Securing a placement – what I’ve learned (part 2)
In my last post (part 1), I talked about the available options to engineering students who want to take a placement year. I also listed some sites of where to look, and how to get started searching and applying for roles. I mentioned my experience of CV and covering letter writing, and listed some links to sites I have found particularly helpful when writing my own applications.
At the end of my post, I said I’d talk through my interview and assessment centre experiences, and talk about my experience with digital interviews and aptitude tests, so here we are!
After the initial applications were sent off (filling out basic information about name, university, right to work etc, along with CV and covering letter, and occasionally an additional 300 or so piece of writing about why you want the role), the next stage I often found was the virtual aptitude testing. I found that a lot of these invitations to do aptitude tests were automated (i.e. no one had looked at my CV or covering letter yet). I think it’s supposed to be a good way to weed out a lot of applicants.
It turns out there are a lot of different companies that do specialised aptitude tests (e.g. Cognify, or Aon Assessment – I’ve included YouTube search links for both of these, if you want practise). I can’t recommend highly enough looking up the tests on YouTube beforehand!!! There are usually videos from the company themselves, explaining what to expect for each test type. There are also often videos of people going through the actual test themselves in real time, which is extremely helpful. I like to go through these resources and learn how to solve the questions myself, so that I can become familiar with the content before taking the test. There are usually different sections to these tests (mine have been things like statistics, numerical reasoning, logic, mechanical reasoning, etc.).
The tests themselves don’t tend to last that long – I think my longest was about an hour, but that stood out for how long it was! However, one of them that I did was specific to the company, and are therefore it was harder to prepare for due to a lack of practise material online. I haven’t failed an aptitude test, but I believe that if you do, your application gets rejected at this stage.
I have done a few digital interviews. By this, I mean that the next stage after the aptitude test can be where you have a few questions that you have about 30 seconds to read and prepare to answer, before your camera starts to record and you have a few minutes (I think 2-3 minutes) to answer. In my experience, I was allowed three attempts at answering each question. Tips, here – I recommend having a google prior to doing this and finding the most common questions asked. Then, writing down some bullet points of things you might talk about. It is a bit off-putting staring at your own face as it’s recording you, but oh well.
I have only been to one assessment centre (the one I got the placement for!), and it was a virtual one! From others who have been to assessment centres, the number of candidates there can vary depending on the company, and number of places they are offering. For example, the one I went to had one place available, and there were four of us at the assessment centre. However, I know someone who had an assessment centre with about twenty people, and only five of them were going to be picked.
So, the assessment centre! Prior to the event, I was asked to prepare a 10 minute presentation on ‘What is your greatest achievement?’ (I was also invited to another assessment centre which I didn’t go to since I had secured a placement by this point but a similar thing was asked, where the presentation was to talk about ‘solving a technically challenging problem’).
So, the day itself? It was four hours, and started with meeting the team and having an introduction to the company and team, and then we all introduced ourselves, which was a nice icebreaker. I recommend having a little speech to say for when they ask you to introduce yourself! I.e.: name, what you study, what year you’re in, what university you’re at, and something you are interested in (preferably that’s related to the role you are applying for). I found that the others stuttered over this a bit, which made me look a bit more confident and was a good first impression. First impressions are important, and can boost you in your own confidence if you feel your assessors think well of you at the beginning!!
Then, two of us went into Zoom breakout rooms to do interviews. I had my interview at this point, with two interviewers. In this case, a lot of the questions were common interview questions.
Some of the questions I was asked were:
- Tell us a time when you were part of a successful team
- Tell us about a time when you were challenged to think differently
- What is an example of a time when you had to take ownership of a situation and how you made improvements
- Alongside your studies, what is an example of a goal/something you have set yourself to enhance your skills?
- What part of the our company values inspire you the most (e.g. you could talk about business perspective)?
The above questions can ALL be prepared for to a certain extent!! Stay tuned for my next blog post where I’m going to talk about preparation for interview questions, like these ones! One thing I will say, is to take your time before starting to answer a question. After being asked one question, I waited for almost half a minute before answering, because I wanted to make sure I had the right scenario in my head (and yes, I got that particular placement, so I don’t think that they found the 30 seconds of silence an issue!).
After interviews, we were prepped for a group exercise, and then had our presentations and questions post presentation. I recommend highlighting the parts of your speech that tailor towards what the company’s morals are, as much as possible (and not answering the door right before your presentation so that you don’t start it out of breath from running back up the stairs).
After presenting, we had our group exercise, where me and the other candidates worked together in a team exercise to come up with a solution to a particular problem, where we were each given different initial information and something to fight for the most. In that sense, communication and taking notes from the other participants was key. I think I found this the hardest part of the assessment centre – it was near the end and I was pretty tired after the interview and presentation, but this required all the brain cells!
I’ve also been asked scenario-type questions in interviews. Like ‘I drop an unopened drinks can filled with a fizzy soda into the ocean. What happens next?’ And then going through this question with the interviewer, where they stopped me quite often to clarify my reasoning and thought processes behind my answers (i.e. if I said ‘it’ll sink’, I’d be stopped, and asked to go through the actual reasoning of why it would sink). These type of questions can call on a lot of techniques from all engineering disciplines (civil, mechanical, and general logic and reasoning, as well as how you would work in a team, from a theoretical sense).
These kind of questions are pretty impossible to prepare for – they’re assessing your ability to think logically about a question and to apply what knowledge you can to it. Just do your best and keep a level head, I think!
I hope there is something useful in this post! Assessment centres and interviews can be intense when suddenly you are invited to a lot of them at once. It’s also odd meeting the other candidates on the assessment centre – but I quite liked this – we were all in the same boat! My biggest recommendation is to really do that company research – they will work out how much you really know, and will ask you at least one company based question. As mentioned above, my next post will be on how to prepare for the most common interview questions, so if you think you’d be interested in reading that, please stay tuned.
Photo by Van Tay Media on Unsplash