Saturday, 18 January 2020

Summer Placements: Five top tips for application success!

Jack Trethewey, Cohort 2018

’Tis the season to be applying for placements and as a well-versed applicant, offer-receiver and rejectee, I thought it prudent to share with you some key pieces of advice I have accumulated over the past three years. I hope this article may serve as a confidence-booster for any aspiring intern.

1. Make your CV shine!

I cannot stress this point enough. The first glimpse that any manager or interviewer gets of you is in that document. So, always check your CV before you submit it. Is it up to date with the correct contact details, qualifications, references and experiences? Is it concise, yet closely matched in language and tone to the job you’re applying for? Is the layout easy to follow? You must remember that your recruiter has potentially hundreds of CVs to look through, so getting to the point and showing all your experience as quickly and concisely as possible is key.

2. A good Cover Letter is vital

Many placements provide the opportunity to upload an optional cover letter with your application. Always do this. If there is no option, send one in a separate email. A cover letter is a chance to add a personal touch to your application, to highlight the most relevant areas of your CV and demonstrate to the manager why they would be mad not to hire you. Take 15 minutes to visit their website and write down some key details about the company that make them particularly desirable to work for. Again, conciseness is key. Through trial and error, I have learnt to split my cover letter into two main paragraphs. The first, highlighting all of the key attributes I possess that make me an ideal fit for the role and an asset to the company. The second, explaining all the fantastic qualities they possess that would make them so rewarding to work for. Don’t be afraid to go into detail, explain exactly what it is you wish to learn and exactly how the company can help you achieve this. But if you have a particular style that works for you, use it. Remember, cover letters are supposed to be dynamic and unique. However any letter should contain all necessary contact information and should ideally be hand signed. I have found that the best way to do this is to sign the letter and scan it back in.

3. Video interviews – think carefully and speak slowly

Many companies (such as Dyson, BAE Systems and Nissan) now require you to complete a video interview during the application process. Normally, you only get one shot at these, so it’s important to get your message across first time. Firstly, treat these videos like any regular interview. That is, dress sharply, iron your clothes, research the role and most importantly, look into the camera, not the screen! These videos are the first time the interviewer will see your face, so think about the first impression you want to give. It would be a good idea to keep a notepad handy to write down any impromptu ideas during the questions. You’ll often be given a few seconds to compose yourself and think. If you still feel uncomfortable with this step, the University of Sheffield Careers Service online has practise video interviews to try for enrolled students.

4. Online tests are harder and more important than you think.

Companies often require demanding online tests to be completed before the next stage of an application. Take your time over these. Find yourself a quiet space, put on some comfortable clothes and make yourself a big pot of tea and some comfort food – you’re going to need it! At first you may be greeted with floating shapes and squiggly lines and then asked to calculate a series of seemingly irrelevant percentages and decimals. Then you may be given a particular scenario and asked to give an opinion on the best response. The questions can seem overwhelming at first, but take a breath, have a gulp of tea and try to think logically and carefully. Don’t try to second guess the examiner – just answer honestly. The best way to improve at these types of tests is to practise them as often as you can.

5. The interview day – you got this!

It’s now time for the hardest task, your interview. Try to imagine the following scenario – an interview day based heavily on my previous experience:

You travel to the company headquarters and you wait nervously for what feels like an eternity on a foam chair, next to a gurgling water cooler. A bead of sweat trickles down your temple. Then, the manager walks in, arms crossed with a pursed smile and invites you into the room. Your first task is the formidable handshake. Tackle this with confidence, a smile and a reassuring firmness. It is worth practising your perfected shake on friends before the day. Now, you follow them hesitantly into a stuffy room where you are greeted by two other vultures in suits, just chomping at the bit to tear you apart. They offer you a drink and you politely decline. Then, the middle vulture speaks quickly with an authoritative tone. Their confidence shocks you and you retreat deeply into your own world. But then, a pause. Suddenly you’re crucially aware of three expectant pairs of eyes opposite you, waiting for your response, for your justification as to why you even bothered to walk through their doors. You clear your throat, inhale deeply and you start to remember how thoroughly you’ve prepared for this day. You remember just how far you’ve progressed in the application process, where others have failed. You remember all the strengths you have that make you so perfect for the role. And suddenly, like a switch, the dynamic changes. The three vultures sitting opposite you become regular people who, like you, have had their own share of failures and mistakes. As you speak, you realise they were once in your shoes too, nervous and scared of saying the wrong thing. Suddenly, your fear goes and you tackle the rest of their questions with an impressive preparedness. The interview ends, you shake their hands and leave politely, realising at the end of the day you are just as valuable to them as they are to you.

The above scenario sounds quite unnerving, but there are a few crucial things to remember to help you deal with the stress. Firstly, the onset of stress results in illogical thinking which can cause further anxiety. So no matter what, keep your logical head about you. Breathing exercises and practising mindfulness can help with this. Secondly, remember your interviewers are just people. You are just as important as them and they have weaknesses like you. Thirdly, remember you are obviously an excellent candidate for the role, otherwise you wouldn’t have progressed all the way to the interview day. Finally, remember how well you have prepared for the day. Your hard work means you know your stuff and you are ready for whatever comes your way. Good luck!

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