Careers: Getting the Most from Interning

My degree includes a ‘Year in Industry’ which is essence is like an extended (and paid!) internship. I’ve recently been asked to stay a little longer with my company so I’ll be working up to the end of August – something I’m thrilled to bits about as the thought of leaving isn’t something I’ve come to terms with yet! I thought I’d put together a post with a few hints and tips about how to get the most out of your internship.
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Treat It As A Job

I think the biggest mistake you can make whilst interning is thinking of it as ‘just’ work experience. Yes it might be temporary, but temporary jobs have a habit of turning permanent for the right person. If you pretend it is your final career you are much more likely to be motivated, and in turn you’ll get all the more out of the experience.

Ask Questions

When I first started at my placement I’d sit in team meetings, abbreviations thrown in everywhere, wondering what the hell was going on. I wrote a list of anything I didn’t understand (that first week it was just shy of two sides of A4!) and went through it with my supervisor. I found I was too nervous to ask alllll the questions in front of the whole team, so speaking to just one person made it bearable – but make sure you get those niggly questions answered. You’ll never do the job to the best of your ability if you don’t know what others are doing…
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Make Notes

On the back of my last point, make notes. Whether this is notes regarding a task you are instructed to do (so you don’t get halfway through and completely forget the next step), or notes about background information…they are SO important. There are some I still refer to now – for instance with each client case I’ve made notes about how I dealt with them, and I’ll flick over them once in a while if an unusual situation comes up. I have 2 massive folders full of notes from this year, something I didn’t expect!

Ask For Feedback

Every time you do a task, get feedback on how you did, how you could improve. In addition, try and find out how your work will be used. Will your research be used to build a model, will your analysis be presented to a client? That way you’ll build up the bigger picture and be able to target your work in a more effective way.

Volunteer Yourself

If there’s work going on in the department that sounds interesting, say you can help out. My manager was working on a massive project when I started, and within a few months I asked if I could help. I’m still working on the project now having (if I say so myself) done quite well on the research stage.
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Explore Other Areas

Yes, you are generally assigned to one team, one department, but that doesn’t stop you talking to people in others. I myself have performed a questionnaire of different departments to gain feedback for our team – and find out about their jobs in the process – but this could be done informally or socially too. Of course, getting involved in a multi-department project is always great!

Enjoy Yourself

Above all, enjoy yourself. Put a smile on your face, socialise with colleagues and make the most of it. Now i feel all emotional about getting ready to leave placement…

NB: If you are currently searching for internship opportunities, I highly recommend looking at Inspiring Interns, a UK graduate recruitment agency

Have you even done an internship or work placement? What tips to you have for making the most of it?

 

Careers: Preparing for Competency Questions

“Tell me about a time when you saved the world whilst dancing on your head?”

There’s an example of a competency question, albeit a rather silly one. But they are often seen as the most difficult part of a job application process, and so they’re worth getting right. A competency question simply asks you to demonstrate your ability at a skill, or set of skills, using your own experiences. I’ve sat in on quite a few careers seminars which aim at helping with competency questions, so feel I can help you out a little.
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Examples

Here’s a few examples of competency questions. These are ones I have actually been asked in interviews or on application forms – but no, I’m not revealing by which company!

  • Please describe an example of when you have successfully completed a complex task or project. What was the task, what obstacles did you face, and what was the outcome?
  • Please describe an example of when you have built a successful relationship with a colleague or a customer. What did you do, why did you do it and what was the outcome?
  • Give an example of a time when you’ve been an effective team member.
  • Describe a time when you have challenged convention and found an opportunity to improve things. What did you do and how was it received?
  • Describe when you have built a strong collaborative relationship, how you achieved this, and what were the rewards?
  • Describe a difficult situation and how you have resolved it.
  • Please describe a time you’ve used analytical thinking to find a simple solution to a complex problem.
  • Tell me about a task that you have delivered under a tight time constraint. How did you plan your time to ensure you delivered what was required?

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Preparing

The best bit of advice I ever heard was to create a grid detailing key skills, with examples next to it. This should be just short, just one page, so you can memorize the examples and the skills they gave, or use in a telephone interview.

I always have a spreadsheet which lists all the competency questions I have ever been asked, alongside full answers. I go through every couple of months and update answers if I feel like they need updating. This keeps things fresh in my mind and reading through before an interview means I should never be stuck for something to say!

Answering

You want to make sure your answer has a good structure. What you did. Why you did it. How you did it. How you demonstrated the skill in question. What was the outcome and how did you influence it. How would you improve next time.

Above all, make sure you answer the question. If you are asked one about teamwork, don’t talk about an individual project. Teamwork questions can be tricky as you want to make it all about your skills, whilst demonstrating how you worked as a team. A good answer might be something like ‘we worked on X, I suggested we split the work up and look the lead on Y, this meant we were on time and working in manageable chunks.’

Also ensure you use examples from your own experience – there’s nothing more awkward than being asked further details and not being able to provide them!

And my top tip?

Make sure you have examples for each of the skills you mention in your CV. Interviewers are bound to pick up on these, so if you have said you are skilled in a particular programming language, have an example of a project using it ready to wow!

Do you have any tips for dealing with these types of questions? What part of the job application process do you find the most difficult?

Careers: Tips for The Application Process

When I think back to second-year, when I was frantically applying for every single actuarial placement I could find (which, let’s face it, isn’t very many…so was supplemented with analyst jobs too), I know I’d have loved honest, down-to-earth advice about applications from a student perspective. So that’s exactly what I’m doing!

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Yes, you are probably going to want to make a few small changes to your CV for each job you apply for, but having the majority of it done, up-to-date and ready puts away a big chunk of work.

Pre-Prepare Responses

Certain questions come up in most applications, often worded slightly differently, often banded under ‘competency questions.’ Getting these right is crucial to doing well in job applications (I’ll be doing a dedicated post in a few weeks). Whilst the questions always cover the same skills, you’ll probably need to tailor response specifically – but having base answers can save so much time. What you did, how you handled it, the result.
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Don’t Rush & Check Through

Obviously there are occasions where you might be up against a tight timeline (I remember once forgetting to apply for a job until the closing date – though I did end up being offered it!). For the most part, however, try and complete applications slowly and thoroughly. Rushing can mean silly mistakes.

Spell check even simple things like your address. I would advise never using auto-fill for a job application as it can occasionally fill the information into the wrong box – now is not the time for that kind of mistake!

Research & Make Notes

Make sure you do your research on the company, it’s values and (most importantly) the role. You’ll want to tailor your CV to the job so this is crucial – and I’m pretty sure this is the main reason why I’ve had success in job applications so far.

When I apply for any job I make notes on the company and the role. I also document the application date, details about the process and closing date – then I’ll have a rough idea when I might expect to hear back.
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Personalise It

No two job applications should be the same, you need to hint at the company, at its values, drop subtle notifications that you meet that specific job specification. This is especially important if you’re applying for a whole host of slightly different jobs (i.e marketing vs advertising roles) as your application won’t seem generic.

What are your tips for job applications?

Fashion: Workwear Staples on Budget

I’ve been attempting to create this post for a while, but taking the photos proved impossible. Laying the clothes out looked pretty horrendous, and outfit posts were a no-go living on my own in a tiny room. I was playing around with my camera over the weekend, snapped these on the clothes inside my wardrobe, and thought they were pretty decent. I will do outfit posts at some point though – issue being these clothes don’t actually fit that well anymore!
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Invest in Staples

Whilst there are areas you can save money, there are areas you really should avoid scrimping. A cheap quality pair of shoes or handbag can instantly ruin a look. Plus, cheap shoes often hurt, low-cost bags often don’t last. I find my satchels are a great workbag (surprise surprise) – they look smart, are a little briefcase like, and go with everything.

That being said, I was recently sent a jacket* (something I would usually budget a little more from) from Less Than 10 Pounds and was really impressed with the quality. Thick material and well cut, it fits like a glove. The only issue is it attracts hair like nothing else, I have to carry a lint roller to work when wearing it!

Tailor to Fit

If your clothes don’t fit, I feel it just looks a little unprofessional. Which is why I’m really bothered at the minute as it takes multiple safety pins to tighten my skirts enough to fit – the downsides to weight loss!

Tailoring doesn’t have to cost a fortune – I regularly have to get skirts and dresses shortened, which usually costs about £4-£5 to have done professionally. I’m currently trying to learn to take the waist in on skirts made of lighter materials – I have about 14 skirts needing altering so would sooner give it a go myself!
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Save on Basics

I don’t find it necessary to spend much on on items like shirts and cardigans – most of mine are from Primark or Dorothy Perkins. I find the extra £5 or so pounds spent in Dorothy Perkins does mean they last much longer (I still have ones left over from sixth form 3/4 years ago). Cardigans are also where I inject a bit of colour and seasonality into my outfit, so it’s good for them to be cheap so I can have plenty. I think I’m close to exceeding 20 now…
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Material Matters

I find going for a tweed or mottled material on sut skirts make it look a lot more expensive that it really is. I find completely plain black/grey/cream items to look a bit boring, but my skirts all cost less than £20, fit well, have lasted, are machine washable and look great.
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Make it Personal

Add colour, add bits that reflect your style. I always wear pussy-bow blouses as I find they are much more feminine. I also only wear baggier blouses (mainly as they never need ironing…).
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Hit the Sales

Shortly after I was successful in gaining a placement year, the House of Fraser in my home town shut down. I visited on the first day of the sale, and it was hell on earth. Women were physically fighting over clothes, children in prams abandoned. There was even a knife incident on one day. However four hours later (nearly two hours were spent queuing to try on as refunds weren’t available) I emerged with nearly £800 worth of clothes for £96. I picked up some amazing shift dresses (the only thing which really still fits me), jackets, and skirts. Hitting the sales means you can afford better quality and higher-end brands than you would otherwise. I also love browsing in charity shops – my vntage Dorothy Perkins pencil skirt is one of my best finds at £5!

 photo 2015-04-12 12.29.18_zpsvhq9zdvm.jpgBuilding up a workwear wardrobe is never going to be the cheapest, but doing it gradually and following some of my tips means it can be done on a budget. Keep an eye out for more workwear posts soon.

What do you wear to work? How do you recommend buying work clothes on a budget?

Careers: Writing That Perfect CV

I might not have a graduate job yet (I am dreading starting to apply come September) but having received two offers for a year’s placement I think I’m well enough qualified to give some kind of career advice. I’ll be doing a few posts, generally following the order in which most application processes go…so first up is CV tips!
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Make it Priority

Keep your CV updated at all times, even if you’re not actively looking for roles. You never know when the perfect opportunity will come up, and when it does you don’t want to waste time making big changes on your CV. Every time you get a new job, learn a new skill, gain a qualification, work on a big project – update your CV to reflect this.

Adapt

My previous point should not suggest that your CV should be the same for every role you apply to – you will need to subtly tailor it. Look at the job description, check out the requirements and make sure your CV shows you can tick each box.

Length

I was always told two pages is ideal, and that’s probably true for a graduate with no/little relevant work experience. However if you have relevant information to the role don’t leave it out for sake of length – but if you go over to another page, make sure you fill it at least over halfway. A half-filled page looks a little half-hearted, like you haven’t much to say – no matter how much you’ve written preceding it.
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Structure

I’d include name (you’d never believe how many forget this!), contact details, personal statement, education, experience, key skills, interests, references.

Contents

The personal statement is a few sentences introducing yourself – it’s often the only thing a recruiter will read so make it snappy and memorable. State what type of role you are looking for – and remember to personalise it to the specific role for each application.

Education and experience should both be in the order of most recent first. I’d bold out any particularly relevant qualification – for instance in my case any actuarial exams passed. Add more detail where experiences are relevant to the job being applied for, key skills developed and main responsibilities.

Key skills includes bits like personal skills such as teamwork, and technical ability such as software knowledge – but always back up with short examples. Bold out key works again.

Include a short ‘interests’ section to show off some of your personality, but keep it limited to three lines. And obviously sensor it – best not to mention your love of the pub, but I include bits about my blog, love of reading, and learning to knit,

References can be included or not – if I have a bit of spare space they are included in full, if not I’ll say they are available on request.
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Design

Try and get all your key content written down before you work too much on design. I’d recommend going for a table format that’s easy to edit as you go. Keep size of type consistent throughout, plenty of white space, and a simple font.

What Employers Look For

I’ve been doing some work on recruitment recently, so I can say a bit about what employers look for when they read your CV. They will scan it over first, checking for whether you are eligible for the role in terms of qualifications. They’ll check for professionalism in terms of layout, structure and design, and any spelling mistakes. Personalisation to the role gets ‘bonus points’ and please, please, please spell the company name right – we screen out five CVs recently due to this being misspelt.

Make sure you are demonstrating you are the right person for the job in terms of skills, qualifications, experience. It’s often your only chance to show yourself off before the interview stage, so do it well!

What are your top tips for CV writing?