It has begun! The early bird applications for 2013 graduate schemes have started going live. Some of the most sought after graduate schemes from big name companies are starting or have already started their recruitment process for next year's graduates. Many of these applications are comprised of multiple, sequential stages, which they are likely to detail for you in the advertisement. The process may seem a little daunting when you first read over it but it's not as scary as it may seem. The first step is usually the written application, which often includes a personal statement and few questions regarding the fit between you and the role and company. A must-do before filling this out is to conduct a little research on the company; have a browse on their website (the careers section and the main site) to find out their values, what they do and their approach to work, and, most importantly, what kind of person they are looking for. This will give you inspiration for filling out this section and you can tailor your answers to make sure that they showcase your relevant skills and attributes. Don't get carried away and waffle on, it's all about the quality. After this stage you may be required to complete some online assessments. These typically include the following:
  • Numerical reasoning - questions require you to interpret data (e.g. graphs, tables) and do a little bit of calculation; they frequently involve percentages so brush up on these before tackling this section (maybe make yourself a help sheet for quick calculations)
  • Verbal reasoning - questions require you to interpret/evaluate passages of text, these can be a bit tricky but practice definitely helps
  • Non-verbal/abstract/logical/inductive reasoning - questions require you to work with abstract or unfamiliar information and find solutions, you've probably seen some of these before, they are frequently a sequence of shapes that display a pattern and you have to identify the next shape in the sequence. These are designed to test flexibility so, just like with muscles, your brain would benefit from a practice warm up.
  • Motivation and personality questionnaires - these are designed to assess your style of working and factors that may affect your motivation. These may require your to arrange a small number of statement in order or importance or relevance to you. It is really important that you don't try to answer them the way that you think they want you to, answer them honestly!
  • There may be other test that are more specialised and relevant to particular roles (mechanical reasoning, speed and accuracy and deductive reasoning, for example).
The next stage is usually an interview or an assessment centre. For both of these you need to prepare! Being prepared helps you to be confident and helps you to avoid becoming overwhelmed with the information, questions or tasks that you might be posed with. Assessment centres typically involve some of the following:
  • Group task - this is where you are put into small/medium sized groups and are given a task that you must work on. I went to one last year and out task was to allocate the budget for next year to key areas of the business whilst also making some cuts. These tasks are used to assess how you work with others and the key things that they are looking attributes that they are looking for are leadership, team work and organisation as a group. Tips: encourage others to talk, don't try to control everyone, helps to steer the discussion towards a solution/conclusion, manage your time to ensure that you complete the task.
  • Presentation - this could be one-to-one or presenting to a small group and is often an extension of the group task or on a similar topic. When I did this, it was one-to-one and was an extension of the budget task; we were given 30 minutes to prepare our presentation sheets then 5 minutes to present with questions afterwards. Tips: make sure you address the question/task fully so that you don't get caught out; don't focus on getting everything down on the paper, it's more important to complete it and cover all the main points; the assessor is looking for the positives and things that you do well, they aren't trying to mark you down so don't get too nervous.
  • Interview - this will, in most cases, be just you and one or two members of the company. They are looking to get a deeper insight into your personality, strengths and achievements so that they can assess your fit with the role and company and also your potential. Again they are not trying to mark you down, they have invited you to this stage and want to know more about you; the interviewer that I had was lovely! Tips: know your CV well in case they ask you about certain items on it; take a deep breath and begin your sentences slowly to stop yourself tripping over your words; think about the questions before you answer, they don't mind a little pause; use the STAR technique when you give an example: Situation (outline the context) , Task (outline the task you were required to do), Action (describe what you did to achieve the task), Result (describe the end result of your efforts and what they meant for the company/team).
  • You may also be asked to re-sit the online assessment that you did before the assessment centre so to a little practice before you go
Here are some lifelines for each stage:
Written application: use your careers service! I was reluctant at first but I went along and it was brilliant.
Online assessments: I found a great app called Aptitude Test Trainer, which has numerical, verbal, non-verbal and mechanical aptitude test that you can practice. Also SHL Direct has lots of full-length practice test that you can complete and this is the testing company that many employers use; click here for the website.
Assessment centre: again, use your careers service, they are there to help with exactly this.
I hope this helps you and good luck with your applications!