Graduate scheme and placement applications to Barratt: tips to impress the house builder

Your leadership potential counts for more than industry-related work experience.

The recruitment process for Barratt’s graduate schemes – both the Accelerate and the ASPIRE programmes – are outlined fairly comprehensively on its website. You first take a detailed online personality questionnaire designed to assess whether you are suitable for the scheme. If you choose to proceed, you will next complete:

  • an application form, to which you attach a CV and answer the questions: ‘What skills, experience and attributes will you bring to both the programme and to the role/discipline that you have applied for?’ and ‘What challenges do you think you will face on the programme, and how will you overcome these?’ (a maximum of 5,000 characters for each)
  • situational judgement and psychometric tests (you can practise situational judgement tests via TARGETjobs' commercial partner Job Prep Tests)
  • a video interview
  • an assessment day, which includes a number of exercises, such as individual role plays, individual written and presentation tasks, verbal and numerical reasoning tests and a final interview.

There are certain things that Barratt recruiters particularly watch out for throughout the recruitment process. We caught up with Suzie Flynn, graduate and future talent manager at Barratt Developments, to discover what these things are and how you can impress.

Barratt wants… a tailored, reflective application

Over the past few years, Suzie has seen a large number of ‘generic applications’ – that is, applications that could be sent to any employer with a job vacancy. Instead, Suzie wants an application that clearly indicates that you want to work for Barratt and that you have put some serious thought into how you would contribute to the company’s future success. ‘You should write about how the skills you have developed during your degree and/or elsewhere could be used on the job and show us how your values match up with ours,’ says Suzie.

To answer both of the application questions, you need to do sufficient research to gain a good understanding of what Barratt does, its values and ways of working, what you would do on your chosen graduate scheme, and the skills you’d need on a daily basis. ‘You should be able to demonstrate knowledge of what we do and what you’d be doing,’ says Suzie. Start by reading its website and watching its graduate videos, although it would also be good to arrange to visit a Barratt site if you have the time and the opportunity.

To show that you have tailored your answer to ‘What skills, experience and attributes will you bring to both the programme and to the role/discipline that you have applied for?’ it is probably best to structure it around the core skills that Barratt lists in its ‘requirements’ section, and the different behaviours you were asked about in your initial suitability questionnaire. (Tip: as you answer the questionnaire, copy the questions into another document so that you have them to hand for later.) But don’t forget, too, to write about how you share Barratt’s values.

The question ‘What challenges do you think you will face on the programme, and how will you overcome these?’ assesses your knowledge of the programme, your self-awareness and your coping strategies and problem-solving skills. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that challenges should always be about your weaknesses: they are also opportunities to stretch yourself and build on your strengths.

Think about the scheme and the day-to-day requirements, think about what would push you out of your comfort zone and then think of steps you would take to help you become acclimatised. For example, on the ASPIRE programme, would you find having to learn lots of new things on each of the rotations pressuring or intimidating? If so, how would you deal with this? Have you had a similar experience of needing to do so on your course or during a placement? What techniques did you use?  And what resources would you take advantage of while at Barratt: for example, discussing things with your coach or a trainee friend who had recently completed that rotation?

When answering this question, you can also highlight the research you’ve done by identifying sources: ‘When I visited X site, I spoke to a trainee sales manager and learned that…’. This is another way to ensure that your answer avoids being generic.

Barratt wants… examples in your application and interview answers

In your application and interview answers, it’s not enough to say, ‘I’m a great team player’ without providing any examples or evidence to back that claim up. It’s better to say something like, ‘I developed my teamworking skills during my part-time job at [eg] Argos when I was part of the stockroom delivery team who selected products for customers’ and then go on to explain how you worked as a team to get the job done. Suzie says, ‘As a recruiter, I might see 2,000 CVs and applications. I’m interested in what differentiates you – and that can be seen through your experiences and how you’ve developed your skills.’

Bear in mind that you don’t have to have ‘big’, ‘wowser’ examples to impress Barratt. You don’t have to have climbed Kilimanjaro or raised £5,000 for charity. ‘Examples from your part-time job, work placement or playing sport can be equally impressive,’ says Suzie. A case in point: a tale of how you covered for a sick colleague at the last moment is an example of you stepping up and taking responsibility.

‘Some candidates do let themselves down by not selecting the best example of the skill we’re asking about,’ says Suzie. ‘Pick examples with an end result and something in which we can follow the whole story through. Sometimes we ask candidates during interviews to tell us about a time they’ve come up with a “thinking outside of the box” idea. The candidates who stand out are those who go on to explain what they did with that idea and the impact that it had.’

Barratt wants… leadership potential (more than work experience)

The selection process is designed to assess your leadership potential. The initial online personality questionnaire is designed by psychologists to identify whether you have the leadership capabilities required by Barratt. The assessment centre is also designed to tease out your leadership potential.

But note that the emphasis is on your future potential. ‘We assess leadership behaviour,’ says Suzie. ‘How you go about building relationships, how you communicate with customers and your peers, and how you motivate yourself to achieve personal goals tell us a lot about your ability to lead. You don’t have to have been president of a student society to show us you can be a good leader.’

In fact, your leadership potential counts for more than any industry-related work experience you may have. ‘Of course it’s an advantage if you have work experience relevant to your preferred discipline,’ says Suzie. ‘But, even with an entire CV full of relevant work experience, you won’t be offered a position unless you demonstrate high leadership potential.’

For the same reason, Barratt doesn’t assess your technical knowledge, even if you have a technical degree. ‘If you have the right non-technical skills, we can teach you the technical knowledge,’ says Suzie.

Barratt wants… you to genuinely want to work in house building

Barratt is unlike some other construction companies or property developers in that it is a specialist: you won’t be working across a number of different types of projects or markets, as you will be specialising in house-building. They don’t want someone who would get bored and wish they were working on, say, bridges instead. To prove to Barratt that you have a genuine interest in house-building, read up on the news surrounding property and house-building (it’s a hot political topic, so it’s frequently in the news) and prepare a solid answer to 'What appeals to you about house building/residential property?’.

Barratt wants… ‘big picture focus’

This is a key competency sought by Barratt, which candidates can find challenging to demonstrate. It is about commercial awareness, ie:

  • how wider macroeconomic factors affect Barratt
  • how Barratt is doing in comparison with its competitors
  • how Barratt plans to capitalise on opportunities in the marketplace and how it intends to face up to challenges.

You need to analyse the performance of competitors. ‘We do gauge your awareness of our competitors at interview,’ says Suzie. ’We want you to know what makes us different.’

So take a look at the likes of Taylor Wimpey, Bellway, Persimmon, Croudace, Bovis and large construction groups whose house-building capabilities are only part of their offerings, such as Galliford Try. What advantages does Barratt have? Can it call upon regional expertise and the resources and infrastructure of a national company, for example? Is it the amount of land that it has ready to be built on? What about design? Customer service? Naturally every house builder will talk about their great designs and customer satisfaction, but you could talk about the 2015 'Developer of the Year & Southern Region' award they received from the Urban Design Group and the five-star customer satisfaction rating that Barratt has received from the Home Builders Federation.

Then think about wider economic factors, such as the close of the Help to Buy scheme, the North-South divide in house prices, the fears of housing bubbles, the need for social housing and the demands of the buy-to-let market.

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