How to Impress Top Employers in the Recruitment Process | Top Universities

How to Impress Top Employers in the Recruitment Process

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Chloe Lane

Updated Apr 16, 2021



How to Impress Top Employers in the Recruitment Process

Life seems to be slowly starting to shift back towards normality; but as firms start to re-open and start hiring again, the coronavirus may have made it harder than ever to stand out to top employers.

This is especially true if you’re looking at graduate schemes and prestigious internships with some of the top employers in the world.

We asked three of the world’s most popular graduate employers, PwC, Mars and P&G, what exactly they’re looking for from students and graduates, as well as how students can shape lockdown to their advantage in the recruitment process.

What are employers looking for in candidates?

What are employers looking for in candidates?

During the recruitment process, many top employers compare potential recruits against a number of company values.

“We use a model called the ‘PwC Professional’,” said Andrew Bargery, PwC’s campus and schools engagement leader. “It has five different attributes that we look for when we recruit anyone at any level, whether that be a school leaver, a graduate or an experienced hire.”

Bargery advises that graduates who are interested in working at PwC apply these to their own experiences.  

Similarly, P&G, who own household brands such as Pampers, Ariel, Tide and Tampax, mark potential recruits against the firm’s peak performance factors. 

“Peak performance factors are the main thing that we look for, but they are wide skill sets: things like ‘lead with courage’ and ‘innovate for growth’” said Georgie Crotty, a talent acquisition leader at P&G. “We look for these both through applicants’ CVs and also in interviews.”

Global food manufacturer, Mars, are not only looking for graduates who demonstrate their five principles, but also people who are “curious, self-aware, have a willingness to learn, develop and grow at a pace,” according to Andrew Sharp, the head of early talent at Mars.

How can you impress employers in the recruitment process?

How can you impress employers in the recruitment process?

The key to impressing employers? “You have the best chance of securing a role if you can understand what an employer is looking for,” said Crotty. 

So, what is it that employers are looking for?

Be prepared  

Bargery said that he is impressed by students who have done their preparation, adding that students need to have done their research and be aware of the PwC professional values, as well as how to apply them.

“The questions will be a bit more scenario based,” said Bargery, adding: “It's not what you've done in the past, it's more about taking that and asking how they can apply that to a future scenario”.

He advised students to reflect on similar situations, whether this is a university project, a part-time role or a society position.

Use lockdown to your advantage 

Canceled work experience placements and internships can demonstrate a good example of how candidates have dealt with challenges and setbacks, advises Sharp.

He explained: “It’s great to draw on existing experiences they may have had, but it’s also worth highlighting that any setbacks will demonstrate standing alone, resilience and dealing with ambiguity”. 

Be passionate

As well as having key skills, being passionate about what you do is an excellent way to stand out to recruiters. 

“We’re looking for people who genuinely have passion and interests and work towards those,” said Crotty.

What should you be doing in lockdown to boost your employability?

What should you be doing in lockdown to boost your employability?

Build a network

Building a strong network and using this to connect and learn is just as important as having the right skills, said Sharp. 

He said: “A network is likely to give you advice, contacts and learnings and can help enable your position to secure a role. 

“Many organizations run early careers network events, which are now in a virtual format, or you can reach out to your university careers services, who act as a bridge between employers and students.” 

Bargery said: “Just really, really try and do your research, have conversations, continue to network, use your university links to find out what might be available and what you can use.” 

Use online resources to learn about your chosen industry

PWC have an employability hub, which offers a range of free virtual learning resources for people who are interested in working there, or for those who are interested in learning more about the industry. 

Crotty said: “Spend the time over summer looking at employers’ websites, understanding what they are looking for.

“Then when it comes to putting in your application in September, not only will you have updated your CV, got your LinkedIn up to scratch, but you will also have a cover letter which you know will lean towards what the firm is looking for or be more prepared for an interview.”

Update your LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a great way to find out about different companies, network and find out about job opportunities.

“It’s a platform to connect, network and engage with employers. You can even join groups on LinkedIn to build a network of like-minded individuals to discuss experiences and identify organizations who are recruiting,” said Sharp. 

Update your soft skills

Gaining experience and doing activities that’ll look good on your CV is great, but make sure you’re doing them for the right reasons.

“It's transparent when people are putting things on the CV just for the sake of it,” warns Crotty.

“Use the time to hone a passion of yours so that you're genuinely adding value, not just to your CV, but to your life,” she added.

Don’t reject the soft skills, warned Bargery: “Think about communication skills or presentation skills as well as some of the ‘harder’ skills”.

How can you get professional work experience in lockdown?

How can you get professional work experience in lockdown?

Students and graduates may be surprised to discover that traditional work experience isn’t necessary to bag a top graduate role or internship.

Bargery said: “It’s less about what you've actually learned and more about how you apply what you've learnt”.

He explained that although professional work experience might help a candidate stand out at PwC, it doesn’t guarantee it.

Similarly, professional work experience isn’t essential for someone looking to work for Mars, with skills such as self-awareness, agility and receptiveness to feedback being much more important.

“Mars wants to see if with that feedback and self-awareness, you can make judgments about what to do differently and apply this to new scenarios later,” revealed Sharp.

“Work experience can help this, but ultimately the mindset can be developed in other ways; it doesn’t necessarily have to be through a work environment. 

“You can exemplify this with feedback from mentors, family etc. – all of which don’t require work experience. Focus on you, and how you take on board and approach feedback.”

Virtual internships

The Bright Network program is a three-day program, led by industry leaders, such as P&G and PwC, who offer virtual sessions to students.

It’s split into different sectors which provide insights into industry and experience, offering students the chance to earn a certification.

“It's not going to fully replicate an in-person internship and it won't necessarily be paid,” explained Bargery, “but it's still a really good opportunity to upscale and there'll be sessions focused on things like presentation skills or communication skills or more technical aspects, such as producing an audit.” 

More than 50,000 people have signed up so far. “It's a way to get free access to experience, and to get insights from employers,” said Crotty. 

“It’s just an opportunity to put something on your CV, even if you’ve had other opportunities cancelled.”

Industry insight days can also be a good opportunity to find out more about your chosen industry. “They give you the chance to network, to find out what employers are looking for, what a job might look like, or if it’s the kind of career you want to pursue,” Crotty explained. 

Online courses

Many top universities have started offering free online courses which are available to both students and graduates. 

“The key is to do something that you're interested in and that will develop your skill set,” advises Crotty. 

“Look for courses that compliment other things that you've done in the past, or things that interest you, rather than trying to force-fit something because you think it’ll look good.”

“Personally, I believe the more applied case studies, such as Ted Talks are better than theory in isolation,” said Sharp. “Hearing the learnings from leaders of the field and disrupters to the industry is far more beneficial [than online courses] and are a free, readily available option.”

What other advice do top employers have?

Stay positive

“Try and remain positive,” said Bargery. “Lift your head above those clouds of doom and gloom and think ‘How can I turn this situation into a positive? What can I get involved in?’”

“There will be some employers out there who are still recruiting, so stay positive.” 

Take it easy 

Crotty said her main piece of advice for students and recent graduates was not to be too hard on yourself.

“Relax and use the time to your benefit,” she said. “Do all the things we talked about in terms of researching, CV, LinkedIn, going to free workshops, trying to build some contacts, get some experience, but try to take the pressure off yourself.”

She added: “Lots of big employers will be hiring again in September, but don’t overly worry about it, because life is stressful enough right now”. 

Don’t panic

Sharp advises not to panic: “These are unsettling times, but we’ve been here before in 2007 and 2008. There was a bounce back and September grads have years ahead of them,” he said.

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