How to write the perfect application form for Mott MacDonald
Mott MacDonald has changed its application form for its 2016–2017 graduate programmes. Unlike last year where you submitted a mandatory CV and cover letter before hearing if you made it to the application questions stage, this year is a more all-in-one affair. The two main elements are the optional uploading of a CV and covering letter and three more probing application questions. Here we provide you with the advice you need in order to get through to the next stage; Mott MacDonald has provided some of its own application tips (attached to its organisation profile on this hub) – we will not repeat them here, but rather build on them.
Is the cover letter really optional?
Mott MacDonald’s application tips include tips for drafting a covering letter, so you would most likely be putting yourself at a disadvantage if you don’t upload one.
Previously, Mott MacDonald’s recruiters gave specific guidance about what they wanted included on your CV. They haven’t this year, but you’d still be wise to tailor your standard CV to Mott MacDonald. Here’s how:
- Mott MacDonald asks for you to provide a full list of your degree modules elsewhere on the form, so there is no need to include all of them on your CV. Instead, just highlight the ones that are most relevant to the scheme you are applying to. You can use the space saved to spend more time highlighting your work experience or extracurricular achievements instead.
- In the past, they have asked for you to list your responsibilities in the work experience section of your CV, as if you were answering the sentence ‘I was responsible for…’. This is a good approach to take, but don’t stop at listing your responsibilities. Add details to show what you achieved: any quantities or numbers that show the scale of the work, any targets that you achieved, any praise you got from managers and customers, and so on. Your CV should indicate what you are capable of achieving – not just what your duties were.
- If you have lots to write about on your CV and are wondering what to include and what to cut, ask yourself whether what you are writing about indicates that you share the same values as Mott MacDonald (see below).
The advice from Mott MacDonald is that your covering letter is not just a repeat of your CV. Instead, it introduces you to them and explains, succinctly, why you want to work at MacDonald and in the sector or sectors that you’ve applied for. Note: it covers similar territory to the application question ‘Please tell us something interesting about yourself that demonstrates your interest and passion for the scheme you’ve applied for’, but has a wider focus; in fact, it’s best to leave something out of your letter to have something to write about in that application question.
Mott MacDonald recommends that your letter is three or four paragraphs long, and it should certainly fit on one side of A4.
Devote a couple of paragraphs to explaining how you have the right skills, experience, attitude and level of interest to thrive on the graduate programmes and within the sector. Mott MacDonald asks for four core skills across all of their schemes (they can be found on the individual job postings on the employer hub) – make sure you start with these. Don’t just say that you possess the skill – give an example of a time when you developed or demonstrated it.
Then add a paragraph or two explaining why you particularly want to start your career at Mott MacDonald, calling upon your knowledge of the firm. Here are some factors to start you thinking, but you’ll need to research these further and do some additional research on Mott MacDonald. You need to think about what is important to you.
Consider Mott MacDonald’s PRIDE
Mott MacDonald’s key values take the acronym of PRIDE: progress, respect, integrity, drive and excellence. Take a look at Mott MacDonald’s ‘visions and values’ webpage for more details about what these values involve.
Mott MacDonald’s graduate recruitment manager, Melissa Hopper, tells us that, ‘The ideal candidate will be able to show us that they share our values.’ So it would be a good idea to give examples of times when you acted in accordance with those values when writing about why you are right for the role. These examples don’t have to relate to your course or work experience: training and fundraising for a half-marathon, say, shows that you have the drive to achieve a goal.
Consider the employee ownership structure, projects and thoughts
Mott MacDonald is owned by its employees rather than shareholders. Melissa says, ‘Our staff won’t take on projects if they don’t think it’s the right thing to do. They believe in acting ethically. Being employee-owned means the people here work for each other, not for shareholders. It also gives you flexibility. If a policy isn’t working, we’re in a position to change it.’ This ownership structure is not common in the construction industry (although rival Arup also has the same structure). Does this structure make you want to work for Mott MacDonald? If so, say so.
Similarly, do the recent projects worked on by the division you are applying to interest you? If so, this could feed into your reasons for applying or give you a chance to point out how your industry experience is relevant to the graduate scheme; refer to specific projects the company has worked on. Mott MacDonald also prides itself on the advice it gives to clients and its contribution to the latest industry thinking. Take a look at its ‘views’ website and perhaps mention particular papers or research that interest you, relating them to your own studies or career ambitions.
Consider the training on offer
Mott MacDonald highlights the thoroughness of its training in its job ad. It is not enough to simply say that the nature of this training appeals to you – you need to use examples of your skills and achievements to explain exactly why you would perform well under this particular training method and why you should be given the opportunity to do so.
Consider the design-focused nature of the work
As a consultancy, Mott MacDonald focuses on the early and design stages of projects. If you are going for a construction or engineering role, avoid giving the impression that you’d rather be out working on site. This is easy if you’ve completed a placement with a consultancy – explain why it suited you. If you have completed work experience with a contractor, however, you can still explain how that experience has shown you that you’d prefer working in consultancy. If you are going for a transport planning role, state why you want to work for Mott MacDonald rather than an infrastructure body such as Network Rail or a local authority.
Quick tips on answering ‘Please tell us about a time when you have used your technical skills and knowledge to solve a problem’
Which ‘example’ should you choose? Most candidates will probably opt for an example from their degree when answering and, if so, it’s wise to choose an individual project or a section of a group project that you worked on independently, rather than when you have pooled your knowledge with others. However, it would make you stand out if you could choose an example from either a placement or from entering a professional body competition.
Mott advises that you stick to 100–200 words when answering all of these application questions, so keep yourself to the main points, but you should make sure you explain the problem in some detail and explain how you applied your technical knowledge and how you decided on your particular course of action. Don’t forget to say whether your actions solved the problem or whether, in hindsight, you would take a different approach.
Take a look at the advice we give to students on how to answer the tricky interview question ‘What is your most significant achievement?’ The advice holds true for Mott MacDonald, too. However, you should also explain why it is your greatest achievement – and if you can show how it has developed the skills sought by Mott or allowed you to act in accordance with its PRIDE values, so much the better.
Quick tips on answering ‘Please tell us something interesting about yourself that demonstrates your interest and passion for the scheme you’ve applied for’
This question asks you to do the following:
- identify aspects of the scheme that particularly excite you – you will need to research the scheme. Do start with the details of the jobs and the graduate profiles on this hub
- identify one thing that is interesting about you that relates to the scheme
- tie the two together – state how this one thing demonstrates your passion for the scheme.
But what does ‘something interesting’ actually mean? Ideally, it will be something unusual or quirky, something that makes you memorable – if not, it should be something that clearly shows that your interest in the job role goes deeper than your degree choice. Either way, it has to be something that very much relates to your career choice. If nothing springs to mind, perhaps the following suggestions might provide you with inspiration. Have you:
- relocated for an industry internship?
- taken an active role in your engineering student society, perhaps arranging talks with industry figures or professional networking organisations?
- been a part of any ‘widening participation’ events at your university, trying to encourage students into STEM careers?
- sought out an industry mentor or attended any networking engineering events?
- visited any projects that inspired you, perhaps through Construction Open Doors weekend?
- spent your gap year visiting and taking photographs of amazing feats of engineering?
A sure way not to impress is to copy and paste something from your covering letter, so do spend the time to write something original.