All entries for December 2012

December 19, 2012

A quick guide to assessment centres

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Well Christmas is nearly here and with it the chance to relax and switch off...unless you're waiting to hear the outcome of applications and first round interviews, in which case the 'time off' may be better spent preparing for the next round of the selection process: the assessment centre. There's plenty of useful online info to demystify the process and help you prepare for assessment centres, but what about hearing from someone who's been through one? And come out the other side - with an offer. Over to Jim Zhang, 3rd year MORSE student and careers rep for the Statistics dept...

I completed an assessment centre for a summer internship at an Investment Bank and received an offer. This was my experience, but as ever it's probably worth adding a 'health warning'. This advice worked for me, but read it at your own discretion.

The day was broken down into four main parts:

  1. Company presentation
  2. Trading/Investment Game
  3. Lunch
  4. Interviews with relevant employers

You have to hit the minimum ‘standards’ in each section. This is vital; employers are looking for well rounded individuals. You have the chance to secure the job; do not think of the day as a competition to beat other candidates.

Company presentation

If a company gives a presentation, make sure you pay attention! This is a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the company so that you have more ammunition to express why you want to work for them. If you don’t have the best memory and that means taking notes, then do it. In the interviews later on in the day, I was asked what I remembered from the company and to describe the particular culture of the company. This day is learning experience so stay sharp. If you have equipped yourself with the right attitude, this section should be interesting!

Group exercises

Group exercises are a bit hit and miss for recruiters, some love them some hate them as candidates can be ‘fake’. Nevertheless, if you find yourself in one then the key thing here is to maintain a cooperative attitude. This means you should NOT at any circumstance be aggressive or attack anyone else’s opinions. Subtlety and professionalism is key here. Also, always be on the lookout to take the initiative when it comes to organising the group. Leaders stand out. Winning is not everything when it comes to group exercises, involvement is crucial.


Lunch is no time for rest. Try and engage with other students. You could be working with these guys in the summer/graduate programme so start building relationships! Sometimes, such as in my case, there may be employers around to chat to during lunch. Take this chance to learn more about the company and connect with them.


Interview advice is standard. Assessment centre interviews are often much more technical, but this again is just the minimum requirement. The technical aspects should not be the hurdle which you fall at. If HR has done their job right, everyone at the assessment centre should be technically aware and able to work in a team etc. What is most important is building a connection with your interviewers and showing that you are able to learn and work with them. This is what separates who gets offers and those who don’t.

I would say good luck but I don't think luck is the most relevant factor; the offer is there for the taking if you are prepared!

December 12, 2012

Start your career in an SME

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ForkIt's easy to see why so many students are drawn to the big graduate recruiters: prestige, salary, structured training and a fairly transparent (if sometimes rather lengthy) selection process. Competition for graduate schemes is intense, but the eye watering applicant to offer ratio doesn't seem to deter students - quite the opposite. And there's some powerful psychology at play: graduate schemes are synonymous with "success" - it takes a pretty confident and self-assured individual to resist their lure. Over the years I've seen scores of students who feel they should apply to big multinationals, and yet can't articulate a convincing reason why beyond a sense of expectation - it's what I'm supposed to do - or peer pressure - all my flatmates are applying.

Big graduate recruiters have a strong campus presence, which both reflects and sustains the relationship between students and recruiters. Companies wouldn't waste time and money on high profile promotional activities if they didn't work. Many of you will bag yourself a place on a grad scheme, but some won't and for a sizeable minority such opportunities may not be the best way to realise your career aspirations. It may just be time to broaden your horizons - and job search - and start thinking about SMEs...

Ok, so what are SMEs?

This is just a handy acronym for small and medium sized enterprises, defined as independent companies employing fewer than 250 employees. And here's an interesting fact: SMEs account for 99.9% of all private sector businesses in the UK and employ over 14 million people - pretty astonishing when you consider that SMEs are at best peripheral to, and at worst, completely absent from, many students' job search. We have seen increased SME engagement with our employer services over the past year and it's safe to say this is a becoming an important growth area for graduate recruitment. Not quite the same order of magnitude as the big corporates, but significant nonetheless. A quick search on myAdvantage today generated 38 immediate start vacancies, covering sectors as diverse as IT, marketing, media, finance and recruitment.

Perception v reality

A recent survey by, shed some light on student perceptions of SMEs and why there's a general reluctance to view SMEs as a viable alternative to the blue chips. Of the questions asked, the following three are the most illuminating:

  1. Over a pretend 12 month period do think you would learn more working for an SME or a large company? 76% said SME, with 25% voting for large company.
  2. Which would you consider more of a risk - working for an SME or working for a large company? 73% felt it was higher risk to work for an SME.
  3. Do you think it's more prestigious to work for an SME or a large company? 86% think it is more prestigious to work for a large company

It's hardly surprising that perception of risk (not without some foundation) precludes some of you from exploring the SME angle, but I can't help wondering if the response to question three is rather more telling? Are you wedded to the dream of a 'graduate job' because it confers status, and signals to the world that you've arrived...and succeeded? There's nothing wrong with that - we all like recognition, but in the current climate you may be artificially restricting your options if you concentrate your search exclusively on the big players. By waiting for that job offer (which may never come) you could miss out on the chance to get some real world experience and start building your career portfolio.

What are the benefits?

Now, I'm aware that anecdote doesn't equal evidence but I do have a personal story worth sharing. An acquaintance of mine who graduated last year (Russell Group; 2;1) spent a good few months post-graduation applying for any and every corporate finance scheme. Number of job offers: 0. As reality dawned he started to widen his job search and - his words - "lower my sights". He soon found a marketing job with a small digital media company. The salary and fringe benefits can't compare with the big graduate recruiters, but the experience certainly can: he's handling client accounts, organising corporate events and has played an active role at the negotiating table. Pretty impressive and guaranteed to wow future employers.

There are some real tangible benefits that come from working for an SME:

  • Smaller teams and a flatter organisational/management structure can create opportunities for you to shoulder early responsibility, manage projects and exercise greater influence over decision making.
  • Hands on experience. SMEs are not equipped to offer the same level of training and supervision as their larger rivals, so you may just have to get stuck in. A sure-fire way to become resourceful and resilient!
  • Roles in smaller organisations are often less rigid, so there's more chance for you to 'grow' your job and get involved with other tasks and functions.

If you can work with minimal supervision, are flexible, pragmatic and have a healthy dose of common sense then you may just find the SME route worth considering.

Where to find SME vacancies

SMEs are operating within much tighter budget constraints than big corporates, so try to minimise risk with recruitment and selection. They advertise 'as and when' and don't align with the graduate recruitment cycle. Don't expect a lengthy recruitment process: typically you would apply with a CV and covering letter and may be offered an interview (and job!) within a week or so. You'll need to be a little more resourceful and proactive in your job search, so make sure you:

  • Use myAdvantage vacancy search - you can set criteria by location, sector and start date.
  • Check the local and national press - keep your search area as broad as possible.
  • Use your networks - face to face and online (see this: social media core medium for SME recruitment).
  • Keep up to date with business/industry press - who's expanding, diversifying? Any new start-ups?
  • Are you near any science or business parks? Why not send some speculative applications?
  • Consider Step if you're looking for a shorter placement - this could be a good way in.

SMEs are keen to recruit bright, capable graduates who want to contribute from day one. You may initially lose out in the glamour and finance stakes, but you'll gain valuable knowledge and experience. What better way to drive your career forward?

December 06, 2012

Not sure what to do when you graduate? Try TEFL

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Today's guest post is from Helen Hargreave of leading TEFL provider, i-to-i. Helen talks through the benefits of teaching abroad - how it can boost your CV, broaden your horizons and help you stand out in a crowded job market.

Thinking about what to do after University? Job climate got you in a panic? Look no further than TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) - your ticket to instant employability.

This is your chance to get ahead of the rat race, boost your CV, gain valuable working experience and travel - the people you meet, cultural immersion and the fun you have are a nice added bonus! If you can speak English you can teach English with no experience necessary, sound tempting?


There are over 1 billion English language learners = the world needs TEFL teachers!

If there was an opportunity for the taking, this is the one. You’ve got a degree, so why do you need a TEFL certificate too? In most countries a degree is needed for visa purposes but a TEFL qualification will provide you with all of the necessary training to make you a confident teacher.

As the demand for English teachers has increased (especially in Asia) employers are also demanding the level of teaching experience and training that comes with a TEFL Certificate.

Which TEFL course is for me?

When choosing your TEFL course and destination, here are a few things to consider:

  • What age group do you want to teach?
  • What kind of hours do you want to work?
  • What kind of environment do you want to work in?
  • How much teaching experience do you have?

Asking yourself these questions will help you find that dream TEFL job!

What happens when I am qualified?

Armed with a degree and a TEFL certificate the world is your oyster! As soon as you’re qualified you can start applying for TEFL jobs all over the world and get paid. Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Italy, Nicaragua...wherever takes your fancy!

Explore typical TEFL jobs to discover where you could be and how much you could be earning!

What do most TEFLers do?

At i-to-i we find the most popular TEFL hotspot is China. Home to the Great Wall and Peking duck, China has an extremely high demand for TEFL teachers as many parents are now sending their children to learn English as young as two! With many employers offering free accommodation, airfare and food it’s no wonder that China is top of the destination charts.

Many TEFLers use their new skills to make the most of learning about another culture. Most TEFL contracts are one year long and this might seem like a daunting prospect but there are endless positives to teaching for one year. It is a great opportunity to immerse yourself in another culture, perfect your teaching and get paid for it, get to know your students and more importantly see how YOU’VE impacted their lives - not only this but it demonstrates to future employers your dedication to a worthwhile cause.

Working hours will vary from contract to contract/place to place etc. but on weekends and evenings TEFLers tend to make the most of their new surroundings!

How can I take TEFL further?

TEFL doesn’t have to end after a year. The beauty of TEFL is that it can act as your passport, allowing you to pick up teaching contracts in whichever country takes your fancy and turn TEFL into a long-term career.

Where will TEFL take you? Download our free Top 10 Destinations to find out more.

Helen Hargreave is one of the TEFL Experts at i-to-i the leading course provider. See more articles by Helen on the The TEFL Blog

December 02, 2012

A grad's eye view: managing your job search

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There's plenty of information out there to help you prepare for interviews, but it's often the experiences and insights of your peers that resonate most strongly. Esther, a recent Warwick MSc graduate, has taken time out to reflect on her experiences and share her top tips for a successful job search...

It is not easy to find a graduate level job in this economy, but it is possible. Overall, the people who get graduate-level jobs are not necessarily the most talented, but rather those who are the most ready. This is why you have to be meticulous in your job search strategy. So, here are some tips:

  • Start looking early: I was lucky to end up with two offers at the end of my Master’s degree, and therefore have the opportunity to choose. But I sent my first CV about a year before I signed my first contract and I sent my application to my current company in March, signing my contract in September. This is why you have to start looking while you are still at Uni.
  • Treat all interviews as good practice: An interview is like a one-man show. All the spotlights are on you, but the audience has yet to be won over. In order to have a great show, you need to have a lot of rehearsals. You may need a couple of interviews before it becomes routine and you know what questions to expect and what answers to give.
  • Be ambitious but realistic: You need to aim high, but do not cling to a dream job (or dream company) that you don’t have the capacities to get. You WANT your dream job but you NEED any job in your field. A bird in the hand is better than two in the bush. Aim to get a job in your field first; then you’ll be able to apply to your dream company once you have acquired real experience.
  • Use a list of key words that employers want to hear (e.g. hard working, team-oriented, ability to multitask, extensive knowledge of……., etc) and have a short story connected to previous experiences to illustrate each keyword : It is all about selling yourself. It is up to you to demonstrate that a couple of baby-sitting hours made you an expert in client relations, or that serving beer at a bar for a summer has sharpened your analytical skills. Acing an interview requires a lot of upstream preparation.
  • Do not put something on your resume that you could not talk about for at least 5 minutes. You do not have to start scratching things from your CV, but think about how each line can serve as an opportunity to showcase skills that the company is looking for.
  • Looking for a job is a full time job: It is costly in time and money. You need to develop a routine and stick to it if you want to be successful (e.g.: Decide that you have to look for opportunities and send applications from 1 to 4p.m. every day, until you get a job).
  • Debrief in writing every interview that you have: How long it lasted, what questions they asked, what exercises you were given and what you didn’t know. This will help you avoid making the same mistakes in the future. Excel sheets are a very good tool for this.
  • No matter what happens, always stay on good terms with your interviewers: A thank you email after an interview process is a must (whatever the outcome of the encounter). I was recently contacted by a company whose first offer I had previously declined a couple of month ago, for a second interview for an even better position. I fully believe this happened because of my tenacity to show politeness and potential corporate spirit throughout the first interview process.

Esther graduated from Warwick with an MSc in Biotechnology, Bioprocessing and Business Management and is currently working as a strategy consultant for a company specialising in pharmaceutical consulting.

December 2012

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