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Want an engineering graduate job or internship? Why applying before the deadline gives a big advantage

Early birds have better odds of an engineering job than those who leave their application till the official closing date. Give yourself an advantage by applying well in advance and taking ‘open’ deadlines with a pinch of salt.

If you’re readying yourself to apply for an engineering graduate job, internship or placement, it pays to plan ahead. For graduate schemes, you need to be prepared to take action in September and October the year before you want to start work. Don’t be lulled into inactivity by ‘open’ deadlines and closing dates that fall later in the academic year – these don’t tell the full story.

Early graduate scheme applications give a numerical advantage

Engineering employers go out of their way to stress the advantage students can give themselves by applying early, and the dangers of leaving it late.

Few recruiters wait until their graduate scheme closing date to start recruiting. Most assess applications as and when they are submitted, and may even have held assessment centres and made numerous job offers to early-bird candidates by the time the official closing date rolls round. That means – even assuming there are graduate scheme places left – the inevitable glut of last-minute applicants will face greater competition for fewer jobs.

A recruiter for an oil and gas company, reflecting on a previous recruitment cycle, comments: ‘The quality of applications and the number of opportunities available pre-Christmas allowed us to make a large proportion of our offers by December. This meant that those students who may have applied slightly later in the autumn term faced strong competition for fewer opportunities available. I can’t stress strongly enough the importance of early applications.’

Meanwhile a graduate recruiter at a major construction company comments: ‘I sometimes wonder if students don’t realise that we consider applications before the closing date.’ As regards timing, she adds: ‘Our assessment centres and offers are done early, by November.’

If you're waiting to get your application in the day before the deadline, you could be left in the pile until the next round of recruitment begins.

Beware graduate schemes closing before the deadline

In some cases, engineering recruiters will succeed in recruiting all the graduates they need before their official closing date, leading them to close the scheme early. Some employers warn graduates on their websites that this could be the case – but work on the assumption that this could happen with any company.

Stronger candidates apply in the autumn

Several engineering recruiters identify early on in the academic year as the best time to apply for graduate jobs.

Mott MacDonald's graduate recruitment lead Holly Savage comments: 'The ideal time to apply for graduate schemes is between August and November of your final year. We open our applications in August and close in mid-November.'

She says: 'Apply as soon as you can as this will ensure that you don't miss any application deadlines and help you focus on your applications – you are likely to have less coursework at the start of the academic year.' However, she cautions against a rush job, adding: 'It's important to dedicate enough time to your application to be able to illustrate a real passion for the role you've applied for.'

Jessica Johnson, graduate recruitment advisor at Atkins, also encourages candidates to start sooner rather than later: 'We opened our applications in August this year and in a competitive market students are keen to secure their roles as soon as possible. We want people to take their time with our process so the earlier candidates start working on their applications, the better.'

When are the deadlines for engineering graduate schemes?

  • A few schemes have an October deadline for jobs starting the following year. In 2016, these include Air Products and Associated British Foods.
  • Many engineering graduate schemes give their deadlines as ‘open’. Treat these with caution – the fact that you are free to apply at any time does not necessarily mean that there will be a suitable job available. If in doubt, apply before Christmas for roles starting the following year.
  • Among major engineering recruiters who do give closing dates, these tend to fall between November and January (New Year’s Eve is a favourite).
  • Closing dates for industrial placements and internships can fall as early as November. December to February is more typical; a few close later.
  • Use our TARGETjobs Engineering job search to find individual employers’ closing dates.

Keep in mind the advice above. Be aware also that while a company may extend a deadline one year (if it has not received enough high quality applications) it doesn't mean it will do so the following year.

Should I leave my job hunt till after I graduate?

It’s not necessary to have an engineering job lined up by the time you sit finals. Many students decide to concentrate on getting the best possible degree, then apply for jobs afterwards. This is a viable option. You may need to take a gap year and apply to graduate schemes that commence the following summer, though you could get lucky and find a position with an immediate start date.