This classic question is one that often has candidates on the back foot. But is has no right to if they have prepared properly.
The key to demonstrating you’re the right person for the graduate technology position you are applying to is to fully understand the role, then highlight how your skills, experience and personal qualities match this. ‘This classic question is one that often has candidates on the back foot,’ comments Steve Rodgers, recruitment manager in Ocado's technology division. ‘But it has no right to if the candidate has prepared properly.’
Before you apply – find out about the job
- Start by reading the job description and person specification. Speak to the graduate recruiter, or any contacts you have at the company, if there’s anything you want to clarify. Check if there is a TARGETjobs employer hub on the company.
- Get a broader feel for what life will be like in that type of job and for that sort of organisation, eg by reading our IT graduate views and business sectors. Use your university alumni network or personal contacts to speak to those working in similar roles.
- Find out more about the organisation, such as what types of clients it works with, where is it based and what types of projects it takes on.
- Read our article on how to research a company for a graduate technology job.
Before you apply – how to track down the information you need
Amelia Scott, graduate recruitment manager at PA Consulting, comments: ‘One of the main reasons I ask this question is to find out if the candidate has fully researched the role and understands what they’re applying for.’
Steve Rodgers reveals that he too uses the question about suitability ‘to determine the level of research a candidate has conducted into the role’. He stresses the importance of thoroughly reading the job description and person specification, as ‘in order to respond effectively candidates must have understood the position in terms of the qualifications, skills, experience and competences relating to it’.
Steve encourages graduates to request these if they are not readily available but advises: ‘If they cannot be provided then candidates should review the advertisement, which will carry elements of both the job description and person specification.’ If competencies are not listed for the particular job in question, Steve suggests: ‘See if the employer has a values statement or competency framework and match your examples to that. If there is no competency framework then you can all but guarantee that teamwork, communication skills, organising and planning, problem solving, decision making and self-development are competences that any employer would love a candidate to demonstrate!’
Amelia adds: ‘I appreciate that candidates will likely be applying for multiple roles over a short period of time and it can sometimes be difficult to remember the finer details of each one, but if they can’t show that they understand at least the very basics of what they would be doing then they’ll come to a sticky end.’ She too stresses the importance of reading the job description and competencies and expands: ‘It’s not just about scanning them and hoping that all the information’s been absorbed; you should think about them, write them down, read them out loud or whatever you need to do to make sure you can talk about them. If you don’t know the details of the job and can’t articulate why you’ll be good at it then perhaps it’s not the right role for you.’
If you don’t know the details of the job and can’t articulate why you’ll be good at it then perhaps it’s not the right role for you. – Graduate recruiter
Before you apply – deepen your understanding of the IT graduate role
Combine your research to create a deep understanding of the job and the skills and qualities you will need to do it. Think about aspects such as:
- How much of your working day will be spent working alone, and how much interacting with others?
- Will you only have to deal with your immediate team and supervisor, or will you interact with internal or external clients?
- Is this job more focused on meeting immediate, conflicting deadlines in a fast-paced environment, or longer-term planning and development work?
- How flexible will you have to be, eg in terms of travel, working hours, or changing projects or picking up new skills at short notice?
- What industry sector(s) will you be working in/for? Will you need to develop a working knowledge of, say, the finance sector or the retail industry?
- Will training and development time be built into your job, or will you be expected to learn extra skills, such as programming languages, and keep up to date with new developments this in your own time?
Create a picture such as this:
- I will be working for both internal and external clients, so I’ll need to show that I have good interpersonal skills such as communication, relationship-building, tact, patience and negotiation; the recruiter will also want to see that I look and sound ‘presentable’ and not too shy or unfriendly.
- I’ll be working to tight deadlines so I need to show that I can handle pressure and prioritise.
- I’ll be working predominantly with financial software; the job description says I don’t need any prior knowledge of this but it might help if I learn a few finance basics before the interview and show that I’m keen to learn more.
If you’re applying for a rotational technology graduate scheme, ensure you understand all the placements you are likely to complete, not just the one that most interests you.
Before you apply – think where the job could take you
Recruiters want to receive the impression that you have genuine motivations for doing the job, such as to face challenges you will enjoy or to help towards a long-term career goal. Think about what you could get out of the job, apart from a salary and getting something on your CV. Will there be the chance to innovate and offer your own ideas? What types of opportunities could it lead to? Your suitability for the job goes beyond ticking the boxes on the job description to showing that you will be a keen, proactive employee.
Filling in the application form for your technology graduate role
Word counts are typically tight. Focus on giving evidence that you have the skills and qualities needed for the job, prioritising those specifically mentioned on the job description. Cover soft skills as well as technical ones. Also include a short comment on your ‘big picture’ suitability for the job (see above), emphasising your motivations or career goals.
Concrete examples from projects, work experience or extracurricular activities carry more weight than listing modules. For example, if the job description asks for database skills, it’s far better to say that you used your knowledge of PHP and SQL to develop a new membership database for the university rowing club than simply to mention that you’ve taken a module on database systems.
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