Workers at Shell's Ormen Lange gas field, Norway.

What are top employers looking for?

How can you increase your chances of securing a job with a top employer in the field of engineering and technology? We turn the interview tables and ask recruiters at leading organisations three key questions.

Students and early career caught up with five professionals from leading engineering and technology firms Shell, Rolls-Royce, Network Rail, 02 and BAE Systems to find out what they’re really looking for in an applicant. Here’s what they had to say…

What skills and characteristics do you look for in the perfect recruit for graduate or trainee positions?

Ashley Smith, campus marketing manager, Shell:
“Shell graduates are expected to display three main characteristics, which we call CAR: capacity (creativity, analytical ability, ability to take decisions in ambiguous situations and understand how issues inter-connect), achievement (drive, ability to plan, to prioritise and to respond to setbacks) and relationships (respect for people, seeking win-win solutions, team working). For our engineering/scientific roles we also require a solid technical background.”

Mike Bickford, senior resourcing manager, Network Rail:
“Any candidate needs to be able to show us examples of where they have displayed good communication skills, the ability to work well with others, and how they can be flexible and reliable. We’re looking for someone who recognises the potential within our industry and believes they can play a key part in supporting our vision for rail.”

Ann Pickering, HR director at O2:
“When we recruit young people at O2 we don’t expect them to be experts at this stage in their career. What we are looking for is the potential to develop. When employers receive thousands of applications each year it can be difficult to stand out from the crowd. Applicants should make it easy for a recruiter to put them through to the next stage by tailoring their CV and matching their skills with the ones that that have been asked for in the job description.”

Richard Hamer, education director, BAE Systems:
“Good/relevant qualifications are essential and we expect them to display good knowledge of their own technical discipline at the interview. We also look for plenty of confidence and enthusiasm and they must be good communicators both orally and in terms of their writing. We want team players and graduates are tested for this through an assessment centre.

“We also look for broader interests, perhaps illustrated by membership of clubs/societies at college/university and evidence of any leadership roles they have held. Work experience is a differentiator when it comes to the best graduates. Ideally, this is relevant in their sector/planned work area but if not, then in other work areas or voluntary sector.”

How can individuals increase their chances of being noticed by a top employer like yourselves?

Smith, Shell:
“Our graduate programme is advertised on our website and all applications must be made via the website, so in that sense it’s more about a student noticing us rather than us noticing them. Anyone who applies will be spotted. That said, a CV showing extra-curricular activities, team working, leadership positions and high achievement will always stand out from the crowd of applications. Our graduate application portal is currently closed, but candidates can register their interest and will be notified when we re-open.”

Kathryn Hibbert, Rolls-Royce early career recruitment consultant:
“By having relevant work experience shown through internships and demonstrating their passion and energy for wanting to work within the company. And by partaking in activities outside of academia, especially those which develop their personal and leadership skills, particularly if applying to our leadership graduate programme.”

Bickford, Network Rail:
“Take the time to consider our role and the relevant skills, qualifications and experience they possess. Tailor the application and correspondence. A scattergun approach rarely works and is very obvious. Individuals need to demonstrate that they have taken the time to learn about our industry and their potential part within it. Impress us and show how much they’ve thought about how they’ll fit in and make us better.  

Pickering, O2:
“In this digital age, now is the time for young people to capitalise on the fact that they have digital skills in abundance. We have been told by UK businesses that the unused digital skills of young people can be valued at £6.7bn, so it’s odd that at a time when growth and jobs depend on the digital economy, the very people who hold these skills are being excluded.  Individuals should draw these skills to a potential employer’s attention and show us why they think they are valuable.

“Experience is key. I’m not talking about carrying out months of unpaid work but rather gaining valuable experience that will benefit both the individual and the employer in their new position. This could be anything from taking part in a local sport or interest group, undertaking work experience or volunteering with a local charity. It all counts and shows that the applicant has a range of skills to draw from. I would also encourage individuals to make the most of their digital skills by using them in their application process – whether it be in the form of a video, through the use of social media or in an equally innovative way.”

Where do they most frequently go wrong in their applications or at interview stage?

Smith, Shell:
“Often by not tailoring their application to the job in hand. A CV is not a catalogue of life experiences but an advert designed to sell a product (the student, as a prospective employee). Of course, what you do choose to include in a CV has to be 100 per cent accurate. Students need to highlight any relevant experience and qualifications they have, to demonstrate their interest in the area or job.

“If your reasons for applying still aren’t clear then a cover letter can help you explain in more detail. Again, cover letters need to be short and specific. More generally, a poorly structured CV makes it easy for a screener to miss things: students should consider what they want an employer to notice in their CV and structure the document accordingly.”

Hibbert, Rolls-Royce:
“Not being able to apply the theory into a real work scenario and not doing enough research on the organisation and the programme they are applying for.”

Pickering, O2:
“By not thoroughly researching the company and the role they are applying for/to. It is so important before applying for a job that the applicant finds out as much as possible about how the business works, what it has been doing recently, where it is being talked about and how, what it has done that they most admire. The Internet is a valuable tool here especially with the rise of social media, businesses are sharing more about them than ever before. It also goes without saying that as much enthusiasm about the role that they can bring to an interview the better.”

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