Get Future Ready blog - Charlie

I vividly remember my job hunt as a new graduate. The path from application through to job is a grueling one, but the rewards are worth it. My own journey also taught me a lot about how to do it well, as well as how not to do it. As a result of this personal experience, here are my practical tips on how you can succeed in the all-important Intern/Graduate Application and Interviewing process.

Application Forms

When answering questions in the application form:

  • Write your answers in a word document where you can monitor word count, structure and spelling – you can also save your work regularly, as application pages often time out.
  • Use the STAR structure (S – Situation, T – Task, A - Action and R – Result) to formulate your responses. Always try and relate your answers back to real life examples that are true and you are passionate about so, if you are ever questioned on the examples, you are able to respond naturally with further knowledge. Here’s an example: “Provide us with an example where you showed strong leadership”

“At the beginning of 2014 I ran a small project at University with three other peers. All four of us were very different people, with different opinions. It was my task to ensure the project was completed on time and to the right quality.

“I organised a meeting at the beginning of the project to understand the strengths of each team member and where we would need to spend more time supporting areas that may need development. I also used this time to identify what motivated each individual and helped make visible how each person has something to offer, to build mutual respect.

“The result was that we managed to finish the project on time, with everybody collaborating and learning something new throughout. People enjoyed themselves, adding to the creativity and motivation to go beyond the call of duty.

“This experience also taught me how to manage my time. Looking back, I would have organised a midway meeting to review progress and identify further areas to help achieve the overall deadline - this is something I now regularly practice going forward.”

The above example follows the clear structure of STAR, and also adds in subtleties such as demonstrating ownership of your task and the ability to work with a diverse set of people. Finally, it finishes off with a key ‘take away’, demonstrating you managed to learn from the experience and now are able to practice going forward.  This shows maturity, self-awareness and humanises you - a bonus point.

  • Make your examples interesting and passionate, but keep them realistic and personal. It isn’t about bragging, they don’t need to be large scale. Use examples that are close, from the heart.
  • Make sure the examples you use when answering each question are varied and don’t use the same example more than once.
  • Make sure every single sentence makes a new point and is of value. If not, delete it.
  • Once you have completed all answers, leave it for a day, come back, re-read and edit if necessary.
  • Have a friend or family member read the answer and tell you their thoughts. Can their fresh pair of eyes make sense of it? If they do not get what you are trying to say, re-write it again and again until they do.
  • If you get rejected – so what. Pick yourself up, move on. You will find somewhere even better.

Interviews

  1. Don’t turn up late… or more than 15 minutes early.
  2. Wear something subtle but different to give you some personality (this goes for both clothing and aftershave/perfume). Don’t turn up wearing coloured or stripy socks – unless the job requires it. Polish your shoes, iron and then re-iron your shirt/blouse.
  3. Get plenty of sleep beforehand and drink water before you go to bed.
  4. Go for a run before the interview or at least get some fresh air. But really if you can at least get 20 minutes of moderate exercise, do it. Moderate means you can’t talk whilst exercising!
  5. Don’t over-rehearse before you attend your interview. For a graduate the interviews are usually competency-based, so before the interview choose 5 events that have happened in your life that you can talk about fluently and adjust mentally on the spot to adapt to the question asked. Pick events that you can easily adapt to demonstrate leadership, team working, communication, commerciality, working with a diverse set of people, adaptation, resilience and attention to detail – those are 99% of bases covered.
  6. Smile and be full of energy, laugh appropriately – people like happy people, it is infectious. Overly happy is not.
  7. Listen well and use your body language to actively show you are listening – posture, eye contact, nodding and language.
  8. Ask genuine questions that are part of the wider picture to demonstrate intellectual curiosity. It comes across as a bonus skill and starts to demonstrate your willingness to learn - the interviewer will respect this.
  9. If you don’t understand a question, ask for it to be repeated. If you need a minute to think about it, ask for it and it will be accepted. It demonstrates you are in control and are being methodical.
  10. Be confident in who you are at all times. Confidence really sells. Over 60% of communication is non-verbal. Confidence is a large part of this and can be seen as soon as you are spotted turning up, before any language is used. The way you hold yourself, the way you smile, whether you make eye contact… get it right now because it really is one of the biggest factors of success at this stage of your career.

The key to all of this is to enjoy the experience. The natural state is not to. Emotions such as anxiety, fear, fear of rejection, apprehension, self-doubt can override your mind. Control your mind and teach yourself how to start enjoying it - see it as a challenge, with many more to come. When you start to gamify experiences like this, confidence kicks in and overrides the natural state – now you’re on to a winner.

  • Charlie Taylor

About the author

While studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics at the University of York, Charlie worked with the police and won an award for flying solo with the Royal Navy. He joined EY after graduating and became a senior consultant in its international trade team, advising some of the world's largest companies on complex cross-border issues. EY gave Charlie the connections and opportunities to kick-start his own business, and in February 2015 Charlie founded Debut, the world's first careers app dedicated to students. Debut benefited from EY's 18-month Accelerate programme for UK start-ups, and in April it won the support of Google Developers and became a Launchpad start-up. To find out more about Debut, please visit: debut.careers