Recruiters' tips for Atkins' graduate development programme

Make the most of any experience you've got in any area of your life. Think about everything you’ve learned about yourself and how that relates to the role.

Atkins’ recruitment process for its graduate jobs is not unusual for an employer of its size, but it does involve several stages:

  • sitting a situational judgement test
  • submitting an application form (which includes questions around your reasons for applying to Atkins and the role, your interests and what makes you different)
  • completing online tests
  • taking part in a telephone interview
  • attending an assessment centre, which includes a technical interview.

So TARGETjobs caught up with Kate Poade and Katie Holmes, graduate recruitment advisers at Atkins and its specialist cost consultancy Faithful+Gould, to find out how you can become an impressive candidate for its scheme.

You really need to spend time on your Atkins application form

‘We often see very generic answers where candidates don’t take the time needed to apply properly,’ they tell us. ‘We think people underestimate the importance of the application form. Atkins receive over 13,000 applications each year to their UK graduate programme and the application form is integral to demonstrating your understanding of the company and the role, and to telling us more about your skills and achievements.’

No, honestly: you REALLY need to spend time and reflect on your Atkins application form

‘The strongest applications are tailor-made and focused on the graduate role and industry they are applying for,’ they add. ‘The graduate recruitment team and hiring managers score the application form answers against set criteria, so it is really important that candidates take their time.’

This also extends to the basics: ‘Spellcheck and proofread answers. Poor attention to detail is demonstrated through spelling, grammar or layout – and could be holding you back in our recruitment process,’ they add.

So how else do you ensure that you have tailored your application to Atkins?

Use the job description to choose which information you put in which answer: Before you start typing your answers, use the job description (obtained by using Atkins’ role finder tool) and information you have from Atkins’ recruitment website, its TARGETjobs employer hub and social media channels to choose what information to include in each answer. ‘Pull out the key skills and experience we seek and show how your skills, qualification and experience match those requirements,’ Kate and Katie say. You will need to provide evidence of your skills and fit them into your answers appropriately. For example, you might decide to put evidence of your skills in your answer to the question ‘why Atkins?’ – stating that the reason you are applying to Atkins is that the company allows you the chance to make the best opportunity of your existing skills and to develop them further – or you might put evidence of your skills in answer to the question based around what makes you different.

Demonstrate your Atkins research: Backing up your reasons for applying to Atkins with knowledge of the company is essential for tailoring your response. For example, do you want to work for Atkins because it is a consultancy and you liked the design-focused aspects of your degree? Are you applying for a role in water and impressed by the scale of, and expertise needed, for projects such as the Thames Tideway Tunnel? Or are you impressed by the efforts Atkins makes to increase diversity in the profession (see The Guardian UK 300 for more on this)? If so, say so. Kate and Katie are very explicit about the minimum research they’d expect: ‘We’d expect candidates to be aware that Atkins is a consultancy, to know that we have a number of divisions and to have a basic understanding of the industries we operate in and some of our key projects. The website is a good starting point, but following our social media channels is a really good way of getting an insight into the company and our culture.’

Make the most of any experience you have… and rethink the word ‘relevant’

‘I am always surprised by the number of candidates I speak to who don’t think that they have any relevant experience, but then I found out that they are treasurer of their university sports team society, that they volunteer with a charity at weekends, have a part-time job in retail and acted as a team leader for a group project,’ says Kate. All of this is ‘relevant’ experience for Atkins because all can illustrate the skills the company wants, so don’t think that you can’t apply to Atkins if you don’t have an industry-related placement.

‘It’s all about making the best of any experience you’ve got and applying it to the role. Think about everything you’ve learned about yourself and the way you work, the skills you’ve developed and how that relates to the role,’ adds Katie. This is also a good way to approach the question about what makes you different.

Have your application near you for the telephone interview

The telephone interview – which is held over the phone rather than Skype – allows the recruiters to talk to you about some details of the role and to gauge your suitability for it. ‘We’ll ask you to confirm some of the details on your application, so it might be worth having it close to hand. We’ll ask you some questions around values that are important to us, asking you to draw on your previous experience, and we may ask you some more technical questions that are relevant for the role,’ Kate and Katie share.

To be prepared, it is worth thinking about what Atkins values are and to think of times – from your course, placement, gap year or extracurricular activities – when you acted in accordance with them. A quick Google search for ‘Atkins values’ won’t find you anything concrete, so you will need to extrapolate the values from Atkins’ graduate recruitment brochure, its ‘About us’ webpages and its ‘Thought leadership’ page and so on. To get you started, some of the core values of Faithful+Gould are ‘being professional, collaborative and positive at all times’ according to the graduate recruitment brochure.

At the same time, Kate and Katie tell us that ‘clients are at the heart of everything we do and we are looking for graduates who are passionate about this, too’ so it wouldn’t be unwise to think about times when you demonstrated excellent customer service or put the needs of others first.

Not doing your research is one of the top reasons for not getting through the assessment day

Atkins’ assessment day is assessed by both the graduate recruitment team and hiring managers and candidates are scored against competencies, not each other. The day itself will contain, among other things, group exercises, a technically focused interview and, for some roles, a maths test. ‘No one is trying to trip you up,’ Kate and Katie agree. ‘Our role is to make sure that you shine and you learn more about Atkins.’

In order to shine, you need to make sure you get the basics right: turn up on time, revisit your company research and follow our group exercise advice.

Think about your long-term career at Atkins

‘As recruiters, we want to learn about your career goals and how this opportunity fits into your long-term career plan. We want to see if you are interested in the job and will be motivated to perform if hired,’ say Kate and Katie.

So, throughout your application form and interviews, acknowledge how Atkins can help you reach your career goals: whether you are talking about the training to gain chartership (or other professional qualification), the range of projects or markets you can work on or the level of knowledge you will gain.

Just remember: ‘Make reference to what attracts you to Atkins and our graduate development programme – as well as to flagship projects specific to the business you are applying to – to demonstrate which aspects of the job appeal to you and why,’ Kate and Katie tell us.

Our 'How to get hired' articles are written by TARGETjobs editors and writers with job candidates in mind, helping you research and understand employers. Copyright of all material written by TARGETjobs lies solely with GTI Media.