Investigation Internships: The Application Process
There comes a point in the academic year, around May this time round, when summer placements are all anyone is talking about – who has them, who doesn’t, which companies are good, and which ones you’ve heard horror stories about. As a first-year student, I found that many of the larger schemes want people with more experience; as a second year, a good number of those same companies now seem to want people entering final year, ruling out those in the second year of an MEng. Such is progress.
For at least the last two years (and hopefully this upcoming one!), the university has held an engineering careers fair in the autumn term. This is a good chance to scout out companies in your area of interest so you have an idea who to apply to. Perhaps more importantly, almost all of them will be giving out some freebies – I walked away last time with sweets, marmite and shampoo, and I haven’t had to buy a pen since last year’s. The School of Engineering is also hiring a placements officer, due to start this upcoming academic year, to assist students in finding internships and years in industry.
The EngSoc also holds sessions both with companies’ graduate recruitment teams directly; I know we’ve lined up a few talks for the first term, with hopefully more to come. Often the recruiters will only have graduated themselves a few years back, so it’s a helpful chance to pick their brains for helpful tips. But the best reason to go is, again, the freebies – I remember a presentation last year where I walked away with an entire leftover pizza. Unfortunately, I don’t recall the company that paid for it, so it may not have been the best use of their recruitment budget…
Once you’ve decided who to apply to, the next stage starts – the application. Larger companies will typically have an online portal where you fill in personal details, list all your qualifications, then upload a CV to tell them basically the same thing. You may also have some fun questions along the lines of, ‘Write about a time you worked to overcome an obstacle’ or ‘Write about a time you worked in a team.” With smaller companies, you may be able to get away with simply sending a CV and/or a cover letter. If you’re the sort of person who knows people who know people, now’s the time to use that to your advantage.
With the big schemes getting hundreds of applications from eager and enthusiastic student across the county, they need some way to narrow down the field – and that way is the psychometric test. You’ll often get a link as soon as you’ve finished your application, taking you to a site that for some reason needs a different set of login details to the website you applied from. The companies I applied to all asked for three tests – a maths one (mostly reading tables and graphs), a reading comprehension one and a non-verbal reasoning one (“Here’s four shapes – which one is next?”). These are actually pretty fun and you will enjoy every minute of them. Promise.
With most companies, that’s the last you’ll hear from them, as many don’t bother letting you know if they’ve passed on you. I applied to seven firms, and only heard back from four of them. One of the rejections came before I had actually finished the application form. Another came at the end of my first week at the company that gave me a place – cheers, guys! Of the three others, I got nothing after I sent off the application.
If you’re lucky enough to get through all that, you may still have the joy of an interview. Both phone and in-person interviews are common, with the former often acting as a screening process for the latter. Word from the wise: don’t get the two confused and realise you need to be in Croydon in 15 minutes’ time. Not a good look. Most of the questions won’t be testing how well you’ve memorised the course content, but rather are there to get a feel for the sort of person you are. It’s pretty hard to get through a year or two at uni without having, say, experience of group work – but it’s the ability to sell it and highlight what contribution you made that sounds good.
Overall, getting an internship is a long and mostly tedious process. Having been through it, my main advice would be to start early. Many schemes close around December time, so get a fix on when to apply. Websites like GradCracker will list schemes by discipline and length, allowing you to see what’s offered. As so many people are applying, it is unfortunately a numbers game at times – the more companies you apply to, the more likely you are to get a place. I ended up spending a few afternoons in the pub, cutting and pasting paragraphs of cover letters together for each semi-unique application. Luckily enough, it paid off.
Next week, I’ll be talking a bit about my results day, and what went through my mind when I realised I hadn’t got my first offer after all. Until next time!