Applying For Graduate Jobs

Elle’s Declassified Grad Scheme Application Survival Guide.

Photo by Free To Use Sounds on Unsplash

Securing a graduate job after your final year of university is one step closer to the rest of your life. If the time is right, you’re probably in your final year of university, you have coursework to submit, group projects to agonise over and a dissertation to write. You’re just starting to think about what comes next and where to even start with graduate job applications. I know this is an extremely daunting process to go through, and I want to share all the advice here that I wish I could give to my past self before I started applying for grad jobs. Lets call this my declassified grad scheme application survival guide…

NOTE I will be speaking rather generally about “graduate schemes”, but I am mainly going to focus on the process of applying for graduate schemes within the tech industry, or “technology / software engineering” grad schemes (Experiences will differ between companies, and if you’re looking for a guide on how to get on a grad scheme at Facebook, this is not the place). That being said, most of this advice is universal and will apply to most settings. Similarly, I am speaking from my own personal experiences of applying for graduate schemes in the U.K. and I can’t speak for other peoples experiences, or what it’s like to apply for schemes in other countries.

Before Applying

Before you jump head first into applying for every graduate job that you come across, to give yourself the best possible starting place, we have some groundwork to do.

Do you have things on your CV that show off your skills and experience? Maybe you did an internship over the summer? Or some freelance work you did while you were studying? Make sure those are clearly laid out on your CV, alongside some key bullet points describing what you did, and anything noteworthy that you worked on during that time. Hackathon creations and side projects also look great on your CV. They don’t have to be perfect, fully built products, but a small portfolio of projects that show your passion and skills will really benefit your applications.

Info Gathering & Research

First things first, prepare to get these applications out early. A lot of graduate schemes (including Microsoft, Google, IBM etc.) open up earlier than you think and close really quickly, so try to be on the ball and get ready early so you’ve got a head start.

The search starts now. If you know that there are specific companies you want to work for, have a look at their early careers pages, and search for graduate jobs on google and LinkedIn. New schemes will open up all the time, so make it a habit to search a couple times a week. Some organisations, including possibly your university, may have a job board or opportunities page where they post new job listings. I used Gradcracker the most during my search.

As you come across opportunities you like the look of, make a note of them — I recommend having a document or notion page dedicated to your job search where you keep track of each job you find, along with a link to the listing, and the closing date (if it’s stated, it usually isn’t). You should also be doing your own research on each company you find that you might apply to, this will be vital later.

When I say research, I mean research. You need to know the company and from what you find, make sure it is a company that you want to work for. Find out the company’s core values and what they stand for. Have they announced anything big recently? What kind of projects do they work on? Who are their customers? Their competitors? Why do you want to work for them? Find out as much as you can, and keep a record of it all.

While I was applying for grad schemes, I set up a notion page listing each company I applied to, all the research I did on each company, what stage of the application process I was in, and the date of the last time I had heard from them (some places will ghost you for months, no word after throwing your CV into the void — it’s not exactly ‘courteous’ of them, but it happens A LOT). If you use notion, you can duplicate my application tracker.

We are finally ready to churn out some applications.

Applications

The first step in each application is usually filling out a registration form. Make sure you have all of the information you need ready, including your GCSE and A-Level grades. These registrations usually require lots of legal information, they’ll ask for your CV, then also probably ask you to submit all the information that is already on your CV separately (🤷‍♀️ I know…), and they might also include some initial screening questions about why you want to apply for this position. This is where your research comes in! Use what you previously found to help you answer this.

After you’ve filled everything in, and you hit that ‘Submit’ button… we play the waiting game. You might hear back within a week, or maybe not for a month, but next up after the registration are usually the psychometric tests.

(All grad jobs applications are different, so your experience may be different from what I’m describing, you may personally not have to complete any of these things, but I will be talking about all of the various assessments / procedures I was subject to during my applications for multiple companies).

Psychometric Tests

Ah psychometric tests…

Does anyone remember that brain training game for the Nintendo DS where you could do sudoku and maths puzzles to find out “how old” your brain is? That is probably the closest thing to psychometric tests I had come across before starting my grad scheme applications. They seem ridiculous, and they aren’t supposed to be easy, but they are a hurdle you may have to jump in the grad scheme application process.

I struggled with psychometrics a lot, bombed out on a couple of them, and the anxiety of taking the tests made them feel almost impossible, but I got through it. My advice for you is:

  • PRACTICE. Psychometrics aren’t a fun thing to do, but practice makes perfect, and practicing is the only way to get better at them. I was lucky that my university provided access to a psychometric test practice platform, so ask your careers department if there is anything like that available. I also recommend checking out How to Pass Graduate Psychometric Tests by Mike Bryon.
  • Stay calm, deep breaths. I found that listening to calming music and doing some meditation before starting the tests actually helped a lot with my nerves.

On to the next hurdle…😨

Video Interviews & Coding Tests

Biggest pointer of this section: Resilience is key. Learn from your mistakes and try not to let the rejection get to you too much.

From my experience, this is the biggest hurdle and is where most of my applications met their end. However, I do have some pointers for you when you’re faced with these challenges.

Video Interviews

  • Prowl the forums on The Student Room, especially from people who applied to the scheme you are applying to last year, as people there may give hints as to what they were asked. Obviously you can’t rely on this alone, as companies will update their processes all the time, but it doesn’t hurt to have a look.
  • Video interviews are usually structured so that you are given a prompt or question, and then 30s-1min to prepare an answer on the spot before the your response is recorded. Don’t worry, there is usually a practice question or tutorial to familiarise yourself with how things work.
  • Before you start, have your company research ready in-front of you. You have no idea what they will ask, and something you have written down might help you answer their questions.
  • Definitely recommend having mind-maps in-front of you too, with key points about you, your skills, examples from your CV, and anything else you think may be relevant or important in an answer. Don’t write paragraphs, or try to pen an answer beforehand, this won’t be helpful as you usually only get one chance to answer, and you don’t want to do anything that might fluster you or throw you off.
  • All the usual stuff — make sure there is nothing in the background that you wouldn’t want your employers to see, make sure you are dressed as if it were an in-person interview (from the waist up at-least).

Coding Tests

  • As with psychometrics: practice! practice! practice! — Hacker Rank is one of the best resources for practice exercises. Highly recommend.
  • If you have the choice, make sure to complete the problems in a language you are comfortable using, not one you just learnt, or one you think will be “impressive”.
  • Most of the time, these coding assessments will be timed, so try doing some practice exercises timed to get used to it.

Assessment Centres & Interviews

So, you’ve jumped through all the hoops, passed all the tests, and you haven’t been rejected yet. Congrats! but alas, it’s not over yet.

(As we are in unprecedented times, it is hard to say what impact the pandemic will have long-term on grad job hiring techniques, so I will be speaking from my experiences pre-lockdown.)

If you have got this far in the process, you will probably be invited to something called an “Assessment Centre”. This is usually the last stage of the application (phew). I recommend keeping an eye out for what to expect at this assessment day, as they usually involve a full day of different activities, including an interview. Try to find out what what type of interview you will be having, as this can help with preparations (see Competency-based Vs Strength-based interviews).

The most important part of these assessments is to show the best you that you can be! Make sure you have some examples from your CV up your sleeve to talk about to back up your skills, and how your skills and experience make you the best person for the role. Think about relating the skills evidenced on your CV with the core competencies that the business is looking for in graduates and talk about that!

At the applicant day for my current role, I took a small piece of paper with the company’s core values and some words to jog my memory of examples I had thought of beforehand. I don’t think I actually used it during the interview, but it calmed my nerves to read through it a few times while I was waiting to be called in.

There is an emotional side to this process that isn’t spoken about a lot. Graduate job application time is very stressful. You’ll probably have important uni deadlines and exams happening alongside all of this, all adding to the stress of completing these tests and tasks, and dealing with rejections… 😥 It’s not a fun time. For me, sleepless nights, panic attacks and lots of tears were an unfortunate side effect of grad job hunting, but I knew that eventually, it would all pay off.

I want to remind and re-assure you that, yes, these job applications feel very important, but your health is more important. That has to come first, so don’t forget to take care of yourself, please.

I wish I could have given my past self all of this advice when I first set out applying for jobs, I probably wouldn’t have made so many mistakes along the way. But hindsight is 20/20, and I already have a graduate job now, so I wish to bestow this advice onto you instead. I hope it will be of use.

Shout out to my friend Nathaniel (@ meetnathaniel on twitter) for sharing some of his thoughts on this with me for this post (albeit a long time ago).

Software Engineer & Comp. Sci. graduate, writing about professional development, working in tech, and all things coding. https://www.elletownsend.co.uk

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