Improving Employment Chances – Getting A Foot In The Door

This is a change in pace from the usual life posts I make, but I thought that despite my typically negative outlook, I have the opportunity to help some people out with my university experiences.

As you may have guessed by now, I am currently completing a year placement as an undergraduate mechanical engineer at a well-known engineering company in the UK. I can’t offer any advice on assessment centres as I only ever did one in my first year (will get on to that shortly), and received my job offer before any other interviews were scheduled, so I only ever went to the one.

First things first – What can be done in first year?

So everyone says to start as early as possible with career searches, whether it is getting an unrelated part-time job to gain transferable skills, joining a society in a senior role, or working with the student’s union, there are many ways to start showing off your can-do attitude from the very start. Now I can only really talk from the engineering point, but there were quite a few summer internships that took first year students, either published online, or by doing some light LinkedIn stalking to see where successful graduates found that early opportunity. The thing is, even if it is as short as a week, getting your foot in the door will really open up your options when you really start looking for career related opportunities in second and third year.

I applied for all the engineering internships that accepted first year that I could find, mostly through GradCracker, as well as by sending out speculative emails to small firms near my hometown. I expectedly received a lot of rejections as most opportunities would favour second or third year students with a bit more experience. However, I did make it to one assessment day for a respectable company at their office in Bristol. I was over the moon and began preparing furiously, even though the role was systems based and I had not taken any systems modules as of yet. The assessment centre was difficult, with a presentation, group work and a technical interview. Upon receiving a phone call a few days later of my unsuccessful attempt, I was given some good feedback on how I performed; bringing me to the only real advice I can offer for an assessment centre.

  • Make sure you speak enthusiastically, and make as many inputs as you can that are at all useful, without talking over anyone or ignoring any ideas. My task was to design a small cargo plane, something I was knowledgeable of, but I kept quiet as the two other members who did physics and missed a few details made the choices. I was specifically told that my answers to the questions after the task were good, but I should have raised them when we had all been planning as I could see the issues arising already.

Despite missing out on the summer internship, which wasn’t all too surprising as I was one first year next to four third year students, something wonderful happened. I received an email three days later saying that one of the interviewers we had spent the day with was actually from the mechanical department at one of their offices not far from my area, who said I had made a good impression and simply needed some experience before getting the job. I was amazed I had made enough of an impression on anybody that day, and even more amazed to then read on to see I was being offered a short work experience at their Hertfordshire site, working in a department a lot more relevant to my course!

That not may happen to everyone, but at the very least I can say, even if you don’t get a particular job, you never know who may take notice of you, and jot your name down for later.

This opportunity was amazing, and even though it only lasted a week, I was given a chance to refresh myself on drawings and even get a head-start on mechanical analysis before second year (I proceeded to do quite well in the module once I got back to uni if I do say so myself). When I went for my interview for my current placement, it was quickly mentioned that I had been given the opportunity, and when I mentioned the impression I made, I feel it really helped give my manager a reason to look into me further.

Even if the foot in the door opportunity you gain isn’t exactly like mine, any form of work experience, volunteering, or even projects for your own enjoyment will get the right person’s attention soon enough.

-Chi

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