When I started applying for placements, I had no idea what to expect and didn’t really know that much about going through the application process. Now looking back there are a lot of things I would have done differently, and I’m really grateful to have gone through the experience (I feel much more prepared for applying to Graduate Schemes now!).
One of the biggest lessons I have learnt is that you should start applying early, not only because many of the bigger companies close early but to have time to get a feel for the process. It is beneficial to apply to some of the less competitive placements first; gaining invaluable experience on what companies look for in applications, how assessment centers work and how to prepare for interviews. All of this puts you on a better footing for when you are applying to placements that you’re really keen on getting!
When I first started looking for the placement, I made the most of the career services at Aston. They’re there to help with CV and Cover Letters as well as mock interviews. This is really worthwhile as they have some great advice and can really help you improve before the real thing. Some companies, including PWC, offer mock interviews, which isn’t something I made the most of at the time but I’m sure is a really great opportunity! Aston also have a lot of Career Fairs, which is a great chance to meet representatives from organisations you may be interested in and ask some valuable questions.
It’s hard to know where to start when you’re first looking. I found that the Aston Futures as well as other websites such as Milkround and RateMyPlacement were the most useful, but there are many more. I knew the industry I was interested in, but was still unsure of the roles I wanted to apply for. It’s worth looking into what you’re interested in and the kind of roles you feel might suit you, as well as getting a better understanding of what a role entails. This background knowledge is also extremely useful as throughout the application and interview process you need to show a keen interest in the company, what they are about and what you can contribute if they were to hire you. With so many people applying for these roles, showing you’re willing to learn and are enthusiastic about the company and their values can help you to stand out in the crowd.
Many of the online applications are similar, and I found that after completing a couple and saving the basic outlines of my initial applications I was able to complete the rest with more ease. Before hitting send it is really helpful to have someone else proof read what you have said this way silly mistakes aren’t missed and you don’t look bad on the application. Usually the next stage is the online SHL tests. Most companies I applied for had numerical and verbal, but some also had non-verbal reasoning and personality tests. I found the tests weren’t too bad, but you have to be prepared to think on your feet and master tasks quickly as many have short time limits. Practice tests for these can be found online on websites such as SHL and as with anything practice makes perfect so practice, practice, practice!
The next step is the telephone interview. I found it very nerve racking waiting for the call! These are usually competency based with set questions, allowing you to prepare well in advance. The competency questions are often based around the skills sets companies are looking for and examples of these can normally be found with a little research on their website. Be prepared to give examples of how you embody these skills and applying them in everyday situations.
Finally the assessment centers! These aren’t something which I’d ever experienced before and seem to vary from company to company. They often have a set schedule for the day and involve some core activities ranging from redoing SHL tests, written tasks, group activities, an interview and a presentation. Presentations at some companies are given to you to prepare in advance but other will expect you to prep there on the day. Remember everyone’s in the same position as you and probably nervous, so just be yourself and talk to everyone else that is there! My best advice for assessment centers would be to find out as much about the day as possible, make sure you’re prepared and know your stuff! Most importantly be yourself, if the interviewers like you as a person and you get on well, they are much more likely to recruit you than someone that just looks good on paper.
The hard work of applying for placements really does pay off, and being an intern at Nationwide has been a life changing experience!! As cliché as it sounds, you really do learn something new every day.