If you win this award you'll be able to enjoy the glory of being an undergraduate of the year. What will be even better, however, is the opportunities to set yourself up for the future – with a place on HSBC's summer internship, a breakfast meeting with a senior manager and one-to-one mentoring sessions. This could lead to a position on the global graduate programme.
The awards aren’t just for the winner: the other nine finalists will be invited to an awards ceremony at Canary Wharf.
To enter for this award, you must be the first generation in your family to go to university.
How to enter the First Generation Undergraduate of the Year Award
As you would if you were applying for a job, you’ll need to pass through a selection process. You’ll be asked to:
- Answer questions on an online application form – as well as basic details about you and your qualifications, you’ll be asked for your responses to three application questions.
- Undertake an online test – read about how to approach psychometric tests and carry out some practice tests in this article.
- Attend an assessment centre – this article explains how to improve your chances of success during assessment centres.
For the application stage, we’ve come up with some advice on how to handle the three questions.
The application questions for the First Generation Undergraduate of the Year Award
The questions set by HSBC focus mainly on your past experiences. You can use these as platforms from which to showcase your skills and abilities, as well as to demonstrate that you share the company’s values.
- What have you done to overcome personal adversity or that of others in a community of your choice?
- Please describe a time when you have taken on a leadership role.
- In no more than 500 words we are keen to hear more about you. This should include your extracurricular activities, positions of responsibility and an achievement of importance that you are most proud of.
You can use up to 500 words for each question. This is about a page of typing (in Arial font, size 11) and should allow you to demonstrate your values, skills and motivations in a way that shows you’re the right person for this award.
Before starting your answers, plan the examples you will use for each. This way, you’ll avoid repeating the same experiences.
Question one: What have you done to overcome personal adversity or that of others in a community of your choice?
The Oxford English Dictionary definition of the term ‘adversity’ is ‘a difficult or unpleasant situation’. Think about adversity in this context as one – or a set of – difficulties, challenges or obstacles. Consider an example you’d like to write about and would highlight your ability to handle a challenging situation effectively. You might explain a situation that lasted for a limited period of time or one that is ongoing – if it's the latter, perhaps focus on a time when this adversity seemed particularly acute or acted as a barrier to something.
The most important part of this answer is your explanation of how you handled or overcame the challenge (or helped somebody else to), not the specific details and instances of the adversity itself. Structure your answer to this question so that you first provide enough detail for the recruiters to understand what the situation was, then explain the actions you took to overcome it (or to help another to) and then clearly explain the results of your actions. The recruiters should be able to easily understand how you overcame adversity or dealt with it in a way that meant you (or someone you know) could continue to function, work or achieve in spite of it.
It’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with HSBC’s values, so you can show recruiters you’d be a good fit for the organisation. Use its language in your response if this is appropriate to the example you give. For example, if you were to write about a time when you mentored a student, you might explain that your tutoring ‘empowered’ them to continue studying and you were ‘dependable’ as you would always find the time to help them with revision.
If you choose to write about how you helped someone else, put emphasis on what you did to enable them and the skills you demonstrated. When it comes to results, you should emphasise the part your actions, advice or support played in them overcoming or handling the adversity. Reflect on what you have personally gained from the situation, too. This might be the development of particular skills or a greater understanding of the challenges facing individuals.
Question two: Please describe a time when you have taken on a leadership role
For this question, you should talk about a time when you took on a leadership role in a team. Taking the lead on something doesn’t necessarily mean being the leader. You do not have to be a president of a society in order to have demonstrated leadership skills when organising an event, for example. Focus less on any ‘title’ and more on choosing the example that will demonstrate your leadership qualities most clearly. Our article on leadership and management will give you an idea of the attributes that fall under the term ‘leadership’.
Think of an example that demonstrates your decision-making skills and ability to inspire or influence others, at the same time as highlighting your ability to listen to and cooperate with others. HSBC will be impressed by candidates who show this range of leadership qualities; the values on its website show that both decisiveness and the appreciation of different perspectives are important.
Your answer should provide enough background for the assessor to understand the kind of team you led and the outcome you desired, an explanation of what you did that clearly highlights the leadership qualities you demonstrated and, finally, your achievement – a statement that shows you gained the outcome you intended in the first place.
Question three: In no more than 500 words we are keen to hear more about you. This should include your extracurricular activities, positions of responsibility and an achievement of importance that you are most proud of
In this question, HSBC is really interested in getting to know more about what makes you tick. Think about it as a 500-word introduction to yourself. What do you want to emphasise? Do you share a particular value with the bank? Are you interested in a particular cause? Deciding a value, attribute or skill that you’d really like the organisation to know about and choosing examples of activities, positions and achievements to suit this should produce a strong response.
It may seem an obvious point to make but ensure you respond to each aspect of this question; students often fall down in their responses by failing to mention one part. Careful planning of your response should help with this. It’s a good idea to start by considering all the things that could be included in each part. Extracurricular activities could include part-time jobs, hobbies and involvement in university societies. Positions of responsibility might be leadership of a project or a role on the committee of a university society; as mentioned above, you don’t necessarily need to have been ‘leader’ or ‘chair’.
Once you’ve thought of some ideas, choose two or three examples for each category that suit the idea of yourself you’d like to show (if you have more than two or three). Being selective will allow you to thoroughly expand upon each example, giving enough context and explaining what it shows about you.
For the achievement section, don’t forget to explain why you’ve chosen the one you have. You should highlight your skills and/or values, rather than just stating what you accomplished. If you raised £200 for Childline through a sponsored walk, for instance, as well as giving this figure you could explain that you’re proud of supporting children in distress and write about how you demonstrated persuasion skills when gaining sponsors. Once again, referring to the overarching attribute you’d like to highlight should give your response a clear direction.