Applying for a graduate scheme can seem daunting at first, but it needn't be. We've summarised some of our top tips to help you be more successful in your graduate scheme applications.
1. The Goal
When you imagine yourself working in 10 years, where are you?
What company are you in? What size is the company? Are you leading it? What type of work are you doing? Are you consulting or building the business you’re in? Are you based abroad? Are you working full-time?
These are the questions that you need to ask yourself when applying for a graduate scheme. By no means do you need to know the answers to all of them (you don’t necessarily need to be sure about any of them) but having a vision for what you would like to achieve is a precursor for success. You want to ensure that the scheme you are planning to apply for is a stepping stone to achieving your end goal. If you are unsure, consider what you dislike doing, research alternative options and go from there. A long-term outlook is key for the focus and drive that will get you through the graduate recruitment process all the way from ‘apply’ to the job offer.
If you have accomplished step one, step two is already underway. You have researched this company and have established that their aims are aligned with yours and you are ready to apply. Here comes the critical and somewhat obvious bit…learn about them!
Learn about their people, their values, their history, their goals, their achievements and what it is about them specifically that speaks to you. Specifically does not mean clicking on their careers website and reading the first three sentences about what they do and why you should work for them. Think creatively.
Read reports and news articles, watch their webinars and conferences, learn about any publications they have or any non-profit projects they operate, find out about any notable alumni or current awards that they hold, research their competitors and what makes them different, search forums or employee threads for insider knowledge that may help you win over some execs, the list goes on…
Specific knowledge about the company backs the claims that you make in your answer to ‘why do you want to work for us?’ and presents you as a more enthusiastic, believable and committed candidate. It is also key to highlight any knowledge you have about the company in your cover letter or initial written responses.
Arguably the most important or simply the most blogged about topic within graduate recruitment…
This stage refers to the preparation involved in getting you ready for the psychometric assessment; a stressful yet necessary step in the recruitment process.
When tackling the psychometrics, first and foremost CHECK what the company will be assessing. There is no use in perfecting an abstract reasoning test if this is not a part of the assessment. Most companies will utilise a verbal ability test, numerical ability test and a personality questionnaire. However additional tests of situational judgment, abstract reasoning or error spotting are often thrown in. The best way to prepare for these is simply to practise. Always practise a wide variety of test types and test lengths so that you are ready for whatever they throw at you. Sometimes (if you’re lucky) the company publish practise tests for you to try or they cite the name of the Psychometric Distributor so that you can find some examples yourself.
If you're taking a personality questionnaire, try and be honest as possible but keep in mind the company values because (more likely than not) they are basing the test questions off of these.
Do not take the tests lightly. They are there for a reason and will be a deciding factor in whether or not an employer continues with your application. The reality is that for the most competitive graduate schemes you need to be above average across the board to even be considered.
4. The Mind-set
“How many pizzas are there in Italy?”
Crazy case interview questions like this (that Management Consultancies tend to enjoy throwing at their applicants) are not there to catch you out. They are there to see how you handle pressure and how you think. A calm mind-set met with a rational and methodical approach tends to play out well; snappy decisions and guesswork usually do not. This also applies well to the more common ‘strengths and weaknesses’ competency questions.
The general purpose of an interview is to observe your communicative skills, allow you to think on your feet and for an interviewer to get a feel for who you are as a person. With this in mind if you practise well thought-out answers to a broad range of competency questions and situations you will do fine. If you practise these answers in a realistic interview-like environment you will do well. Moreover, if you are able to adapt your answers, apply them to multiple scenarios AND formulate new ones on the spot you will do even better.
It goes without saying that confidence is key in any job interview, so try not to let nerves get to you. Both you and the interviewer share a mutual goal in that you both want you to succeed so don’t go in thinking that they are out to get you because they’re not.
5. Emotional Intelligence
Emotional Intelligence is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one's emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.
This is a key trait which ideally should be utilised throughout the entire application however it is critically important at the assessment centre where you take part in both individual and group exercises. Assessment Centres are there to…well, assess you. From the moment you walk in the door to the moment you leave you are being observed. It is therefore important to be kind and courteous to all even if you are not physically working with them on a task. Candidates can be rejected immediately if they are rude or take no time to get to know the other people so make a conscious effort to make an effort.
A point should also be made about your role in the assessments. Even though you are being marked on what you say and how much you contribute, collaboration is key therefore there are no extra marks for being the authoritarian on a group exercise (even on a Leadership and Management AC). Listen to everyone and accept feedback when it is provided- it is not at all extraordinary for AC administrators to mark your non-verbal cues and social reactions just as closely.
6. Time Management
If you are a student (which you most likely are if you’ve made it this far) the above advice may be slightly daunting given that most graduate scheme applications open as the new academic year begins (or even earlier if you’re applying for investment banking).
The expectation to juggle lectures, seminars, dissertations and coursework on top of application preparation is a real testament to the inconspicuous and devious workings of graduate recruiters. Essentially, if you are able to conquer multiple graduate applications whilst being on track for a firm 2:1 (and beyond) you are already a very impressive candidate and should give yourself a pat on the back.
The tried and tested way to ensure you are prioritising your career applications is to set aside an hour or two everyday like you would a lecture and practise for the upcoming tests. Apply to as many as you think you can handle but don’t fall for the ‘you have to apply to at least 20’ trend because this is unrealistic and you probably won’t even want to work for all of them.
At the end of the day, the point of a graduate scheme is to give you the opportunity to fast-track your dream career so try to have fun in the process and keep thinking about that end goal.