“I am a training advisor at Farrans, so I would be responsible for looking after our apprentices, placements and graduates. We are a civil engineering and building organisation, head office inNorthern Ireland, but we’re located across the UK and Ireland. We operate in all sectors of the construction industry, delivering a wide range of projects.
In relation to our apprenticeship story, up until 2016, entry into Farrans was placement or graduate. Other than that, it was experienced hire.
As you are probably aware, the construction industry has been dealing with a skill shortage for a number of years now.
So in 2016, we came together with other like-minded organisations, colleges and universities and the ICE and we developed WorkPlus.
WorkPlus is an organisation that brings employers together in Northern Ireland and it offers apprenticeships at all levels in over 150 disciplines.
At Farans, we offer our Higher Level Apprenticeships starting at level 5, which is foundation level, level 6 degree and level 7 Master’s in Construction Management, Civil Engineering and Quantity Surveying as well as that the Building Information Modelling Project Management (BIM) Master’s course at Queen’s.
Apprenticeships have opened a whole new talent stream for Farrans. We are now able to attract employees into various roles, including engineering, estimating, programme planning and many others.
At Farrans, we have seen our apprentices develop at a fast pace.
Some of our apprentices in the business have more than three or four years’ experience, even though they haven’t got their degree yet. Some of our apprentices are operating at a site engineer level, yet they are still yet to complete their degree.
We try not to class them as an apprentice, but by the role that they’re doing and experience that they’ve gained.
The benefits for students that we have seen – this generation said they wanted more options, more choices and with apprenticeships we can offer that now.
It’s no longer one route to gaining that degree or Master’s, there’s many more options and many benefits.
Apprentices are able to put into place what they learn in real time.
They’re learning from experienced staff and they’re building that successful career path.
The big selling point that we see whenever we’re talking to parents, careers teachers and young people is that you earn while you learn and the students have no debt.
Apprentices are important to Farrans because they not only give us a vibrant talent stream but they also give us the opportunity to shape, nurture and support the apprentices on their journey from the very start. We believe that everybody deserves an opportunity and we understand that not everybody learns in the same way. Being able to offer many apprenticeships is a great opportunity.”
Whether you are looking for a summer job, a placement or an internship, you can meet a host of employers from every industry with opportunities for students just like you. Here is who is registered to exhibit at the Work Experience and Placement Fair on 24 Feb.
The theme for the Work Experience and Placement Fair on 24 February is #ExperienceMore and we are giving you the opportunity to do just that with four amazing employer panels taking place in the run up to the fair. It’s a great networking opportunity and offers the chance to ask questions of some key players in your target industry.
However, often the word ‘networking’ can fill you with dread. Don’t fret – it’s something you do every day. “Networking is something we do everyday, often without realising it!,” says Emma Lennox, Queen’s Careers Consultant. “It’s about reaching out to people, sometimes with an objective in mind (potentially employment-related) and sometimes not.
It’s about connecting online and in person. If online, be professional, join groups and post meaningful comments, expand your network and be curious!” she says.
Before the sessions
Emma suggests doing a bit of desktop research before attending an employer panel so you know who is going and what you might want to ask. While the guest speakers will be doing much of the talking, it doesn’t hurt to have a short bio prepared in case you are asked. According to Emma, this should answer three key questions: Who are you?
What do you do/study? What are you looking for?
At the sessions
Emma has prepared the following cheat sheet of questions you can ask our employers at our panel sessions and at the Work Experience and Placement Fair:
How did you start in this area of work?
Where do you see a person like me fitting into this field (industry, company)?
What professional associations should I join?
What professional publications should I read?
What are some of the problems and issues your organisation faces?
What are the most necessary skills for these types of jobs?
What are the trends affecting your business?
What’s a typical career path for someone coming in at my level?
Can I keep in touch with you and let you know my progress?
What was your highlight of the Discover EY Programme?
Having the opportunity to learn more about the opportunities available within the company as well as get a first-hand insight into the day-to-day workings of each service line was invaluable. Doing your research online is one thing, but finding out what people actually do on a day to day basis and the skills required for the roles they work in was a big plus for me and a key decider in my decision to select the service line I did for my internship.
How did the knowledge and insight you gained on the programme help you along your career journey?
Having the opportunity to interview for the summer 2021 position so early on certainly took the stress off applying for internships during the academic year, as well as helping me come much closer to deciding what I wanted to do as a career.
What did you learn about the industry and about yourself?
What struck me most at EY was the emphasis on technology and how it is applied to all industries in a bid to streamline processes and make companies more efficient. The multifaceted nature of each service line in terms of the work they did, and the range of individuals from different backgrounds who worked within them was also encouraging as someone who had come to university later than most.
How did the networking sessions differ from what you had imagined?
The opportunity to ask any questions I liked I found very valuable, and that they didn’t have to be directly related to that individual’s occupation. Each person I spoke too also came across just as approachable as the next, regardless of their role within the company.
What doors did the EY programme open for you?
The ability to secure a summer internship for 2021.
At what stage did you decide you would like a career at EY?
Following the discover EY programme, and when I compared it to similar events with other firms.
In what ways did the people you meet at Discover EY inspire you?
The passion each person had for their role and how they seemingly, genuinely enjoyed what they did, was perhaps the most inspiring of all. This in turn gave me the confidence to apply knowing it was a place where I too would enjoy working and which provided a culture I could relate to.
Can you describe which workshops and networking sessions you found most engaging and why?
Surprisingly, found the assessment day the most engaging of all the sessions. Being left to our own devices, with some pressure, really brought the best out of the group and I felt what we produced in the time given was of a high standard.
What would you say to first years who thinks it’s too early to start researching employers and building up their professional network?
If you don’t, it’s too late! All internships and placements with big firms are so competitive now, and if you don’t start in first year, you are already on the back foot. Given the first years on such programmes have access to the internship and placement positions via fast tracked interviews and assessment centres before anyone else, if you leave it to second or final year, many of the places are already gone before you have even started.
In what ways did the insight programme help build your confidence, professional network and skills?
Given that at the time, a work from home environment was still quite unique for many, having the opportunity to interact, network and work as a team in a virtual environment I found invaluable. I certainly feel it set me up well for my years study this semester, and in other endeavours between then and now. I have also made contacts in the form of both fellow students, as well as employees at EY which I have no doubt will be invaluable at some stage in the future.
I took part in the Discover EY programme in June 2018 and for me, the highlight was getting to meet and interact with different people across all the departments within EY. The Discover EY experience provided the opportunity to really understand the individual service lines within EY and what their main roles are. This was a huge insight to me as previously I wasn’t fully aware of the differences between each service line and what a typical day looks like working in each.
The programme brought to my attention the scope of the work that EY carry out for big name clients and that there were so many more career paths and opportunities in varying departments, most of which I didn’t known EY even had. This was interesting to me as it showed how you can progress and try new things within your career at EY. The programme allowed me to see the differences between EY and its competitors through listening to some colleagues describing their career paths.
Throughout Discover EY, each team had mentor leads, most of which were people completing their Graduate Training Programme. The networking and relaxed working environment made me feel at ease asking questions and getting to know the company better as I was speaking to people who were in my shoes a matter of years ago. We also had a BBQ one evening with some food and drinks which was very informal and allowed us to network with many different people within EY of all levels. The BBQ was enjoyable because it was outside of the office, and the new atmosphere made everyone feel relaxed and more confident to ask questions, as it can be intimidating asking questions in quiet room where there are a lot of people.
A Career launchpad
From the Discover EY programme, the talent team asked me to put forward service lines and choice of programme, i.e. summer internship or industrial placement, which I would be interested in. I interviewed for an Industrial Placement within Strategy and Transactions and was successful. I completed my Industrial Placement from July 2019 to September 2020 in the sub-service line Turnaround and Restructuring Strategy, from where I got an offer to complete my Graduate Training Programme from September 2021. Therefore, the Discover EY programme has made a huge impact on my career and has provided me with many opportunities and so I would advise anyone to give it a go.
Real challenges and skills development
From hearing of different career paths of those who worked in EY, I was inspired to learn more about Strategy and Transactions and work to secure a position within the service line. I had never understood or was aware of the different services provided in Turnaround and Restructuring Strategy and was interested in the tasks they carried out.
Some of the tasks within the Discover EY programme included a case study of a hypothetical company. Each group had to interview some senior members of staff acting as the company directors, which helped develop skills that would be relevant if ever meeting clients. Reflecting real life situations showed what would be expected if I ever would work closely with clients in a career and provided me with application of client interview skills.
Start in first year
I was in first year when I applied for the Discover EY programme, and took part in it in the summer after first year. If I had completed it the year after I would not have had the opportunity to complete my placement with EY and then would not have been able to secure a Graduate role. It is important that in first year you seek information about companies that appeal to you and where you feel you would fit in well as it could open many doors for you.
The insight programme developed my network and made me feel more confident in what career path interested me most. It provided me with extent knowledge of the financial services industry and allowed me to develop skills in client scenarios which I could transfer to future interviews and further on in my career.
About Discover EY
Find out more about EY Belfast by taking part in our Discover EY Insight Programme.
Over the course of two and a half days you can expect to take part in:
Sessions that will help you understand what we do, our service lines and our client work
Interactive skills sessions and case study work
Networking events with EY staff and recent graduate joiners
Take part in assessed activities
Opportunity to hear from panels of EY staff
You’ll learn lots about what we do – and about yourself. We want to help you understand how you can apply your strengths to your ideal career. If you show enthusiasm, make a positive impact and demonstrate strengths we look for in our teams, there is the possibility you will be fast tracked to a final interview for your chosen placement or internship with us.
Discover EY is a learning experience aimed at first- year university students and those in their second year of a four year course. We welcome applications from students across all degree disciplines.
A two-step application process includes filling in a basic application form followed by online assessments- including a numerical test.
We have a packed semester of activities and events planned for 2021. You can check out the full schedule here. Here are just five ways you can challenge yourself next year:
Embrace your leadership potential
We have 100 free student memberships for Queen’s students to the Institute of Directors worth £75 each. If you are serious about success, an IoD student membership can give you the competitive edge, with benefits including access to:
A guru panel of entrepreneurs and business leaders
Internships and work placements
A peer-to-peer networking community
Direct – a magazine for board-level executives
Claim your free membership via the IOD site using the code QUB2021.
2. Channel your creativity
In the first of our bitesized session in 2021, you’ll learn to Think Creatively. This lunchtime session is about how we can use tools and techniques to increase our creativity.
3. Learn a new language
Would you like to complete a fully-funded language course through Queen’s Language Centre? The Global Opportunities Team are offering 50 students a free language course in Semester 2.
4. Explore study abroad options
Does the thought of studying in Australia or Canada appeal? Don’t miss our study abroad into session.
5. Develop your people skills
Our WORKING WITH CUSTOMERS AND CLIENTS workshop will give you an insight into what is required to be a great people person in the workplace.
Nobody likes to be pigeon-holed – it stunts professional growth and limits your options. And the same can be said of employers. Just because a company dominates in a particular field or industry doesn’t mean they are only recruiting one type of graduate from one distinct discipline. In fact, some of the most successful and agile workplaces are committed to recruiting students from a variety of backgrounds to maximise creativity and diversify thought. Here are just four of them.
Chartered Accountants Ireland
‘We embrace diversity and creativity in the workplace – we want to see difference around the table’
“As a body we are keen to attract the brightest and the best but from all backgrounds which isn’t often known or appreciated and we find the employers we work with really welcome and endorse a mixed skillset and really welcome students coming from all degree discipline.
“As a Law graduate, to me, chartered accountancy was boring – it was going to be number-crunching accounting and it was a far cry from what I saw myself doing. I have to say my mind was completely blown. I often get asked will an employer not favour someone from a finance/accounting background and the answer is no. They don’t want to have everyone around their table with the exact same thought process and methodology. They really embrace diversity and creativity in the workplace and that really helps them excel, forcing them to innovate and disrupt the norm which is necessary in the modern workplace. Communication skills are key, which people mightn’t fully appreciate. The ability to make good decisions – to weigh up qualitative and quantitative data, to use critical thinking, to be a strategist and to influence others. So that emotional intelligence is absolutely core to becoming a good chartered accountant because ultimately that is a business leadership passport.”
‘It’s not just accountancy – there is a whole range of varied roles across the board’
“There’s lots of areas in PwC you can join as graduates – we don’t require a specific degree. As a Psychology graduate, it was never somewhere I’d considered because I just thought it was very corporate; that it’s all accountancy-based and it’s very professional and it’s maybe not for me. But actually, what I’ve found is that it totally is for me and it’s the right place for me to be. We are an accountancy firm, but there’s so much more than that – so we recruit graduates into consultancy, tax, deals, working with different clients, mergers, audit and of course accountancy so there’s a whole range of things you can do at PwC varied across the whole board.
Consultancy for example is very much working with clients and problem-solving and finding solutions for those clients. Someone might come to us looking to do a new business merger or something like that so our consultancy team would look into that for them and be their advisors.”
– Sarah Delaney, PwC
NatWest Banking Group
‘I’ve been here 14 years and probably had about 6 different careers.’
“The reason I’ve stayed so long in the bank is that, whilst I’ve been here 14 years, I’ve probably had about 6 different careers in that time. I have done a variation of different roles including business-facing HR consultant type jobs, business partnering jobs…Right now, I’m the HR business partner for three different areas and they are group business areas. I look after three business areas – financial crime and control, fraud prevention and shared services. These are the back-office areas – basically the bits of the bank that keeps everything ticking along, but you wouldn’t necessarily see those parts of the bank because they’re not there on the high street in branches and such. My role looks after about 8000 people and they are spread across the globe – predominantly UK, Poland and India but also I have a scattering of people in the States, Singapore and Japan and other ones and twos over the globe as well. So, I have very much gone from being an Island of Ireland-focused role back when I joined the bank 14 years ago to a truly global role now.”
– Sandra Wright, NatWest Group
Belfast City Council
‘In the council, you don’t just work on one thing, you have to flexible and respond to different demands.’
“We have a community plan which is focal to everything that we do and it’s called the Belfast Agenda and it focuses on Belfast becoming a safe, fair and inclusive city where everyone benefits from the success of the city. We’re looking for analytical skills, problem-solving skills, decision-making skills, communication skills – especially if you’re going out into the communities and engaging with the citizens of Belfast. As well as good written and oral communication skills, because you’d be working with a range of different audiences – so maybe colleagues, managers and members of the public. Researching and benchmarking skills are really important to us, work planning, project management and partnership working. So, whilst you’re at university, try to get as much experience as you can around that. Demonstrate that you’re self-motivated and you’re a good team player, and that you’re flexible in your approach to work. In the council you don’t just get working in one thing, there’s different demands all the time from different people and you have to be flexible in managing that demand, as well as working to tight deadlines.”
– Alison Long, Belfast City Council
To access more inspiring advice from business leaders, catch up on our Employer Panel series by re-watching our past events here:
Sarah McKeag, Associate Director for Talent Attraction and Acquisition at EY Belfast talks skills-based recruitment and how it differs from the traditional recruitment process.
EY are one of the big four professional services firms. We have about 550 staff in Belfast at present and 18,000 staff in 21 offices across the UK. We are traditionally known for bringing staff into their chartered accountancy-based exams, be that an audit business or tax business. We have a large consulting business in Belfast and we bring in students now down different routes, through data analytics, project management, contract and procurement management – so there is a wide opportunity for students at all levels within EY. We are a global organisation in 150 companies worldwide. So, the opportunity for students to move and to travel and gain that vast exposure is there, right on their doorstep in Belfast.
Strengths-based recruitment at EY
We have stepped away from traditional [recruitment] routes, we did this about 10 years ago and we work with an organisation called the Centre For Applied Psychology. They have helped us develop this strength-based recruitment process to assess potential in students. So that is the main difference in strength-based recruitment: we’re not looking for the students to have had work experience or experience in a range of things, we’re looking for the potential they have to become leaders in our business and to become successful in our business.
We review our process every couple of years. We review the strengths we use, the frameworks, to make sure that they are aligned to the people who are performing the highest in our business and then this helps assess this potential in the students coming in. So, if we think about what other employers use, they typically use a competency-based approach and the difference between a strength and a competency-based approach is around the energy and enthusiasm – competency can be learnt, whereas a strength is something where you have that natural enthusiasm and energy around doing. It is something you do well and you do often and you enjoy doing all that time. We use that across all our student recruitment, from the online assessment centre to the final interview. The majority of the strengths we use for EY are the core strengths from across all of our programmes we operate, but when you get to that final interview, we’ll have more focus strengths for the area you applied for.
Strengths that EY recruit against
These are the core strengths that we would measure:
In the know
We are not looking for students to have done reams of work experience, we will give them a situation or a task and we will ask them how they would approach that, how they would feel about that, we may give them a number of tasks and ask them to choose their preferred 5 or we may give them a group activity and ask them to evaluate on how they have done in that activity and what they would do differently next time. We want them to have these strengths in their mind, when they are going through our process and think about how would I deal with the situation, what would I rely on to do that?
For example, if we look at the strength curious, we are looking for people that are always challenging and asking why they are doing something, they are looking for new ways to do something and challenge how something works or what’s driving a change in analytics they see so it is that curious, finding out what’s happening and what’s coming next.
Adaptable and resilience
I think at the moment adaptable and resilience are particularly important. That’s been huge for the students we have brought on in the past 6 months. But equally for the students that are coming towards their last year in university or starting university in a different way than they had ever envisioned themselves. How can they make the most of the circumstances they are in at the moment? Things are frequently changing so there needs to be a level of resilience so they can manage that change process. So that they don’t get change fatigue, so they can have coping mechanisms for stress management, they know when they are stressed and how to deal with that.
The number savvy one is not looking for someone that has done further maths or additional maths, however we are a number business and whether that be in data analytics or it be in our audit business, you will be given large volumes or data, sometimes numerical, and you will need to be comfortable working with that. People have to have a level of comfort around that, and understand what drives business or what drives our customers businesses as well.
The team player one, we will assess on our EY experience day in our new virtual assessment. This is a really good way at seeing everyone’s energy and how they interact withing a group. In our business you will work in teams and they can be small teams up to very large teams. So you need to have an understanding of how to integrate into a team, what roles you tend to take on, what your strengths are. You do not need to be the leader of that group, quite often you just need to be the person who focusses that group or remembers to bring the group back to a certain point or build on someone else’s idea. We are not looking for the person who talks the most or loudest, but the person who brings the most value to the group, this may be bringing in people who are more quiet in the group or bringing a focus back to the task at hand. We also need those people who start the group off, who get everyone focussed on the task.
Prepping for a virtual strengths-based interview
Make sure your technology works
Make sure you’re comfortable to come on camera
Don’t forget you can blur your background in video’s if it makes you feel more comfortable
We want to see your face and your interaction
Virtual interviews are different from face to face as that rapport takes a bit longer to build up, however our assessors are very comfortable coming on to the camera
Make sure your WIFI is as strong as it can be
Make sure you will not get interrupted
Make sure you do all your prep work before hand
Identify your strengths
For identifying their strengths, particularly before the final interview stage, and you’re thinking about the job that you are going in to, quite often it quite difficult to identify your own strengths but if you think about your energy level – something you do well, you do often and you enjoy doing. It might not be the first thing on your list as you know you can do it in 5 minutes, it could be the thing you treat yourself to or the thing you do first because you know you can do it in 5 minutes. It will be the thing your friends always ask you to do, it will be the role you always find yourself in in any camp or society – so if you’re really good with numbers, you’ll find yourself with the treasurer, if you’re very analytical, people will come to you with their problems to find a solution. The things your friends say you never shut up about as well or something you can talk about for ages.
We will give you a situation or tell you a bit about the area you applied to, a bit about the strengths that they look for and then we will ask you about the situation and what you would find yourself doing if you were in that situation.
In our final interview stages, there is a short presentation which we ask the candidates to do and that should be your opportunity to do a little bit of research around EY and that line of service you have applied for. The final thing would be around motivation. You will be interviewed by a partner or director, who is an owner of our business, and they will want to know why you wanted to apply to EY, why you have applied to that particular area, as that is the part they own. It is really your opportunity to show the research you have done into the business and into the pathway you have applied for. There is plenty of information on our website.
What is a good question for a candidate to ask at the end of the interview?
I personally think you should always ask a question at the end of an interview. You should by that stage, have built up a rapport with the interviewer, the questions I would tell you to absolutely avoid would be around salary and benefits, as this information is all on our website. There is plenty of time to ask the recruitment team prior to the final interview.
Our interviewers have typically been in the business for a number of years and have had a number of interesting career paths to that point. Questions I would focus on at the end of the interview would be around what is the best client they have worked on, what has been the most challenging client they have worked on, what has been their career path to date or what has been their most interesting role in the organisation. There’s lots of questions related to the company they can ask us. A lot of questions we are being asked at the moment are about the returns to the office and how we engaged with our teams remotely and what were the biggest challenges. The partners are really open to hear from new graduates about what would work and what they would need to see coming into the business and they are keen to know what they can do.
A question at the end of the interview is an opportunity for the candidate to get a view on if they see themself working for this person? Do they want to work on their team? Do they inspire them as a leader? That is what they should be thinking about shaping their questions around if I was coming in.
I found that it was because of the people who interviewed me that made me join, we built a rapport, we had a good chat and we quite often get feed back that our interviews don’t feel very formal and they turn out as more of a chat. When I got the offer, I made the decision because I really enjoyed the people from the company.
For students, you need to think about what you need to know to be on that team and what else you need to know about the leader of that team you will be joining.
Leaders in industry gave some valuable advice to students and graduates during some inspiring presentations and workshops. Here are some of the takeaways from Day Two.
Neil Chief Economist on Island of Ireland at EY gave the keynote speech.
Here is what he had to say:
“The most important message for students is to remain positive and upbeat despite what you read. You can very easily feel daunted or intimidating. At a time of change or disruption, there are plenty of opportunities. If you think of it this way, when there is lots of problems, the world needs problem-solvers.”
“Keep your sense of positivity, observe and learn but don’t be intimidated as if that will close down opportunities.”
“The world is always changing. The idea you can map out a career ten or 15 years is not true, you have to keep flexibility in your mind and approach.”
“The place you thought you would get a job, that may not be the case. Think what you enjoy and what you like doing. Think what competencies or skills you have. Be less predetermined in what those opportunities might be.”
“Be open mind and absorb what you can. Recruitment is a two-way thing. It’s not just what you have to do to get an opportunity, it’s asking yourself, can be at my best in that organisation?.”
Lessons from Leaders
Mark McCormack, Head of Technology at Aflac
“Problem-solving is one of the most important skills you can develop for any career. It’s what separates us from the computers; that and empathy – and the craic.”
“I might work with computers but it’s the people that make the work interesting and fun.”
“You learn that the things that make you successful in one part of your career are not necessarily the things that make you successful later on. You have to learn and adapt. If you are not learning, then you are probably not enjoying yourself.”
“We look for three things: adaptability, resilience and reinvention.”
“Stay flexible, keep learning and find some good people to work with and you can’t go wrong.”
Lessons from Leaders
Mark Dougan, Director, Prince’s Trust NI
“Courageous leaders are stepping up every single day in NI: teachers, nurses, youth workers, business professionals and young people like yourselves… you are quite literally being made into a leader as a result of this crisis.”
“Lead with courage with a small l.”
“The only thing certain is uncertainty. We have to learn to co-exist with uncertainty.”
“You are courageous leaders in the making and at this moment you need to intentionally decide to get in the game.”
“Yes, it’s challenging and you will make mistakes but the more you do, the more rewarding it becomes as you develop your skills as an effective leader.”
“Everyone is struggling with different challenges and none of those challenges outrank others. Think intentionally how you enable others to lead with courage; set them goals and give them clarity that they need to be courageous leaders in their own right and they will bring their best selves to work every day.”
“Be curious. Ask questions, lots of questions. There is no such thing as a stupid question.”