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What employers look for in a work experience applicant

Engineering employers share what they look for from students applying for a work experience placement. Find out how to make yourself stand out – and what not to say or do!

L-R: Liam Stratten, training manager, Ben Clarke, quality manager and Katie Bodman, head of training academy with Superior apprentices Image credit Superior As a student looking for a work experience placement, you might not have much, or any, experience under your belt. But the reality is, that at this early stage of your career, companies are looking for passion more than anything else. They want to see a true interest in engineering or technology and an eagerness to learn.

“For us it’s not necessarily about skills and knowledge. It’s more about having an enthusiasm to learn new things. [We’re looking for] someone who is interested in and has a natural passion for engineering, science and manufacturing,” says Katie Bodman, Head of Superior’s Training Academy.

Highlight your passion and personality

As well as drive, employers also look for core soft skills – something just as important in engineering these days as technical knowledge. They’re after students who can show problem-solving and critical thinking ability, as well as communication skills.

In addition, they’re looking for well-rounded individuals who can fit into a new team well. As James Taylor, Co-Founder of Make My Blinds highlights, this is especially important for small companies and start-ups.

“It really comes down to personality as much as skills and experience,” he explains. A well-rounded person who has outside interests, follows the news and has a view on world events can help to enrich the team they’re joining.”

“We look for young people who are able to work well with designers, artists, performers and other creative disciplines,” adds Ben Barker, Co-Founder and CEO of game developer Run An Empire. “The ability to see your work in a wider context and understand others objectives adds to the quality of our products and the workplace culture.”

How to sell yourself to a potential employer

During the application process your most important skill is your ability to highlight these sought-after features.

How to do that? Well the best way is through examples, as companies don’t just want to hear that you’re good at something; they want you to prove it. Think of ways you’ve displayed your ability to communicate or solve a problem. They don’t always have to be examples from college or your part-time job, you might be able to use examples from clubs you’re in, or just from life in general.

“Every day we’ll get someone say on their CV that they have very good communication skills. That literally tells me nothing about you,” says Mark Eslick, College Placements Manager at the University of Brighton’s Science and Engineering Placements Office. “Instead say something like I recently gave a presentation on a new V8 engine I’ve been studying in my degree, or explain that you’ve written a report on engineering factors in wind turbine development,” he advises. “These give little snippets of information on what you’re studying and highlight these skills.”

Companies also like students who’ve done their research, so make sure you research the business as much as possible, as well the industry in general and the company’s competitors. Again this will show your commitment and interest in this opportunity.  

Things that put companies off

One thing companies do expect you to have from the get-go is professionalism. If you send over a CV scattered with typos or use a Gmail account with a silly name that will not bode well for the success of your application.

“Gradcracker surveys employers every year and last year their number one bugbear was people using inappropriate Hotmail or Gmail email addresses. They want a professional university email address and expect things to be presented professionally,” notes Eslick. “Think punctuality and presentation; how you present yourself, even in emails, is critical if you want to get past the first application stage.”

How to approach a company regarding a work placement or internship

As we mentioned earlier, research can be massively useful, as it allows you to get a feeling for company culture and the best way to approach a company regarding work experience. Plus, by highlighting your knowledge and interest in the business, you’re more likely to pique the interest of those you’re trying to reach.

Many businesses prefer you to first make contact via email, so send across a professional email, with a short and snappy CV attached that highlights your underlying passion for engineering and examples of the key abilities employers look out for. In your email also try to highlight why you’re suited to the specific company you’re contacting.

Through your research you should be able to spot organisations that might be open to different routes of contact. Taylor, for example, likes initiative from the students that contact him.

“It shows initiative if a candidate has gone on and liked your social media channels, communicating this way before getting in touch either online or in person. I think it makes a lasting impression and being that little bit more focused can help you stick in the employers head,” he says.

Whatever route you take, after that initial approach you need to display patience, as Barker highlights.

“Wait four to five days before you follow up with a second email or call – most people respond to non-critical emails a bit slower,” he explains.

Show employers you’re the one for the job

By taking on board the above advice, it shouldn’t be long before you’ve secured yourself a great work experience or internship placement.

Remember the key is to show them how much you want this opportunity, the skills you can already bring to the business and your eagerness to learn. Display this professionally; with examples of your strengths and an interest in the company and, like Bodman’s applicant below, the placement will be yours!

“I recently received a CV from a local school pupil who was looking for a week-long work experience placement,” says Bodman. “In his covering letter he mentioned how keen he was to learn the manufacturing and injection moulding process and also about the different materials we use to make our products. He wanted to see the dedicated apprentice academy and engineering workshop we have on site. His CV included pictures of him participating in engineering events and also with things he’d made himself. I arranged his placement immediately!”

Published August 2017

Image credit: Superior