Surrey Careers blog

Official blog of the University of Surrey's Employability and Careers Centre

Winter Vacation: time to relax and reflect!


We’ve made it to Week 11… well done to all Surrey students for your hard work so far this semester.  As the Winter Vacation approaches, we hope that you are looking forward to taking some time out, even if you have a hectic schedule planned.  Perhaps you have a busy revision timetable, will be returning to your part-time job, or will be volunteering for a good cause over the festive period.  Of course, all of these activities will be valuable additions to your CV, but perhaps you can also set aside time to reflect on your career plans and ideas for the future.

1st Years:

You’ve successfully made the transition to university, so you definitely deserve to enjoy some quality time on campus or at home!  However, now is a good time to reflect on your current position:

  • Do you have any ideas of which career you would like to pursue? If you do, how can you build your skillset to become more attractive to employers?  If not, concentrate on developing your employability skills, and set aside some time for careers research.  You don’t have to decide straight away, but start to consider your strengths and weaknesses, and what you think might motivate you in a work environment.
  • Summer will be here sooner than you think! How do you plan to make the most of this time? Are there ways that you can gain work experience to enhance your CV, or develop your employability skills?  Will you plan an exciting holiday where you can develop language skills and learn about the culture/industries of another country?
  • Our leaflets on ‘Getting Started’ and ‘Finding Work Experience’ here will help.

2nd Years:

Having made inroads into the first semester and kept up with your 2nd year schedule, you are making good progress. Here’s a couple of things to think about:

  • Are you planning to apply for Professional Training? Have you updated your CV/started making applications?  Do you need to catch up with your fellow classmates who are ahead of the game?
  • If you’ve decided not to undertake the Professional Training Year, have you made plans for the summer to gain important work experience/evidence skills to help you stand out at the end of your final year?
  • Try reading ‘Writing Effective CVs & Covering Letters’, ‘Finding Work Experience’ and ‘Student Jobs & Volunteering’ here for some useful tips.

Professional Training Placement Students:

Hopefully settled into your working environment, you are developing essential work-based skills that will strengthen your CV and future applications.

  • Take some time to reflect on the additional skills and experiences you have gained on your placement. How have you increased your skillset over the past few months?
  • Your placement may have helped you decide on a career path, or perhaps you feel this is not the right area for you. Either way, it is useful information and your experience will be worthwhile.  What have you learnt about your strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes? Does the working environment/size of the organisation suit you?  Are there areas you would like to develop during the remainder of your placement?  Perhaps you could take on a project or develop leadership skills in the New Year?

Fourth Year, Final Year and PGT students:

The start of your professional career is getting closer.

  • How can you maximise your time at university to prepare effectively for your next steps?
  • Do you need any support with your future plans/making job applications/applying for further study?
  • Consider how you have developed as a potential employee during your time at university. Be ready to sell your knowledge, skills and abilities and demonstrate your willingness to contribute to the world of work.
  • Leaflets including ‘Application Forms’ and ‘The Job Interview’ will be useful at this stage. You can also find help with applying for postgraduate qualifications and ‘Useful Careers Resources’ for different subject areas here.

Whatever stage you are at, remember the Employability and Careers Centre is here to help you with your ideas and plans.  Your future is exciting!

In addition, it will be important to return to university feeling refreshed and ready for 2017, so do enjoy the vacation, catch up with family, friends and sleep, and have fun joining in the festivities…

Happy Winter Vacation from the ECC!

vicky-square-miniThis blog post has been written by Vicky Ransley, a Careers Adviser at the University of Surrey since Jan 2014. With her background in the arts, publishing and education, Vicky specialises in working with students from the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, GSA and the Department of Music and Media.

Exams may be looming, but don’t forget about your career!

student-849825_1280If you’re a final year student looking to apply to graduate level jobs, or a second year student hoping to get a placement organised for next Summer, the December period is a crucial time to get your online applications in before the upcoming deadlines. However, it can also be a time when exams and coursework is piling up, so time management and prioritisation is crucial. But don’t forget, the Employability and Careers Centre is here to help!

Focus on graduate scheme applications or your degree?

This is one of those questions for which there is no right or wrong answer. It goes without saying that the more applications you make, the more you increase your chances of finding a job. Many of the larger organisations who have graduate schemes set early closing dates. Graduate schemes/programmes are graduate jobs, which typically offer a structured period of training and development.  Some of them have rolling recruitment schedules, but the fact remains, if you want to work for a major employer, your best chance is to get your form in by their closing date. If you don’t, you may have to wait another year after graduation for the opportunity to apply.

Think about how important is it to you that you have a definite job offer before you leave. Only you can decide whether you want to make the extra effort required to meet these early deadlines for a chance to work for a leading graduate recruiter. Simply making lots of applications doesn’t, unfortunately, guarantee you a job. Competition for these graduate schemes is very high so you need to be well prepared for the selection process.

Application Form Tips

If you find some time in your busy schedule to squeeze in your priority graduate application(s), be sure to follow these crucial tips:

  • Research as much as you can about the employer before you start writing.
  • Consider the job you’re applying for – what type of person do they want?
  • What have you done in the past to prove your suitability? The more demanding questions on application forms are designed to find this out. Anything you’ve done could be relevant whether it is work, study or spare-time activities.
  • Draft your answers to the more demanding questions in a word document before transferring them to the form. You’ll produce a much better final version that way.
  • Don’t rush and ask someone to proofread your application for you. Grammar and spelling mistakes will likely mean instant rejection.
  • Keep a copy of your answers to the more open-ended questions. A quick re-read before the interview will help you to ‘tune in’ to the job much more effectively.

Don’t forget about other graduate level job opportunities…

Smaller employers or even larger organisations without a structured graduate programme tend to recruit all the year round and try to fill their vacancies whenever they arise. The best time to apply would therefore be towards the end of your degree when you would be available for employment. Small and medium sized organisations usually recruit graduates for a specific job, and these can be excellent opportunities for real responsibility and to make a contribution to the organisation from day one.

Therefore you may make the strategic decision to concentrate on your studies right now, particularly if you are between grades (First, 2:1, 2:2 etc) and focus your efforts on your job search once you have finished your final exams. However it’s still worth setting up job alerts now for the areas you’re interested in pursuing a career in, in order not to miss out on any golden opportunities that arise.

Time Management and Prioritisation are the name of the game

If you are someone who is good at getting on with things through careful prioritisation and a well-organised lifestyle, then you might be able to squeeze a few more application forms out of your busy schedule.  If you decide to do that, check closing dates on graduate recruitment websites, as well as our Online Jobs Board here.

Plus, make use of the 15 minute Quick Queries opportunities with our careers advisers to check over your application before final submission.

And most importantly, keep calm. Your health and wellbeing is the top priority at this busy time, so get plenty of sleep and if you need support, ask for it!

Strengths-based interviews at Capgemini: “it’s not about whether a candidate does well, it’s about whether they are the right fit”


Mike Procter, Graduate Recruiter for Capgemini talks to us about why the company introduced the strengths-based approach to recruitment and the impact it has had on finding future talent for Capgemini, one of the world’s foremost providers of consulting, technology and outsourcing services.

Mike studied a Psychology Degree at The University of Surrey and graduated in 2013. After gaining recruitment experience at Fitness First & Siemens, Mike is now working to help attract the best junior talent into Capgemini.

Mike, when and why did Capgemini decide to incorporate the strengths-based approach into their selection process?

“We adopted the strengths-based interview model in October 2015. We felt that the graduates that do really well with Capgemini were the ones that really loved the area they were working in. We wanted a way of assessing that passion. We wanted to know about future potential rather than past performance. We wanted to know the people we were hiring better and what they love to do so we could get the best out of our graduate hires.”

What impact has the shift to strengths-based interviewing instead of competency based had on your recruitment?

“Strengths-based assessment is more about finding out what somebody loves to do, does often and does well rather than assessing what their background is which we can tell from a CV. We get to know the candidates better, as examples don’t necessarily have to be work based. It also gives the chance for the candidates to get to know us better and ultimately helps both parties to come to better decisions. We have found the quality of the successful candidates has improved and the feedback from candidates & assessors at assessment centres has become more positive.”

Are there some universal strengths that you’re looking for when recruiting for Capgemini?

“We have a collection of core strengths we look for in all potential Capgemini employees. These are classed as Agile, Collaborative Spirit, Personal Growth, Self-Drive, Active Ownership, Networker, Credibility & Work Ethic. We also have 4 key strengths specific to the graduate programme which are Courage, Client Advocacy, Level-Headedness & Creative Analysis.

Although all our assessments are standardised across the company, each role requires different strengths to be more prominent that others, creating a graduate community made up of diverse strengths.”

Where do you see candidates excelling and what do they need to improve on?

“The great thing about strengths-based interviews is that it’s not about whether a candidate does well or not, it’s about whether they are the right fit for the role and Capgemini. Scoring low on a strength is an indication that a student’s passion is not aligned to the role and they should re-think the type of career/company they are looking for.”

Can anyone really prepare for a strengths-based interview? If so, what would your advice be?

“It’s hard to prepare for a strengths-based interview because it’s hard to fake being passionate about something. You can tell passion from body language, tone, how easy examples come to them etc. The best advice is to know yourself and be authentic. Our motto is “Be the You You Want To Be.”

Want to know more about Strengths-Based Interviews? Check out our blog post here.

Strength based interviews – get ready for this new style of interview

superheroes-1560256_1280Graduate recruitment is constantly evolving, as global organisations look for new ways to select the very best from the talent pool. The competency approach has been found to generate fairly rehearsed interview answers, which is why in recent years, more and more leading graduate recruiters are trying a new interview approach: strength based interviews.

What are strength based interviews?

The strength based approach to interviews and assessment centres is designed to seek out where that individual excels and what motivates them. More and more companies are keen to find out what energises an individual and what they love to do rather than what they can do. This then gives them a better idea if that individual is naturally a good fit for the role, and the wider organisation.

Further, hiring new candidates is costly, so graduate employers are looking for ways to help anticipate whether a candidate is going to be happy in their organisation and therefore will be more likely to remain at the company for the longer term.

What is the difference between competency based questions and strength based questions?

Your answers to competency based questions will give employers an indicator of how you have reacted and dealt with different situations. You need to research the competencies for the role you have applied for using the job description and person specification. You will be asked to give an example of when you have used the competency, for example: “Describe a time when you had a difficult problem and what you did to resolve the issue.”

The strength based approach on the other hand, concentrates on what you are good at and what you enjoy doing. Strength interviewing has its foundations in positive psychology. The theory is that by recognising your strengths you will be able to perform better in your role and enjoy it more. Employers are using strength based approaches more and more because they feel candidates are over rehearsed in competency interviews.

Which graduate employers are using strength based interviews?

Employers such as Aviva, Standard, BAE Systems, EY, Capgemini, Unilever, Royal Mail, Microsoft and Barclays International now use this form of interviewing.

If you’re not sure if your interview will be competency based, strength based or a mixture of both, contact the HR department of the organisation to ask this question ahead of your interview.

How can you prepare for a strength based interview?

The key to succeeding at strength based interviews is to take the time to reflect on your strengths and interests beforehand. It’s important for you to be honest with yourself about what you really enjoy and what you don’t, because there is no right or wrong answer. Remember, an interview is about finding the best fit between the candidate and the organisation, so a strengths based interview can help to ensure that you would feel comfortable, energised and at your best when at work. By identifying what you’re particularly good at and enjoy doing and matching this to the role, this will be a huge advantage when it comes to your future career enjoyment as well as your performance at work.

Prepare as you would do any other interview, but also think about how you would answer any strength based questions an employer may ask, such as:

  • When are you at your best?
  • What motivates you?
  • What would your best friend say are your greatest strengths?
  • What things give you energy?
  • What do you least enjoy doing?

Just as you would do when answering any other interview question, bring in examples from all areas of your life, including your studies, work experience, part time work, volunteering, extra-curricular activities, societies and sports.

Questions are asked at a quick pace and your tone of voice and body language will be assessed to sense your enthusiasm.

Want to know more? Further resources

  • For further example of strength-based interview questions, download the Assessment Day guide to strength-based interviews here.
  • The National Careers Service offer a great online job tool that assesses your skills, interests, personal style and motivation and matches these to a range of different job roles. Take the test here:
  • Understand more about which kind of job roles would suit your personality type with tests such as:
  • Book an appointment with a careers advisor here to practise your interview skills.

Highlights from the Work Experience & Internship Fair – with EA, Projects Abroad, IBM, BUNAC & more!

On Wednesday 9th November, the University of Surrey welcomed 22 organisations to the Work Experience & Internship Fair 2016.

Hundreds of you took the opportunity to network with recruiters and find out more about the range of work experience and summer placements on offer. Here’s a spotlight on 4 of the internships and work experience placements with EA, Projects Abroad, IBM & BUNAC.

For a full list of exhibitors, see below.

Electronic Arts (EA)

Electronic Arts Inc. is a leading global interactive entertainment software company, recognized for its portfolio of critically acclaimed, high-quality blockbuster brands such as The Sims™, Madden NFL, EA SPORTS™ FIFA, Battlefield™, Dragon Age™ and Plants vs. Zombies™.


Which positions are they recruiting for?

EA are looking to hire students for a 12 month placement in their Guildford office, starting in July 2017. They are currently recruiting for 4 Sales & Marketing positions. Successful candidates will get a real job from day one and the company regularly hire EA interns for full-time positions after graduation.

What stands out to EA?

EA receive huge numbers of applications, so those that stand out are applicants that demonstrate a keen passion for gaming, as well as understand EA’s industry and their customers.

The company values people that get involved in teamwork, are strong communicators and are able to bring fresh ideas.

Their top tip?

Make sure you demonstrate your skills within your covering letter and CV. Work experience makes you shine!

More info:

Projects Abroad

Projects Abroad offer a wide range of volunteer placements overseas in teaching, healthcare, languages, sports, conservation, law, vetinary, finance, journalism, business, archaeology and more.


Who can apply?

Projects Abroad offer placements for all age groups and degree programmes, and you can even apply after you graduate. You don’t have to complete a project related to your studies; the objective is to give you valuable experience and transferable skills.

How will a volunteer project help you in your future career?

When volunteering abroad, you get the opportunity to learn about a different way of life. You have to operate with fewer resources and overcome cultural and language differences, helping you to develop adaptability, problem solving and belief in your own abilities.

Plus, a project abroad can be a great way to add an international dimension to your CV and help you to stand out from other talented candidates. For example, if you’re studying medicine, a volunteer project abroad could give you an understanding of healthcare in a foreign country. If you’re studying teaching, the project could develop your public speaking and leadership skills.

Their top tip?

Even if you complete a placement in a completely unrelated area to your degree, you will gain so many transferable skills and have such a rich experience!

More info:


IBM is the world’s largest information technology company offering Global Technology Services (GTS), Global Business Services (GBS), Software, Systems Hardware and Global Financing.


Which positions are they recruiting for?

IBM are recruiting for their Extreme Blue Summer Internship programme, which lasts 12 weeks, from June – September 2017. Students from all disciplines are encouraged to apply, as interns will be working on projects in diverse teams.

IBM are also recruiting for their 12 month placement scheme for Business, HR and Finance roles based in London and Technical roles based in Southampton. Don’t miss the upcoming application deadlines in December 2016!

Which core competencies are IBM looking for?

IBM are looking for strong communicators, those that work well in teams, leadership ability, as well as adaptability. Plus, it’s important to demonstrate your passion and drive to work for IBM!

More info:


BUNAC are one of the world’s leading providers of working adventures worldwide, combining the opportunity to travel with the chance to add international work experience to your CV.


Which positions are they recruiting for?

BUNAC are recruiting for 3 main types of placements:

  • Summer Camp USA – spend summer 2017 working in an American Summer Camp!
  • Work America – complete a seasonal work placement in the US, such as working in a hotel, country club or theme park
  • Internship USA / Australia – complete a professional internship related to your area of study

Their top tip?

Get your applications in ASAP to secure a placement next summer, ideally before Christmas!

More info:

Discover the Exhibitors

If you missed the Work Experience & Internship Fair, check out the websites below for more information about work placements and internships offered. Exhibitors included:

Thank you to all of the exhibitors and students that attended this year’s Internship Fair!


Make next summer count – 5 types of work experience to supercharge your CV

Demonstrating work experience in your chosen field alongside your university studies is becoming ever more crucial. According to a recent survey by The Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR), the graduate jobs market has shrunk by 8% for the first time in four years following the EU referendum, and graduates with no experience are highly unlikely to be offered graduate positions according to a study of graduate recruiters by the BBC.

With traditional internships becoming more and more competitive, you may need to think outside of the box to gain those critical transferable skills and experience to put on your CV. So whether you’re a first year or final year student, in preparation for the University of Surrey’s Work Experience & Internship Fair this Wednesday 9th November, here are 5 different ways to get valuable work experience on your CV…

  1. Traditional internships


These are typically 8 – 10 weeks in length and give you a brief exposure to what it’s like working for an organisation. Many global organisations have an official internship programme in place, most of which start advertising in September for students to start work the following summer, so the earlier you start looking, the best chance you have of securing what you want.

There can be a lot of competition for internships with big companies, and in most cases the selection process is similar to graduate level jobs. Maximise your chance of being offered an interview by getting advice on your application at the Employability & Careers Centre.

Don’t forget that the University of Surrey offer a Professional Training Placement Year during the third year of study in most subject areas, partnering with over 2,300 organisations in the UK and overseas.

  1. Placements abroad


What’s even better than adding an internship to your CV? Doing an internship abroad!

Working abroad can develop your language skills and understanding of other cultures. It can teach you to become comfortable communicating across cultures and shows employers that you are willing to push yourself outside of your comfort zone and take on a new challenge. It also helps you to stand out from other talented candidates and could open up further international employment opportunities. Finally, it’s an amazing way to meet new people and gain a fresh perspective.

There are lots of websites and organisations that can help you find work experience abroad. Check out which gives details on opportunities available through the Erasmus programme. AIESEC UK promotes global understanding through international exchange and offers international internships.

  1. Vacation work experience


Another great alternative to the traditional internship is finding a paid job over the summer which can equip you with excellent transferable skills. For example, these jobs could be in tourism, children’s summer camps or assisting at conferences or festivals.

Some of these opportunities may be abroad, giving you the opportunity to travel whilst building skills for your CV. For example, companies like CCUSA, BUNAC and USA Summer Camp offer paid work experience abroad as Camp Counsellors, Activity Specialists or Administrators, allowing you to develop communication, leadership, teamwork, cultural awareness and problem-solving skills – crucial when giving examples of skills and competencies during graduate applications.

  1. Volunteering


Voluntary opportunities offer you the chance to give something back to the community and demonstrate your desire to make a difference for a cause that you care about. Importantly, because you are offering your time to an organisation, it can give you the unique opportunity to develop a completely new set of skills and experience, as well as build your network within that industry. For example, this could be your golden opportunity to develop coaching skills as a youth worker or PR and marketing experience by running a charity fundraising campaign.

A wide range of opportunities with charities or voluntary organisations can be found here:  – a database of voluntary work by postcode and type of work

  1. Develop your enterprise skills


Employers value those who can demonstrate initiative and enterprise skills. Are you a creative thinker? Can you take an innovative approach? You may like to engage with Student Enterprise on campus, or consider joining the Enactus Society.

Maybe you’ve always wanted to start an internet business, build a unique new app or launch your own perfume line. Well now is the time to give it a whirl! Launching your own company demonstrates to employers that you are ambitious, creative, hardworking and resilient, plus it helps you to stand out and talk about something that you are passionate about.

And who knows, if it takes off, you may not even need that graduate programme!

Looking for an internship or vacation work for summer 2017?

Then come along to the Work Experience & Internship Fair on Wednesday 9th November right here on campus!

Where? Lower Concourse of the Lecture Theatre Block, University of Surrey.

When? Wednesday 9th November, 11am-2pm.

Register for your place here.