Having worked in talent development - managing graduate and placement schemes within the tech industry - it's clear that those students who stand out share characteristics that enable them to thrive in an industry that moves faster than any other. Most of these traits are developed at undergraduate level. Students are finally moving out of their generalist studies and beginning to specialise in a particular area, whether this be programming, marketing, art, etc. As the scope of their study narrows, the student begins to develop the pin-point focus and commitment needed to flourish in an ever-changing industry like technology.
My role running recruitment at ZeroLight means visiting students throughout the lifecycle of their academic career. This can be an informal chat to students at a careers fair in their first year, or a presentation to them on a tour of our Newcastle Studio Live Works as they start their second year and begin thinking about undertaking a placement. Often, I'm involved in conducting mock interviews as part of the students' Career Development module and, lastly, I'll catch up with them at their final year showcase just before they graduate.
It's important to have touch points with students throughout university, not just because this increases their awareness of our company and brand, thus increasing the applications we receive at graduate level, but also because this gives me a unique insight into each student. More often than not, that one student who visited the ZeroLight stand at their first careers fair to ask what it's like to work in tech, is the person who ends up bagging a graduate Software Engineer role at ZeroLight 3 years later.
This comes down to passion about their subject. Those who take the time to consider what excites them and then research the best degree to get them to that job are generally the students who strive to achieve top grades and secure places on competitive graduate schemes, leading to quality jobs at great companies.
These are the students who aren't satisfied with just working on university projects - they're organising side projects with friends on other degrees; they're entering personal work into competitions. These students are constantly seeking feedback on their work - from lecturers and other students - they want to know both ‘what' and ‘how' to improve for a better grade next time.
I often know the names of these students long before they apply for a graduate role at ZeroLight. They've taken the initiative to get in contact - maybe to ask about voluntary opportunities, or seek feedback from a professional source. I've had emails from students inviting me to their end of year showcase so they can demo work and ask questions. These students are remembered at application time for their ingenuity and determination to stand out from the crowd, and it's traits like these that separate the best candidates from the rest.
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It's clear that these undergraduates are determined to use their time at university in the most productive way possible. When it comes down to an afternoon at the pub or an afternoon in the lab trying out the latest VR headset, there's no question where they will be. They know from first year that they need to put a portfolio of work together to showcase to employers when they graduate, so they begin work on this immediately - it might not be their best work yet but they are developing a pattern of best practice that will get them noticed when the time comes. Don't get me wrong - they'll still have time to socialise and enjoy the university experience, but they know how to prioritise!
Remarkably, many of the best undergraduates I've interviewed have also managed their academic work alongside a part time job; sometimes they've also been a student representative AND they've been a member of various university social clubs. The old adage - if you want something done, give it to a busy person - is very apt here. These students are galvanized by their university experience and will undoubtedly look back with pride on what they were able to achieve in those three years.
When we come across undergraduates with this level of drive, it's easy to see them fitting into the culture at ZeroLight - problem solving, constantly iterating to get the very best product, going above and beyond to build on our values of innovation, quality first, focus, and collaboration. They've already demonstrated their passion and drive at university, and by making themselves known to us, we're already aware of how much they want to work in the industry. For us, it's then simply a case of ensuring they have the technical proficiency to match and then offering them the opportunity to fast track their career in technology.
1. Stay hungry. You're not the only person with your degree, make yourself competitive and become a more rounded individual through experience. Summer/part-time work and university clubs are a great way of implementing and improving your skills. Take advantage of all opportunities that come your way.
2. Be proactive and make yourself known. Companies are looking for individuals who want to grow within the organisation. Show how passionate you are to be part of the organisation so it's unquestionable upon application.
3. A portfolio/demo of your work is a must when applying for graduate schemes. Get started on your portfolio in your first year and constantly work on improving it by adding your very best work. Make sure it shows both university and personal projects, in order to demonstrate your wider passion for your subject.
If you are interested in finding out more about our Internship Program please email [email protected]
Erin Turnbull - Talent Development Manager (LinkedIn)