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December 02, 2012
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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.
November 17, 2012
The graduate recruitment process can seem really daunting: even if you survive the initial application sift, you can still look forward to a further two or three stages before you reach the final hurdle. But the key to success lies in preparation and understanding what the interviewer is looking for, so I caught up with Claire Jones, Student Recruitment Officer at PwC, to ask for her top tips to beat the odds.
Whichever opportunity you're applying for at PwC (or anywhere else), there are some things that you should be thinking about so we've put together some hints and tips:
Do your research
We'll expect you to be able to talk coherently and confidently about PwC, the position you're applying for, the business world in general and yourself. The more you know about these things, the more prepared you'll be, so you'll have to get researching.
Think about investigating the following sources of information:
- Our brochures and website (careers and corporate)
- The financial media (press, television, internet)
- Relevant professional bodies (especially if they offer a qualification you're interested in pursuing)
- Anyone you know who works for PwC (or a similar firm)
Don't just give them a quick glance the day before your interview. Examine them, understand the issues and keep yourself up to date.
Completing your application form
Remember first impressions count so the application form is a major opportunity to sell yourself. Before you complete the form, you may find it useful to gather accurate details of your university and secondary education exam results, work experience and employment. While completing the form, remember to:
- Read and follow instructions carefully.
- Proof read everything you write including checking grammar and spelling.
- Be concise as you can elaborate at interview.
- Don't repeat statements you've read in our brochures and website.
- Don't be vague or lie about your results as we will check your academics at a later stage in the process.
Taking the tests
These tests help to determine your numerical, logical or verbal reasoning ability.
- You can practise taking the tests before you sit the real ones.
- The test will be timed and you should work as quickly and accurately through the questions you're presented with.
- Ensure you read each question carefully and that you understand what's required before committing yourself to an answer, especially where multiple choice answers appear similar.
We'll also ask you to complete an Occupational Personality Questionnaire and you may be asked to complete a Student Talent Questionnaire.
Preparing for interview
Interviews can be nerve wracking, but the more prepared you are the more relaxed you should feel. Ensure to:
- Do thorough research prior
- Remind yourself of the things you've done that can help you demonstrate the skills and qualities we've listed
- Think about the questions you're likely to be asked and your responses
- Come up with questions you want to ask
We'll be looking to find out:
- Why you want to join PwC
- What you understand about the work we do
- What you think about the vacancy you've chosen
During the interview
Be truthful and concise, answer the exact questions asked and don't ramble about irrelevant things. Our interviewers are not given a set list of questions to go through but you can expect most to be in relation to our 'Global Core Competencies' such as:
- What do you know about our business?
- Why have you decided to apply to us?
- Are there any issues or current affairs that interest you?
- What has been your biggest challenge?
- When have you worked in teams?
- How are you able to juggle your commitments?
Remember, we're not expecting you to be perfect but preparing for some of these questions will certainly help you to feel confident that you've given it your best shot.
At the assessment centre
- Prepare what you're going to wear beforehand - if in doubt, dress conservatively.
- All materials required such as paper and pens will be provided for you. You can bring your own calculator but if you choose not to, one will be provided for you.
- Make sure you bring all necessary additions eg reading glasses, inhaler, prescribed medication.
- You'll undertake numerical, logical and verbal reasoning tests (depending on your business area) so prepare yourself for these and work through the practice information sent in advance.
- During the written exercise, you'll be required to read the briefing materials and prepare a written report on the given subject.
- You'll participate in either a group discussion or individual exercise so ensure that you speak clearly and audibly so that the assessors can hear you.
- There'll probably be at least one and up to 11 other participants attending the same assessment day but remember you're not in competition with them but judged on your own, individual merits.
And finally - good luck!
November 01, 2012
'Employers only spend 30 seconds scanning your CV'. It may surprise you to know that many recruiters are actually spending far less time. 80% less, in fact. You may have just 6 seconds to persuade an employer to take a second look. Now there's no such thing as a perfect CV - no 'magic bullet' - but you can improve your chances by following such pretty basic rules.
Tailor your CV
- It may sound obvious but many applicants still fall at the first hurdle. Graduate recruiters tell us they still see far too many CVs that are bland and generic. Don't send a vanilla CV.
- You need to align your CV with the job and person spec and provide evidence that you have the skills and competencies required.
- Take heed of sector and industry norms. And 'cultural preference'. My recommendations are specific to the UK market, other countries may differ.
Highlight your work experience
- Prioritise the most relevant work experience and emphasise any specific projects, tasks or skills that relate to the job.
- It doesn't have to be paid work to count. Voluntary work can help you showcase an impressive array of skills and experience.
- Don't feel daunted if your work experience isn’t directly relevant; you can still draw out some useful skills and demonstrate to a potential employer you understand the most basic requirements of the workplace: time management, communication and team work. Any work experience is better than none!
Find your selling points
- You may not have everything the employer is looking for but remember the job spec often represents a ‘wish list’. Don’t rule yourself out because there are gaps. Highlight your areas of strength.
- Make the most of your skills and experiences by providing tangible evidence and examples. ‘Illustrate and substantiate’. Don’t assume an employer will infer anything – if you don’t tell them, they won’t know.
- Find your USP. What makes you different from your fellow students/grads?
Speak the language
- Try not to pepper your CV with too many buzzwords or jargon. Use industry or professional terminology to show you understand the environment but don’t overdo the ‘management speak’.
- Use powerful keywords that mirror the job spec and show how you will add value to an organisation.
- A CV is a sales document, not a biography. Avoid padding. Be selective and edit.
Think about presentation
- Most employers in the UK expect to see a two page, reverse chronological CV but this isn’t always the case. Many investment banks prefer one page. Check what’s required and use the right format and style.
- Use a professional, modern, ‘sans serif’ font; separate sections with clear headings; use bold or italics for emphasis and check spelling and grammar.
- Avoid gimmicks and novelty CVs. It's better to err on the side of caution. Unless you're going for creative roles, stick to a more conventional format. You can always link to your visual CV or infographic, but this should complement not replace.
Before you click send, print off a copy and adopt the arm's length test. Hold your CV out in front of you - at arm's length - and see what overall impression it creates. It should be easy to read, well laid out, with clear headings and good balance of text and white space. If in doubt, ask a job search adviser to check it for you. A good CV may not guarantee you a job, but a poor one will certainly end in rejection.
October 19, 2012
As you've probably noticed, the careers fair 'season' has kicked off in earnest. Last week saw the first of our autumn fairs – Impact – and Stephanie Baravelli, final year philosophy student (and careers rep) popped along to get the employer lowdown....
As a student, one of the most stressful things we encounter are job applications. The world of graduate employment is a competitive one, and the right application can easily mean the difference between getting an interview or not. So how can you give yourself the best chance of getting through to the next stages of the recruitment process?
We spoke to a multitude of different employers at the Impact Fair, concerning the most important piece of advice they would give to students who are applying, and one resounding message emerged from almost every employer. The key to giving yourself the best chance is a simple one, but is something that many students fail to do and a source of great frustration to employers; read the material provided by an employer and use this to tailor your application to that specific company.
Employers want to employ graduates who match the needs of the company and the team they will be working in. This may seem like an obvious statement, but many students fall at this hurdle by submitting either a destined-for-the-bin ‘general’ application or a more specific application tailored to the field, but not to the company; an IBM representative at the fair said that success “is in the details”. Many of the employers spoken to said that if a recruitment team looks at your application, and can’t see clearly why you would be a good fit for the role, your application is unlikely to go any further.
Fear not though: companies are not trying to catch you out with this process. We asked one employer what advice he would give to students to better their chances; he handed us a booklet and said read it through. It seems many students and grads are failing to do this. It may sound obvious (because it is!) but read the material thoroughly – don't just leave the glossy brochures gathering dust at the bottom of your fair goody bag. Booklets that are handed out by employers at careers fairs or through the careers service contain within them, under all the jargon and superlatives, key information that you can and should utilise when applying. One of the things that frustrated the employers I spoke to most was that they provide so much material for students – including things like details of the company ethos and the person specification – and yet this is seemingly ignored in many applications.
So, for those of you about to apply for graduate jobs, or any other type of job, make sure you are paying attention to what the company wants and tailoring your applications. If the company has put their ethos in bold on the front cover of their booklet, it is obviously important to them, so you need to think how you can show them you understand and embody that ethos. The materials the companies provide are there for a reason – use them, and you are giving yourself a much better chance of making it through to the next stage of recruitment.
And if you would just allow me a quick 'NB' it is this: please don’t ignore grammar and spelling. You may think this doesn't need saying but according to many employers – including big companies like Coca-Cola – spelling mistakes run rampant throughout applications, and are a real turn off to employers. An error filled application makes you seem lazy or careless – or possibly both! Remember that most of the large employers will be looking at hundreds of applications – try to make their jobs easier by running a quick spell check or getting a friend to read through your covering letter. Many of the graduate recruiters will only 'permit' one or two small errors throughout your application: don't screen yourself out on the basis of a few silly mistakes.
October 11, 2012
It's the season (again) where many of you are frantically completing application forms for jobs and internships. Charlie and Ioanna, our job search advisers, have taken time out from their busy schedule to give you a potted guide to competency-based questions. Master the technique and you stand a much better chance of beating the application odds....
Application forms – and certainly those for graduate positions – include some competency based questions. Employers use this type of question to see how well you can describe your actions (and the results of your actions) when it comes to certain 'competencies' such as team working, problem solving and leadership. A typical question might be, “Give me an example of a time when you have demonstrated initiative?” Or you may be asked about “a time when you had to support an idea you did not agree with for the good of the team.”
Put yourself in the employer's shoes
As with many of the elements of the job application process, success depends on looking at things from the employer's perspective.
First up, what does the employer want from you? It's crucial you check the job spec. Highlight the key words (e.g. 'initiative', 'motivated') and try to infer other competencies the job may require. For instance, a project management role will look for evidence of organisation, communication and problem solving. Some recruiters are explicit about the skills and competencies they're looking for, whereas others may simply offer clues and expect you to fill in the blanks. If you see a job description that mentions 'brand champion', it's safe to conclude that marketing experience and communication skills will be paramount.
Reflect on situations where you have demonstrated these key skills. Remember, they don’t all have to be in the workplace. Employers like to see examples drawn from a range of activities and experiences. Try not to be too daunted by your peers: yes, there will always be some students that have managed to acquire a seriously impressive portfolio of work experience whilst leading two societies, volunteering every week, working part time and scaling K2...but they're not the majority. Inject some of your personality by choosing an example that demonstrates your passion and commitment. This can set you apart from the crowd. I once listened to a student describe how he had built a drum kit from parts he bought on eBay – he demonstrated initiative, problem solving and persistence. I was completely drawn in by his passion for each element of the building process.
Show you 'CARE'
Employers like answers to be concise, clear and focussed on 'you'. Nothing frustrates employers more than candidates who invoke the royal 'we'! A good way to practise is by following the CARE model:
Context – What was the context of the situation? 10-15% of your answer.
Action – What exactly did you do and how? 60-70% of your answer.
Result – What was the result of your actions? 10% of your answer.
Evaluation – What did you learn from the experience? 10% of your answer.
Ultimately, be guided by the structure suggested in the wording of the question. Some questions have more than one part and you must address each and every one in your answer.
- Be clear, concise and specific – avoid generalisations and skirting around the issue.
- Be detailed as to what you did and how you did it. Remember, employers are assessing whether you are adequately skilled in the particular competency.
- Use the maximum available word allowance but don’t exceed it.
- Tailor each application to the specific organisation. Employers will spot where you fail to do this. Don't be tempted to copy and paste – it will show!
Check deadlines and give yourself plenty of time to draft well considered answers. And remember, try to adopt the sniper, not scattergun approach to your applications. Use feedback from our job search advisers and recruiters (where possible) to update and refine your applications. Time invested at the application stage is time well spent.