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The term ‘well-rounded candidate’ is one you might see on plenty of careers websites but it’s difficult to unpack and really understand. We know the ‘mix’ that creates this elusive career-worthy creature includes academic ability, engagement in extracurricular activities and positions of responsibility – whether as part of a society, as a volunteer or through a role in a part-time job. But how can you become, and show recruiters that you are, a well-rounded candidate?

We’ve interviewed three recruiters from Enterprise Rent-A-Car to find out. First of all, we’d like to share some good news with you: while you will need a few strong examples to demonstrate your various skills and qualities, it turns out that showing you’re well rounded often comes down to how you approach and relay experiences rather than what those specific experiences are. In this article, we’ll use the insights of three talent acquisition specialists, whose jobs are to recruit the best candidates for Enterprise, to dig a bit deeper into what well rounded means. These are:

  • Graeme Butler
  • Laura James
  • Sophie Draper.

Demonstrate your long-term potential

So, why is it important that graduate candidates can demonstrate that they are well rounded? For Enterprise Rent-A-Car, this is tied closely to its promote-from-within culture. ‘The company’s graduate scheme is designed to set candidates up to remain at Enterprise in the long term. We train you and develop your ability to manage a business. With graduates progressing through the ranks to reach senior positions, where you start is not where you finish,’ explains Graeme. ‘Our CEOs are prime examples – today’s CEO joined on the internship programme and the previous CEO started out on the graduate programme.’

As the future of the company is shaped by the employees it gains through early years recruitment, Enterprise is keenly aware that a range of skills and competencies needs to be seen throughout graduate recruits. Not only should they be able to carry out a day job to a high standard after training, but they should also possess the aptitudes that will help them to push Enterprise forwards – as laid out in the company’s six core competencies.

Competencies such as customer service aptitude and flexibility are less likely to be demonstrated through just one type of experience (eg academic study) so having the mix of experiences that makes someone ‘well rounded’ is important. Furthermore, acknowledgement that a strong and future-proof company needs a range of people and skills sets means that one degree subject isn’t favoured at Enterprise: ‘I’ve hired social science, humanities and zoology students alongside those studying subjects more commonly related to the graduate scheme, such as business management,’ explains Graeme.

Vary up your examples

‘A common misconception about the phrase “well-rounded candidate” is that it just includes those who have done a bit of everything. Often, this causes students and graduates to feel overwhelmed by the idea of all the things they should be doing, leading them to take either too few or too many opportunities. With the latter, they may end up less likely to make the most of each experience,’ explains Laura.

While the point that you should vary up the examples that you use during applications and interviews might seem to contradict the idea that you don’t have to have ‘done a bit of everything’, these are actually different sides to the same piece of advice: make the most of the numerous examples one opportunity can bring and think carefully about those examples you might not automatically put on your CV or mention at interview.

Laura encourages students to consider the variety of experiences that come from one opportunity: ‘At Enterprise, we know that some people will be limited in the number of opportunities they can take on as they have commitments other than gaining CV-worthy work experience. So, it’s about thinking about what you can do with the experiences you have. If you’ve spent your spare time working in the same part-time job while at university, have you taken on new roles or responsibilities? Have you got involved with different projects? Have you buddied up with or trained new starters? You can always treat these as different examples, as each will demonstrate a different set of aptitudes.’

Many candidates would also benefit from broadening out their idea of what career-worthy experience is. Sophie wants to dispel the myth that paid work is the only kind of valuable experience: ‘Particularly during a pandemic and recession, we know that paid work experience isn’t always easy to gain. However, participating in free online courses, taking on roles within university societies or making the most of opportunities offered by employers and careers services (Enterprise, for example, will be participating in a virtual internship in the summer) can all provide useful examples to draw on.’

Relate any experience to the role or question

So, it’s a good idea to make the most of different examples where possible. Nonetheless, whether you’re adapting your CV, writing an application or at an interview, it’s important to relate each one directly to how it makes you a strong fit for the position and employer. A ‘model’ well-rounded candidate varies from employer to employer and from role to role, so make sure you suit the one you’re applying to. Thankfully for those applying to the graduate scheme with Enterprise, the six core competencies are laid out clearly on the company’s careers website.

Often, however, your experiences will be more relevant than you might initially think. ‘During competency-based interview questions, try to think of the most relevant experience you have had that fits the question,’ explains Sophie. ‘If nothing comes to mind immediately, chances are you will have experiences that you can make relevant. If the question is about the “customer service” aptitude, for example, you can think outside the box – customer service doesn’t just mean retail. Perhaps you’ve got teaching experience, which you could adapt so that discussions with parents resemble discussions with customers. Similarly, if you’re a care giver then you could discuss your experience with service users in place of customers. Just make sure you make the link clear and that your explanation shows that you know what is meant by strong customer service.’

Graeme emphasises the value of adapting the way you talk about an experience to make it relevant: ‘We tend to find that many candidates assume that they don’t have anything to say with reference to the “sales aptitude” competency, which is unfortunate because I know that this generally isn’t true. There are plenty of ways that graduates can show that they understand the theory and possess the skills associated with sales. A candidate that comes to my mind is one who used their time as a member of a rock band to demonstrate their sales aptitude: their bandmates were frequently disorganised and they were about to go on tour with a small budget, so the candidate managed all the hotel bookings and journeys. This involved negotiating prices and persuading the band to get on board with their plans so everyone won out. The evidence they provided in their example was great, as they understood a sales process.’

Reflect on how well you’ll fit the company

In order to show a company that you’re well rounded, you need to know how you are well-rounded. This will involve some self-reflection. Take stock of the experiences you have and the mix of skills and qualities each one demonstrates. Graeme suggests using mind mapping for this.

When you’re applying for a job, you should combine this with reflecting upon how much your individual mix of aptitudes – as well as your own priorities when it comes to work and the working environment – means you’re a good match for the role and company. At Enterprise, for example, although the six core competencies can tell you plenty about the company and its culture, you may decide to go a bit further. Laura suggests using blogs and vlogs, alongside networking with employees on LinkedIn.

If you feel unclear about the company’s culture, don’t be afraid to ask questions. This will show that you’re thinking carefully about whether you suit the role and vice versa, as Sophie highlights when describing an applicant that really impressed her: ‘He gave a fantastic answer to a question about what he already knew about the company and the role. He said he’d looked at the Enterprise website but had been left wanting to find out more about what it’s like to work there. So, he scheduled a meeting with a manager at a branch local to him and spent 45 minutes asking him about the company culture and working environment. I thought, if that isn’t going the extra mile, I don’t know what is!’

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