Careers Fairs: Finding out more about Grad Schemes

Graduate scheme application. Those three dreaded words can last for months with what seems to be stage after stage of the same generic questions, identical online tests, the daunting telephone interview and the clichéd trip to London for an assessment day.

It would be more appropriate to refer to this process as the ‘survival of the fittest’ rather than a job application. With thousands of graduates battling it out for a miniscule number of positions you can’t help but wonder that there must be a trick of the trade.

Waves of graduate scheme deadline dates are going to pass us by in the next few weeks and if you’re like me and planning to cram in a few last minute applications then we will need some advice. I made an appearance at the Business, Consultancy & Finance careers fair to ask representatives from financial firm Morgan Stanley, Chartered Accountant and Business Advisor James Cowper and international supermarket chain Lidl some questions that I hope others will find useful.

MS = Morgan Stanley, JC= James Cowper, L= Lidl

How can you stand out in an application?

MS: By having extra-curricular activities that help demonstrate your working skills

JC: Having an individual experience, one that’s not solely based on your academic grades. At James Cowper everyone comes from very different backgrounds with a range of degrees. We tend to look at the person and their personality, we are a very ‘human firm’.

Lidl: It depends what programme you’re applying for but all look for transferrable qualities. You need to be flexible and enthusiastic as there’s a lot to learn. Leadership qualities that are going to be valuable no matter what; people management, negotiation, buying, project management roles etc. so to emphasise those traits in an application is always a bonus.

For more detailed information about applications forms check Careers Network’s guide.

What work experience is ideal when applying for graduate schemes?

MS: Work experience isn’t essential, but beneficial. It would be good to have relevant experience for the industry which you’re applying for. Even a part-time job, summer job and volunteering show that you can work as a team player.

JC: We don’t require work experience and we are broad about the degrees we consider. It is without a doubt useful but if it isn’t work experience within an accounting field then demonstrate how you’ve developed the skills relevant for the position.

Lidl: Some form of retail experience would be a benefit but it’s not essential. People can develop experience in any kind of sphere i.e. management programme looking for people who can take on a high level of responsibility which could be gained from anywhere. We look for people who are determined, ambitious and who have good leadership skills. We see these types of qualities develop from involvement in extra-curricular activities and societies. It’s more the qualities we’re looking for than where they got them from.

How can you prepare for an interview/psychometric tests?

MS: There are loads of websites and links you can visit to practice, especially for the online psychometric tests. I recommend SHL but the best way to find them would be to search for them using Google. There are loads out there.

JC: Our assessment is made up of group exercises; numerical, psychometric tests and group interviews. All I can recommend would be to do your research and keep up to date with current affairs.

Lidl: We don’t do psychometric tests but a good CV and covering letter is paramount, it’s how you sell yourself. First stage interview is in a group and depending on the role there may be a numerical assessment but it’s very basic application of math – don’t go grabbing the A level text book.

Careers Network has a number of psychometric tests available:

That bit at the end of an interview when you’re asked if you have any questions, what is a good question to ask that will make you stand out a bit?

JC: As it’s a group interview environment… Something topical, ask opinions about current affairs à almost create a debate.

L: Our interviews have a structure that tries to inform candidates as much as possible throughout the interview. We give them a lot of information as we want them to go away with their eyes open. We ask you at the beginning “What do you know about Lidl?” – it’s not a case of catching you out, more to fill in the gaps. People often ask about opportunities, which we believe shows ambition.


How did you get to where you are now?

MS: I didn’t go to university.

JC: I went to an agricultural college where I studied an Equine Business degree. James Cowper has quite a big rural sector and I’d always been interested in the finance side of things. I worked hard on the application, I was involved with societies at university and I guess those 2 things went hand in hand.

L: I had no idea what I’d be doing what I’m doing. I obtained a BA in Sociology and American studies. I first went into recruitment at Lidl and then developed into the retail side of things.

Megan Bowen, Final Year


About careersbham

Student Engagement Officer for Careers Network University of Birmingham

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