and be able to take action (whether now or when you graduate) than leave it and hope for the best.
  • If you haven't got any work experience, start making plans to find some. Unless you’re a seriously good multi-tasker, you may find it hard to fit a work placement around your revision during the Easter vacation, so it might be wise to concentrate on summer opportunities. If you're looking for help and guidance with the process, then come along to our work experience advice drop-in.
  • Take advantage of the career development workshops available throughout the spring and summer terms. In summer 2012 we launched the Career Success Toolkit to help finalists work through their careers angst; we'll be doing the same this year, so keep an eye out for news, info and workshop dates.

By all means, set yourself some deadlines to keep you on track but make them realistic. If you set the bar too high, you'll simply lose confidence and motivation when you 'fail' to clear the height.

Be resilient

If you have been on the job search treadmill and simply feel like you’re standing still, or even going backwards, now is the time to dig deep. We’re all at the mercy of external factors and influences (the economy, just for starters) and despite your best intentions – and efforts - you may have to deviate off course, or adjust your timeframe. If you’re not prepared for this it can be disheartening. Last year I wrote an article for the Guardian trying to help students and graduates find a way to maintain a positive, resilient attitude. It’s not easy, but small changes in behaviour and outlook can yield surprising results. I don't think much has changed in a year since I wrote that piece and I would probably echo the same sentiments, but with one or two further suggestions:

  • Try to avoid repeating the same mistakes. If you’ve fired off 200 applications and not received a positive response, ask yourself: is my strategy working? And then seek out help. It may be that a few minor tweaks to your CV will do the trick, but what if you're heading down the wrong career path? It's easier to change direction now, than plough more time and energy into a long and fruitless job search.
  • Ask for feedback. What do your friends, peers, family, employers think of you? Self-perception may not be the most reliable barometer of your 'worth’. Take the good with the bad. Successful people know their limits and play to their strengths.
  • If you haven’t already, join the relevant professional body or association for your sector or industry. A great source of information, news and potential vacancies and a whole network of new contacts to help motivate, inspire and support you.

In a world that’s become seduced by instant gratification, we often lose sight of the long game. Career spans a lifetime, not just a few years - there's plenty of time to 'get it right'.

January 2013

Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa Su
Dec |  Today  | Feb
   1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31         

Search this blog

Subscribe by email

Enter your email address:

Blog archive


Social networks

Not signed in
Sign in

Powered by BlogBuilder