Engineering Graduate Schemes

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    I thought some people may find it useful if I cobbled together some tips based on my experience of going through the graduate recruitment process. Keep in mind this is based on the experience of someone going through the process, not someone making the decisions, so I won’t be able to give you the magic secret or whatever that will allow you to nail interviews or create the perfect CV.

    It’s worth noting that many companies use the same or a very similar process for recruiting both graduates and interns. Therefore, I think much of this advice can be applied to both. And remember, it’s just that – advice from someone who has been through the process. Your experience may vary.

    1 What is a Graduate Scheme?
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    Firstly, you may be wondering what exactly a graduate scheme (sometimes called a graduate programme) even is. Are they jobs? Are they paid? Do they lead to permanent employment?

    The simplest explanation is that they are employment opportunities for final year students and recent graduates. They generally provide structured, on-the-job learning, and can offer employees the opportunity to complete placements or rotations in across various parts of the organisation. Typically, they last between two and four years, and are offered mainly by larger employers, due to their nature.

    To elaborate on this, let’s say that you join a manufacturing organisation’s graduate scheme. You may spend some time working on product design and development (a “placement” or “rotation”), then after that, move on to working on testing, or technical sales, etc. If you join a company in the utilities sector, for example, you may be working on operating an existing facility, then move onto the design team for a new one, maintenance, etc. Basically, you aren’t just put into one role, with the expectation that you will be continuing with it ad infinitum.

    Of course, it’s important to note that these are not standardised. Although some organisations may let you gain experience in very different areas, e.g. design engineering to manufacturing engineering, whereas others may keep you within one stream, giving you experience of different projects on that stream. For some, there may be one application to the scheme as a whole, with you being allocated a project/position by the organisation, whereas others you may apply to more specific positions, with the aim of continuing in that position after the scheme is over.

    They typically last at least two years, allowing for a couple of placements (which usually last at least six months so that you can gain a useful amount of experience from them), with some lasting up to four years, with the aim of becoming chartered once you complete the scheme. During the duration of the scheme, you may be required to be geographically mobile, as different placements may be in different locations.

    But, of course, what the scheme can offer is dependent on the context of the company. You can’t really spend time on the shop floor if the organisation doesn’t have one, for example. Some engineering services/design organisations may let you do secondment to clients, or their facilities (e.g. a power station). If companies let you do some really cool stuff, they usually aren't afraid to advertise it.

    Most graduate schemes offer permanent contracts. Some offer salary reviews at the end of every placement, some offer them biannually, and salary increases are typically larger than what you would receive in a “normal” job, to reflect your developing skills and competency.


    2 When to Apply
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    Generally speaking, graduate schemes begin to open up for applications in September (many are open as I write this), although some only get advertised well into the next year. Deadlines can be as early as the November.

    Some companies recruit on a first-come, first-served basis, meaning that if they see enough quality candidates to fill the places their scheme early on, they’ll close the application process (this has happened to me: all the positions for the discipline I had applied for with a company had already been filled, and they could not progress my application further despite being interested enough in my application to want to interview me) (and while we’re in parenthesis, if you’re interested, they offered me an interview in another but closely related discipline; but don’t assume the same will happen to you if you are in this situation). Other companies seem to wait until the deadline before reviewing applications – but don’t assume they’ll do this, always best to get your application in early.

    Graduate schemes generally have one start date for all entrants, which is typically in the summer or autumn (September is quite common). Sometimes you may be able to start earlier, other times you won’t. It all depends on the organisation.


    3 How to Apply
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    When looking for graduate schemes (and placement/internships), having an up-to-date CV is a must. Even though some companies, for interns and graduates, have an application form only, the vast majority are going to either want you to submit a CV and cover letter only, or are going to want you to upload a CV alongside their application form. Plus, you can hand out CVs are careers fairs and networking events and upload them to agency websites.

    CVs and Cover Letters

    Before you even consider letting a prospective employer see your CV, you should get your university’s careers department to give you help in crafting and perfecting it. You’re already paying for it, so you might as well use it!

    Your CV has to be tailored to the job you are applying to – there is no such thing as a generic CV. A CV can be best thought of as an advertisement of yourself; you’re advertising yourself to potential employers, and it’s important that what you’re advertising is what the potential employers are looking to buy. You don’t have to start from scratch all the time, and in fact you can keep much of the content the same for graduate schemes, but there are subtle changes you should make to it.

    Also try to ensure that your CV contains relevant language for an actual employer. If you’re listing the modules that you studied, they may not be descriptive enough to actually convey the relevant content to someone who didn’t go to your university and sit the module themselves. It might be useful to include some of the real-world applications of what you studied rather than providing a list of the modules. So, for example, if you took a module called solid mechanics, did you cover things of interest to industry like pressure vessels or beams? If you took a module called modelling and simulation, what kinds of things did you model and simulate? If you took FEA, what did you perform FEA on? “Materials 2” doesn’t mean much to someone reading your CV; the limited space you have absolutely must be used as efficiently as possible. If you took several maths modules – say Maths 1, Maths 2 and Maths 3, you don’t need to list them all. Listing maths as a subject is sufficient.

    The same applies to cover letters, except obviously that they’re in letter format. There’s lots of information on cover letters out there, and again get someone from your university’s careers service to check it before it gets sent.

    Online Applications

    When it comes to application forms, you’re generally word constrained when it comes to providing answers to the questions. And if you’re not, it’s probably not a good idea to produce a war and peace answer anyway. The questions themselves probably won’t be technical in nature – certainly, I don’t recall encountering any technical ones, but some companies may include some. They’re more likely to be a play on the typical types of competency/HR questions (see next section), and based at least somewhat on the company’s values. It may be a good idea to treat them almost like a competency interview, except that you get to write down your answers, so use STAR (Google it), etc.

    I also think it’s very useful to copy the questions into a Word document and answer them there, because this provides all of the conveniences of using a word processor, and also because you’ll probably find that many companies ask very similar questions, so it’s not too difficult to adapt your previous answers, as opposed to starting from scratch.

    Don’t submit an application as soon as you finish typing the last word; sleep on it (unless it’s the night of the deadline!).


    4 The Selection Process
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    Graduates schemes typically have a fairy arduous selection process – but, like the schemes themselves, the processes are not uniform across companies. There are several different “stages” or “steps” that companies use to recruit graduates onto their schemes. I will discuss the ones I have experienced below.

    Online Tests

    Online testing is very common, even for engineering graduate schemes. Numerical and verbal testing is common, with SHL seeming to be the most common provider of these tests. Some companies also have their own tests they administer, which may test things other than just maths and reading skills.

    Some organisations even use behavioural tests, too. These consist of providing you with a series of scenarios, and asking you which action you would take in them, to see if the way you make decisions aligns with the way that the way the organisation’s culture or values. Sometimes this is based on a selection of “most likely” and “least likely”, and sometimes it may also seem like all answers are acceptable, or at least somewhat sensible.

    The above is just a quick into to the kinds of things you may face in the online testing phase. Much more information is available on Google.

    HR/Competency Interviews

    This is an interview that is usually non-technical in nature, i.e. you won’t be asked about engineering or technical theory related topics. Google for more information: there is plenty of information on these online, given how ubiquitous they are. I can’t say anything that Google won’t say better. Just be aware that, even as an engineer, yes, you will have to do competency interviews, even if it may seem odd having someone who is not an engineer ask you non-engineering questions to determine your competence for an engineering job. The reality is that this style of interview is a highly successful addition to the recruitment process, and allows people without a large backlog of previous experience (i.e. you as students/graduates!) to shine. Think of them not as testing your competence as an engineer, but rather seeing how closely you align with the organisation’s core values/competencies – these are typically listed somewhere close to the recruitment sections on their website, and should be easily found.

    Technical Interviews

    Technical interviews in particular are something that seems to worry a lot of interviewees. It’s certainly not unreasonable to expect that performing well during this portion of the process is paramount to securing a job offer. For some companies this does in fact form much of the process.
    So what kinds of things are you likely to be asked? In my experience, the material is a mixture of core material from your discipline alongside more specific questions relating to the position you are applying for. I’ve never heard of anyone getting asked anything very academic or esoteric, but if the position you have applied for demands such knowledge you could well get asked about it. Ultimately all of the ones I have been through have been based on basic engineering theory, going into some basic applications a bit more relevant to the position applied for.

    These interviews can be more than just verbal; quite often, the questions related to information that is provided on paper. This can include drawings, graphs and diagrams. It’s also often expected that you will use the paper provided to illustrate your answers, e.g. with sketches.
    I’ll give some more specific examples of things I have been asked during such interviews. If you’re not mechanical, you can skip this part. I can’t be specific with other disciplines, sorry.

    I’ve been asked about the basics a lot: stress, strain, bending. This has included drawing bending moment diagrams and correctly identifying various equations. Some interviews, where relevant, have gone into a bit more depth by looking at pressure vessels and pipe stress, so an understanding of thick vs thin wall is useful, as is cylindrical stress (hoop, radial etc.). Different failure theories such as Von Mises and Tresca, have also came up.
    Some basic heat transfer with a rudimentary knowledge on heat exchangers was handy, too. For some positions I have been asked to draw some basic heat transfer diagrams, identify relationships, and talk a bit about different types of heat exchanger (e.g. shell and tube, plate).

    Fatigue and S/N curves have come up once or twice too, I think. So it’s handy to know that different materials obviously have different fatigue limits (and some don’t have any!), and to have an understanding of Miner’s Rule.
    Away from the more theoretical parts, the more practical elements have included a basic knowledge of various bits of mechanical equipment, e.g. pumps, valves and the like. Don’t be surprised if drawings come out, either. I’ve been asked to describe errors in drawings, and some basic GD&T questions (Google it if you’re not familiar with it. I’m not).

    Overall they’re trying to assess your technical knowledge relevant to the position you have applied to. I know that may seem obvious, but what perhaps isn’t so obvious is that this may well include things outside the scope of your degree. Don’t worry too much because if you understood the concepts then you are more likely to be able to apply them to such technical questions, especially if you have developed a bit of engineering judgement.

    Presentations

    Yes, don’t well just love presentations? Well, you’ll love to hear that they’re a fairly common part of the recruitment process! Unfortunately I can’t make them less nerve-wracking, but I can explain the typical varieties, based on what I have experienced.
    “A subject of your choice” is a common one, with you being told beforehand to prepare it. For these, a lot of people will present their dissertation. However, you may be asked to prepare a presentation about a specific topic, which you will be told beforehand. If you bring in your presentation, whatever it is about, it is quite likely you will have computer equipment to perform it on, and will either take in the ppt. file on a USB or email it to them.
    Other times you will be told the subject not long before you are due to present, on the day of the presentation. If that is the case, you will probably be expected to prepare it via something like a flip chart and marker pens.
    I’ve had to do presentations that were one-on-one, as well as to the entire cohort of applicants and assessors. Regardless, remember that everyone else is in the same boat.

    Assessment Centres

    Assessment centres (ACs) are becoming an increasingly common method in the process for recruiting graduates and interns. I know the name sounds a little sinister, but don’t worry about them too much.
    ACs are often where much of what I have written about above occurs, so I won’t repeat those sections.

    I don’t recall attending any ACs that did not have a group task. In fact one might even suggest that part of the reason for bringing a group of candidates together at the same time is so that a group task can be performed. For engineers, I think they’re usually at least somewhat technical – building a tower out of spaghetti and marshmallows seemed to be quite common, but there are others that are used, and it’s not necessarily the best technical solution they are looking for here either. Group tasks are more generally about assessing your ability to work in a group; your teamwork skills.
    In-tray exercises are also sometimes used (Google them).

    At ACs, you’re usually going to be surrounded by people taking notes as you are performing the various activities, and this can be somewhat disconcerting. Best just try and blot them out and focus on what it is you’re trying to do.

    ACs generally last the full working day, although I have attended ones that have lasted just the duration of the afternoon. Some of them are pretty full on with the amount of tasks/exercises you have to complete, whereas I have been to others that have had a large amount of downtime, i.e. time between tasks.

    Sometimes ACs are held at the company’s offices, other times they are at places like hotels. If it is at a hotel, sometimes there might be a group dinner with the other candidates and assessors provided by the company the night before. Don’t get drunk. Try to have an early night, too.

    How The Process Plays Out

    I have previously explained some of the common stages employed in the graduate selection process. To give you an idea of how the process plays out, I will describe what I have generally seen.

    Firstly, the stages generally increase in order of involvement as the process gets closer to making the final selection. That means that online tests are typically carried out after you have submitted your application (although some companies require you to complete these as part of your application, and some even require you to sit them before you can complete the application, which is perhaps fairer as people who don’t pass the tests don’t waste time completing an application).

    Then after that you will typically have a competency interview, which will probably take place over the phone (it’s easier that way as there is no travel involved). However I am hearing that now more and more companies are using video interviews at this stage. And these video interviews aren’t necessarily based on a two way interaction that one would experience via a telephone interview or Skype either. I’ve been told that more and more companies are using a style of video interview where you are given a (usually pre-recorded) question, and have to record your answer in front of the camera. I’ve done this once before, actually, and it did feel a bit odd. But then, so did my first telephone interview.

    Then, should you be successful, it’s usually the assessment centre after that. This will probably encompass much of the rest of what has been written in this section: the technical interview, the presentation, as well as possible another competency interview or another round of numerical/verbal testing, as well as the usual AC stuff like group tasks etc.

    So all in all, it’s not a quick process. There is often at least several weeks between stages. But, given that this is typically playing out over the backdrop of your final year and you should hopefully have several on the go at the same time, it perhaps won’t feel so drawn out.


    5 Round Up
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    By now you should (hopefully!) have a decent idea of what you’re likely to encounter on your journey to securing a position on a graduate scheme, if you decide they are the right route for you.
    But what happens if you don’t get a place on one? Given how competitive they are, this will unfortunately apply to most of you. Hence, it’s not the end of the world. It’s mainly the larger organisations that offer them, and SMEs employ much more people overall.

    It’s much more common for organisations to offer “graduate jobs” rather than graduate schemes. Graduate jobs are basically the new, fancy term for entry level or junior engineering jobs. Although they won’t be quite the same as a graduate scheme, they will likely still provide good training and development opportunities, as organisations know there is a big gap between being an engineering graduate and an actual engineer.

    There are advantages and disadvantages to a graduate scheme. Whilst many like the idea of being able to undertake placements in different parts of the business, or being able to move projects, not everyone likes the idea of a graduate scheme. Sometimes people feel that their placements aren’t long enough to gain a useful amount of experience, or that on such placements they are essentially “shadowing”… and not everyone wants to be (or is able to be) geographically mobile for up to several years after starting either.
    I would generally advise that you shouldn’t be applying to organisations or roles that you categorically do not want to do; it is a waste of both your time and theirs. But at the same time, given the competitive nature of graduate employment, you need to keep your options open by applying to a large enough number of jobs such that you are likely to receive at least one offer. It’s nice to get more than one offer as it gives you some choice, but most people’s first job is dictated by what wants them, rather than what they want.


    Lastly, be sure to check the Graduate Scheme Application Process from the TSR Wiki for more information and tips.
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    Solid thread Smack! Can't believe you got asked questions that deep about cylindrical and hoop stresses, did they give you the formulas or where you expected to just know them?

    The only questions I've encountered were:

    -basic fluid flow principles in pipes.
    -describing stress-strain curves
    -CAD drawings (explain what the symbols mean....explain/guess how the parts are manufactured)


    Also I've forgotten how to even draw bending moment diagrams lmao :rofl:
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    (Original post by a10)
    Solid thread Smack! Can't believe you got asked questions that deep about cylindrical and hoop stresses, did they give you the formulas or where you expected to just know them?

    The only questions I've encountered were:

    -basic fluid flow principles in pipes.
    -describing stress-strain curves
    -CAD drawings (explain what the symbols mean....explain/guess how the parts are manufactured)


    Also I've forgotten how to even draw bending moment diagrams lmao :rofl:
    I was asked to identify formulae written down. I got confused between pd/2t and pd/4t, and also forgot that we don't generally consider the radial stress in thin walled pipes/vessels. I wouldn't say it was deep, I was just out of practice at the time.

    I haven't been asked to draw any super complicated bending moment diagrams; just basic stuff.
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    (Original post by Smack)
    I was asked to identify formulae written down. I got confused between pd/2t and pd/4t, and also forgot that we don't generally consider the radial stress in thin walled pipes/vessels. I wouldn't say it was deep, I was just out of practice at the time.

    I haven't been asked to draw any super complicated bending moment diagrams; just basic stuff.
    Yeah, that makes sense since the thickness is far too small you may as well ignore it. Thanks for the heads up.

    It's amazing how much you forget just from not doing it! These grad schemes are hard as hell to get into as well....some of my colleagues have ended up screen-shotting test questions in order to apply next cycle :rofl: (dunno if i should release this kind of information :lol: )
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    (Original post by a10)
    Yeah, that makes sense since the thickness is far too small you may as well ignore it. Thanks for the heads up.

    It's amazing how much you forget just from not doing it! These grad schemes are hard as hell to get into as well....some of my colleagues have ended up screen-shotting test questions in order to apply next cycle :rofl: (dunno if i should release this kind of information :lol: )
    Yes, I would say I have forgotten most things that I have no came across again since my degree. I think that, if you don't use it in a design based or professional capacity, you lose of a lot of it.
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    (Original post by Smack)
    Yes, I would say I have forgotten most things that I have no came across again since my degree. I think that, if you don't use it in a design based or professional capacity, you lose of a lot of it.
    How competitive are these schemes?
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    (Original post by Flames786)
    How competitive are these schemes?
    Very, generally.
 
 
 
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