Spending the last month applying for grad jobs has been the toughest, most time-consuming, but also illuminating process I’ve ever gone through. I’ve become so much more understanding of my strengths and weakness, and what kinds of jobs or company cultures align with my personality and strengths.
In researching a company and/or prepping for an application or interview, I split my research into three parts: About the Company, About the Job, and About Me.
About the Company
A great place to start is the ‘About Us’ page on their website, where you can find information on what the company actually does, as well as their company values. A lot of companies will have published their visions or goals for the next few years; for example, EY’s plan is called ‘2020 Vision’. Another good thing to know is the company annual report/results for the past year; this includes what changes they’ve implemented, what their successes have been, what new projects they’ve put into practice, and so on.
Another good place is the Careers section of the website, where they publish information about the company culture (i.e. what it’s like to work there). This is good for deciding whether the way the company measures success aligns with your own idea of what success is. This is informative if you want to grow within the company, as it could be a good way to climb the ranks (if that’s your goal). If you understand how they measure success, then you understand which boxes you need to tick to move up the ladder. But, more importantly, understanding how the company measures success will make you feel accomplished and that your good-quality work is being recognised.
About the Job
It’s extremely important that you know what the role description of the job you’re applying for is. Every job you apply for will have a page or document that lists out what your responsibilities will be, what skills the company is looking for, and what you’ll get out of working at the company in the role you’re applying for. This is a good way to gauge whether or not you’re a good match for the job or if you’d enjoy the job, as most role descriptions across companies or firms for a specific job will be similar.
They’ll expect you to understand the job you’re applying for, so they’ll test you on this through questions on their application or in an interview. This would include what skills you’ll develop in the role, what you’ll be doing on a regular basis, and maybe a bit about what the lifestyle will be like (i.e. if you’re applying for consultancy, like I am, you should expect to travel a lot).
I’ve done this bit two ways, and both have worked for different types of interviews. Use your judgment as to which one would work better for whichever type of interview.
My first way is to make a list of experiences you have under your belt, and then list what skills/strengths you’ve gotten out of each one. It would also be good to make a note of something you can improve on, or weaknesses that have come to light.
For example, strengths I developed/polished last year from being Editor-in-Chief of the Law Review (the on-campus law journal) include: collaboration and teamwork, attention to detail, prioritisation skills and flexibility (in terms of making plans or setting dates for meetings and such), and public speaking and presentation skills. It might seem obvious, but it’s good to remember that you can use any experience, whether it’s academic (e.g. group projects), extra-curriculars, work, volunteering, or life in general.
As an example of a weakness that I recently realised I have is that a lot of the time I’m unable to say ‘no’ when someone asks me to do something, so I find myself piling on more and more work and I’m doing things that I don’t have time to do or, if I’m being honest, don’t even want to do. But, for an application or interview, I can’t say that because it sounds quite negative and sends red flags up to the recruiter. A better way to word this would be to say that because I’m so collaborative and flexible, I often find myself volunteering for jobs I don’t necessarily have time for and sort of get stuck into things. But, I’m actively working on it; for example, this year I decided to leave the Law Society (in my role of Brand Manager) for that reason. My priorities shifted this year, so I’ve had to re-evaluate what I wanted to get involved and invest my time in. Because I’m now aware of this weakness, I can work on mitigating it.
Another way to do it is to make a list of all the strengths (and maybe one or two weaknesses) you can think of and then list out examples to support each one. Essentially, it’s the other way around to that first way of doing it. This is pretty self-explanatory, so I’ll avoid redundancy in explaining it. But, again, make sure you’re careful in how you describe your weakness, as you don’t want to come across as unemployable.
A really good thing to be aware of is how you measure success. For example, the way I measure success is whether or not I’ve made a difference in the role I’ve held. Think about a time (or times) you’ve felt really accomplished and try and pinpoint exactly what it was that made you feel that way. Or look at your experiences generally and try and find a pattern in what’s made you feel like you’ve accomplished something. Mine was a pattern that I suddenly noticed in looking back at my list of past experiences and asking myself how I measure success; I was the first Musical Director of a musical theatre company (at my old uni), the third Editor-in-Chief at Leicester, the first Brand Manager of the Law Society at Leicester, and the first student to do a student Twitter takeover for the University of Leicester Twitter account. Blazing a trail and/or making a system more efficient are important to me, and that’s how I measure success.
Sometimes these patterns are just staring you in the face, so take a step back and try to look at your experiences from a wholesome, objective perspective. This will help you become so much more genuinely (and accurately) self-aware.
I had such a hard time starting off my applications, because I didn’t even know where to begin in terms of researching a company and answering those dreaded application questions like ‘why do you want to work for us?’. So, hopefully this is a good starting point for you or helps you get out of that brain-block you’re having. Also, if you’re really stuck, go to the Careers Development Services – they’ve helped me out so much this past month, and I couldn’t be happier with all the knowledge they’ve equipped me with going into my applications and interviews. They’ve got mock interviews, one-on-one career coaching and application coaching, as well as really helpful workshops. If you’re feeling a bit lost or don’t really know what you even need to talk about, definitely make an appointment with them!