The first year of University everybody knows – as it is repeated a lot throughout term by many students – is driven by: “you only need 40% to pass the first year”. This I must admit did cross my lips one or two times. So when I was sitting in the placement lecture at the end of the first year being told to “start looking for possible placements now” and “start preparing your CV now” I was not worrying too much about finding a job because basically I did not think that it would be that hard. Little did I know … I do not mean to scare you first years but it was such a hard and stressful experience and the further in the year you haven’t got a placement the harder it gets. That’s why if I did have some advice for you it would be to start early. OK, we all know that there are a lot of lazy students out there that do leave things last minute and still get excellent marks, but honestly even they found this hard, I had major respect for any student who was balancing exams, coursework and interviews. I do not think I could have done that but then again I wouldn’t want to.

At the start of my second year at Uni I was quietly confident that I already had my placement in the bag. My brother had lined up an interview for me with Fujitsu Siemens Computers, as his friend worked there, so I was quite lucky in that respect because I had already sorted out a good CV in the summer. The interview was actually around the beginning of this year. It was an all-day thing and I didn’t really know what to expect. I would say this one was my worst. For a full day (9-5) you were being constantly assessed from the moment you walked into that door, right up to when you left at five o’clock. So basically you have to keep up a pretence of not showing your nerves and being a confident team member throughout the day. I know you laid back first years will be thinking you can rely on your witty and charming personality to get through and to be honest for a short while maybe I did too, but then when you get into the working world you realise that no matter how confident you are about yourself, if you are going for interviews with big companies there’s going to be some stiff competition.

Since that first interview went not so well, I thought I would discuss what was entailed and how after this interview I made big improvements to make sure I never came out of an interview feeling like that again.

  1. Psychometric Testing – These tests were really tough and my best advice I can give on these is practice makes perfect!! The library has tons of these books. I know I found these really difficult, so this made me practise. I often found that a couple of the questions I practised came up on the actual test, so you never know!
  2. Group Work – The basis of this is covered in personal development tutorials. Honestly take heed – it came in so useful during my interviews. Most employers are looking at the quality of your group work; they want to be able to see that you’re going to fit into their team. As you will learn from your personal development lectures and tutorials on Group Dynamics and Leadership, the best role to adopt is to not always try to take control of the situation. You have got to be able to influence others from a back seat approach. It is essential not to come across too loud or too quiet and to always try to bring in people who are too quiet. That is always guaranteed brownie points! Not only will your group work skills have to come into play here, this is an all-day assessment centre: remember the managers and directors are watching you constantly. Your group skills start from the moment you interact with the other students. I found that trying to make a friend there really helped; after you have talked to them you do actually realise they feel exactly the same as you.
  3. Interview – One thing that really impresses the interviewer is if you are interested in their company and have a passion for that particular role. I also had an interview at Hewlett Packard for a sales representative, never in a million years would I have wanted to work in sales but it was working for Hewlett Packard I was interested in. So therefore even if you do not have a passion for that particular role do your research. Remember you have got to tell the interviewer what they want to hear!

So this is a pretty standard layout to assessment centres, but after that one didn’t go too well I knew I would be preparing for another one soon. Anyway to my shock horror, some companies required an even more painful process!!

These include my experiences with BT and Hewlett Packard. These were held during Easter break which was lucky for me (I didn’t think so at the time) because there was so much preparation. Hewlett Packard was my first professional presentation they required one twenty minute presentation and one fifteen minute presentation. The first twenty minute presentation was on an Excel spreadsheet. I had to interpret some data out of HP’s sales funnel. This was data I didn’t even understand and I’d never seen before in my life! So after the initial panic had settled I got to work. I knew I needed help to make a good job of this, so I asked around and prepared an excellent presentation. But remember: constructing a good presentation isn’t the only thing they will be assessing you on. Your presentation skills must go hand in hand with this. Personally I am not a massive fan of presentations as it is, but believe you me I found it all a lot harder delivering a presentation to a board of directors than a class full of my mates. This is why I would again suggest taking heed in your personal development lectures and tutorials as all the practice given here will contribute extensively, if you are given a task such as this regarding your placement. Remember eye contact, I also found it useful to learn my presentations as a script and again the key to this being perfect is practice.

As I mentioned earlier this was only one of the two I was given at Hewlett Packard, the other was a personal presentation, “a presentation of your choice, on something you are passionate about”. After I read this I was thinking what on earth I could do. My best suggestions here would be to present on something you know a lot about and also a topic that you are quite confident on, an extra-curricular activity perhaps. This way when they try to catch you out (and believe me they will) then they can’t. At first when I knew BT also required a presentation I thought maybe I would be lucky and I might be able to use the same presentation that was used for my personal presentation at Hewlett Packard. No such luck I’m afraid! This time I had to create a fifteen minute presentation on “how HR in BT had changed over the last five years”. Again this was another presentation where I thought, “I don’t know anything about this”. So again after initial panic had set in, I started to prepare. The key to any successful presentation is to prepare.

After a mass of rejections through the email from over 100 companies I applied for, and rejections from the interviews I had attended, as you can imagine I was starting to wonder what’s wrong with me. But as I mentioned before, you are up against stiff competition from all over the country, it could be that you are of the same calibre as the other students in the interview, but you haven’t a lot of experience which was often my case.

When I attended the IBM assessment day I was quite chilled out (for me!). I knew what to expect this time and I knew the type of routine that went on at assessment centres. I felt this was a huge advantage because by this time I felt a bit of a pro in comparison to the interview virgins that were sitting at the back biting their nails as I once was. Because of the practice and experience from the other interviews I didn’t at all walk out feeling I could have done better: in fact for a change I was quite proud of myself! This interview was in early April, so as you can see I started what I thought was early (the beginning of term September) and it took me eight months to finally find a placement.

Finding a job is a very long process. You cannot expect it to be over and done within a month, and honestly if you haven’t got a placement or even worse haven’t started looking by April/May even the coolest of cool students are worrying. All in all I attended five interviews for the following companies: Fujitsu Siemens, Hewlett Packard, Corpex, BT, IBM. Some of these have been horrible experiences, however they do get better and you will start to notice improvements. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of starting early even if this just means producing an excellent CV before you go into your second year. Do not expect to be able to just walk in to these big companies. Remember, they are investing in their future; they all want the best of the best and with the right practice and the right skills it is possible to achieve this.

Good luck in your search!

Laura (BA Business Studies student)