Anum Ahmed is an English graduate from QMUL, and has recently featured on our Employability video. In a two part post she will tell us about her journey from doing a QProject to gaining a place the Department for International Development graduate scheme.
“Queen Mary University was the key to my future and I can certainly say that the QM Careers Service was there as a guiding light! Having secured a graduate scheme placement at the end of my degree I now think it’s the perfect time to reflect on how I got here!
Within my first year I was eager to start building my CV and was thrilled to work as a QProject leader at the Ragged School Museum and StudentVoice (a national charity campaigning for democratic education). Through my role as a project training officer at StudentVoice I discovered my passion for driving social and economic change which helped me attain my first ever graduate scheme placement at DFID.
The most important thing that I’ve learned after writing one application after another is that graduate scheme employers are looking for students who can represent the organisation’s values and core competencies. In other words, a strong application requires scenarios of valuable work experience where you can highlight key competencies including communication, teamwork and leadership skills. What I’m getting at is the fact that you can utilise your time at university to accumulate these transferable skills that can then be highlighted within your application!
So how did I learn about the graduate schemes that were out there and which one was right for me? Well, my most vital resource in the third year of my degree was ‘The Times 100 Top Graduate Employers 2013-2014’ book, available for free from the Careers Centre. Once I thoroughly analysed the book I shortlisted a number of attractive organisations and created a chart outlining their application deadlines. The application process for graduate schemes do vary depending on the organisation; however it’s certain that you’ll need to complete an application form, online psychometric tests and an assessment day. My top tip would be to begin revising for these psychometric tests in the summer of your second year to familiarise yourself with the format of these particular tests. I found the practice tests provided by the Careers service very useful – so definitely start practising early!
Preparing for the Assessment Day
Next up was the assessment day which includes a group exercise, an interview and, depending on the organisation, you may also be asked to complete more psychometric tests on the day. As I had no idea what an assessment day was or how to prepare for one I decided to consult the QMUL Careers Centre. As always the staff there were reassuring and advised that I attend the mock assessment days held on campus by recruiters such as TeachFirst and KPMG. These events are notified on the Careers events page throughout the year and best of all they’re totally free! Both of these mock assessment days helped me with my confidence and communication skills. I also learned that the first thing to do within a group exercise is to acquire a position of responsibility. There’s a ton of roles you can take on from being a scribe, a time keeper or a mediator but the key thing is to stay involved and focused throughout the 30 minute exercise. During my group exercise at the DFID assessment day I was asked to work with 6 people to discuss a question and we then had to present our answers on a flipchart. Although I volunteered to be a scribe I made sure that I was also communicating my ideas to my teammates and using the right terminology. Remember the group exercise is where you can showcase your knowledge about the organisation so it’s crucial that you do lots of research before attending the assessment day. Go online and read up on the company’s latest projects, their organisational structure and their values!
For all students attending an assessment day my top tip would be that you should always be yourself and try to balance your leadership and team-working skills in the group exercise. Organisations are always looking for individuals who can use their initiative to resolve challenges but also want someone who can listen and cooperate with their teammates. These are traits they want to see in their potential employees so it’s vital that you demonstrate them at the assessment day. It’s not a case of who shouts the loudest at the table but instead you have to try to observe closely to the task at hand and offer viable solutions. A useful technique is to compliment your teammates when they offer an interesting idea; this shows that you are good at building professional relationships.
Preparing for the Interview
I can certainly say that without my practice interview at the Careers Centre I wouldn’t have attained a place on the DFID graduate development scheme. I booked a practice interview with the politics Careers Consultant and he offered me all sorts of terrific advice on how I should prepare for my interview. One of the major things I learned was the STAR method involved in coherently answering interview questions. It was great to know that the Careers Consultant knew all about the organisation and had actually worked with them.
The rest is down to you! The QMUL Careers Centre are there to give you that extra push when you need it the most and when it’s time to say goodbye your dream placement they will be waiting for you! Remember to be persistent and passionate. If you get rejected, learn from that experience and reapply. Good luck!”