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Ask the employer: What sets a winning job applicant apart?

Many graduate recruiters see piles of CVs and interview hundreds of applicants to fill jobs and placement roles. So, what sets a good candidate apart? We cornered some of NI’s top recruiters at the Graduate Recruiter and Placement Fair last week to find out. Here is what they had to say…

Include skills developed through extracurricular activities

“It is important to appreciate that on paper, all graduates from the same degree programme look the same. However candidates who succinctly articulate how their skills and experience meet the essential and desirable criteria outlined on the Job Description will stand out, as this shows they have considered the requirements of the role and thought about how they will bring value to the organisation. I would encourage students to really think about what they have achieved outside of their academic qualification.  Reflection upon the skills developed through involvement in extracurricular activities such as clubs, societies, sports, volunteering and work experience, and setting this in the context of the competencies employers seek, will set your application apart from others.”

Kim McAllister, Talent Acquisition Manager, Almac Group

EDITOR’S NOTE: Queen’s Degree Plus programme provides an opportunity to articulate the skills you have built up through extracurricular activities to employers. Find out more at GO.QUB.AC.UK/DEGREEPLUS

Show that you are keen

“If we get the feeling that you are super keen and can’t wait to get started sometime that is worth even more than a high score in the technical test. “

Elisa Herbig. Talent Acquisition Specialist at AquaQ Analytics

Make sure your CV hits the mark

“Your CV doesn’t need to be elaborate or fancy. A lot of the time what really helps people is having something presentable that is easy to read. For the recruiter who is going to be reviewing it. Making sure the formatting is correct. Making sure there are no typos. Making sure the application is as easy to read as possible. Highlight any relevant experience for the role. Voluntary experience is good to include. Even if you have been working part-time show you have been doing something alongside your academic studies.” 

Adrian McCarthy is the manager of For Purpose

Relax in the interview

“Top interview tip – relax! We are just as nervous as you are. We want to sell you the job as much as you want to sell your skills to us. We want to make sure this is somewhere you want to work.” 

Joelene Ridgill , Purchasing Manager at Seacoya Group Ltd

Include work experience in your CV

“It sounds obvious but, in terms of a winning CV, good grades go a long way. It shows that the applicant knows how to put the work in to achieve their goals. It’s also very important to have some work experience or extracurricular activities since a candidate will have gained invaluable skills and experiences that they can bring into their new role. It also shows their adaptability and an appreciation for hard work. 

For an interview, it’s easy to say but just try to relax and be yourself. Your CV already shows many of your skills and this is a chance to show your personality. Remember that interviewers are just people, and someday it will be you in the interviewer’s seat!”

Sarah Fleming, Senior Manager, Muldoon & Co

Read assessment centre instructions

“At Liberty IT, we don’t ask for your CV when you apply. We only ask for your basic details such as what you’re studying and what year you’re in. If you meet the criteria you will then be invited to complete an online coding test through Codility and if you’re successful in that you get to attend our recruitment centres. 

The recruitment centre is broken up into four sections to make sure we get the best idea of your skills, experience and potential. To do well, make sure you read the advice we’ll send you, be yourself and try to enjoy the experience.”

Birgitta Swanberg, Senior Talent Acquisition Specialist, Liberty IT

Tailor your CV for the role

Information within a CV needs to be clear and concise. No long paragraphs.  Ensure your skills and experience are easily identifiable throughout. Remember the recruiter looking at your CV doesn’t know you so highlight your relevant experience using the job description. To help you refine your CV to the role and make it stand out from the pile. Finally don’t forget to include personal achievements. Competing in team sports is a good indicator that you work well within a team and have competitive nature. 

Clodagh Mckeefry, Corporate Recruiter, MRP 

Show who you are as a person

I want to see what you do in your free time. An academic record is fantastic but I want to know about your volunteer experience, part time jobs, clubs you’re a part of, etc. It’s all about showing people that you are capable of doing more and pushing yourself.

Jared Kearney, Senior Campus Recruiter, Citi UK and Citi Irelan

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Highlights from Day One of The Graduate Recruitment and Placement Fair

If you missed our inspiring lessons from leaders and workshop on strength-based interviews, on Day One, here are key takeaways. Don’t forget, you can catch up on all our past event here:

https://www.qub.ac.uk/directorates/sgc/careers/careers-events/pastevents/

Takeaway 1: There is psychology behind the graduate application process

Sarah McKeag, Associate Director, from EY Belfast, who also sponsor the event, gave an insightful talk on their strength-based recruitment process. They engage the Centre for Applied Positive Psychology to help assess students. It’s not as scary as it sounds. Sarah explained that strength-based recruitment is not about the experience you have had, but about your potential as a leader.

“The different between strength and competency based interviews is that competency can be learned. Strength-based assessment is all about your natural energy and enthusiasm. The challenge for students is how they portray that energy during the virtual recruitment process, she said.

Takeaway 2:Some of the key strengths employers look for

Sarah listed the ten strengths EY assess against – have them in your mind during the graduate recruitment process:

  • Accountable
  • Analytical
  • Agile
  • Adaptable
  • Curious
  • In the know
  • Number savvy
  • Resilient
  • Strong communicator
  • Team Player

“We are not looking for students to have reams of work experience or to have done work experience with us or another accountancy firm,” said Sarah. “In our assessment centre, we will give candidates a situation or a task and we will ask them how they feel about that. We may give them a number of tasks and ask them to choose their preferred five. We may give them a group activity. Afterwards, we ask them to evaluate what they would do differently,” said Sarah.

Takeaway 3:How you cope during lockdown could help get you hired

Being adaptable and resilient is huge for students who we have onboarded in last six months. This year, many students started uni in a different way than they would have envisaged. Things are changing for us all. It’s how you manage that change process,” says Sarah. 

Takeaway 4:Teamwork matters

“Listening to colleagues, make them feel valued and supported. Everyone has an important role to play. We are one big family. Leadership and Teamwork is about integrity and treating colleagues and our teams with respect whilst modelling and expecting excellence by helping others fulfil their potential.” said Sara Venning from NI Water

Takeaway 5:Challenges keep work interesting

“I’ve been Chief Executive for siz year. I love my job I love that no two days are the same. I’m always learning something new, constantly innovating and problem solving, and I love that what we do makes a difference to people’s lives across NI,” said Sara Venning from NI Water

While Natasha Sayee from SONI Ltd added: “I am passionate about what I do. If it’s challenging, then I bring my best every day. If it forces me to drive hard, then it is something I will stick with.

Takeaway 6:You can’t be an island

“To be truly successful, you need to take your passion and use it to collaborate with and motivate others. Passionate people are fierce; we are strong. Don’t do a solo run, find your squad, you will achieve so much more together,” said Natasha Sayee from SONI Ltd.

Takeaway 7:Go in strong in a virtual interview

“Plant yourself like an oak tree and allow yourself time to blossom,” said Natasha Sayee from SONI Ltd. 

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Virtual Recruitment Fairs: Build a Stand-Out Online Profile

At the Graduate Recruitment and Placement Fair on Oct 21 and 22, employers will use your online profile to find you. How do you build a profile that stands out from the crowd? Read on and find out.

You can upload your CV to your profile, so that will let an employer know what you’ve done. The key is to articulate what you have learned and the skills you have collected along the way. Employers want to know what skills and experience you can bring to the role. Below you will find a list of top skills employers told us they are looking for in student and graduate recruits, along with a brief explainer. Tag as many of these as you can to your online profile ahead of the event.

Cognitive/intellectual skills, such as:

  • Problem solving:  Ability to analyse issues, identify barriers and offer/implement potential solutions. This may involve prioritising tasks, coping with complexity, setting achievable goals and taking action.  It may also involve innovation at relevant points.

(Other terms might include – Thinking creatively/Decision making)

  • Applying subject knowledge and understanding: potentially from the degree pathway.

(This might also include researching the types of industry/roles that the subject knowledge could lead to and mechanisms for doing this.)

Professional attributes/attitudes such as:

  • Communication skills: the ability to communicate effectively in a range of professional contexts (both orally and in writing).

(Could also include body language, presentation skills, listening skills, communication styles)

  • Teamwork: the ability to work with others in a team, to communicate, influence, negotiate, demonstrating adaptability/flexibility, creativity, initiative, leadership and decision-making.

(Might include knowledge of their teamworking style, types of teams, working with remote teams, leading teams, running meetings)

  • Interpersonal skills:  includes ability to engage with and motivate others, sensitivity, global and cultural awareness, moral and ethical awareness and the ability to adjust behaviour accordingly.

(Other terms might include – Emotional intelligence, self-awareness, building on strengths, self-management)

  • Leadership skills: leading other individuals or groups through a set of complex decisions as part of goal achievement within projects or significant and challenging activities.   

(Leadership styles, leadership theories, performance, motivation)

Technical skills such as:

  • Utilise modern technology: associated with work place or work-related activity.  
  • Information technology skills: includes ability to learn, apply and exploit relevant IT programmes.

Business and organisational skills such as:

  • Business operational skills/ Commercial awareness: understanding of relevant commercial, marketing, management and/or financial processes/principles. Awareness of differences in organisational cultures and practices.
  • Business communication skills:  Written, verbal and/or online.

(Could also include – Business etiquette, coaching, collaboration, influencing others)

Language Skills and Cultural Awareness 

  • Proficiency in foreign languages: developed through courses or overseas experiences. 
  • Cultural awareness/intelligence: and the ability to implement this in a variety of multicultural contexts.

If you haven’t registered for the Graduate Recruitment and Placement Fair yet, make sure you do it today. Use your QUB email to enjoy uninterrupted access to our virtual platforms and register for both days so you can experience everything on offer.

Register now