How to stand out from the crowd

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 August, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 August, 2004, 12:00am

GRADUATE TRAINING PROGRAMMES offer comprehensive training opportunities for rapid progression and competitive salaries. For this reason, it is not surprising they are very popular.

But when faced with such fierce competition, graduates must offer more than academic attainment and relevant experience to pass the first round of screening. They must also learn how to complete the applications process effectively.

'Applicants for our CIBM [corporate investment and banking markets] graduate programme are competing against the top students from the top schools around the world,' said Lindsay Underwood, manager, training and development, CIBM, Asia-Pacific, HSBC.

'More than 8,000 graduates applied for just 100 places in [the] CIBM scheme this year. So, applicants must invest time in crafting a really strong application.'

The application process for graduate training programmes is often quite different to the more traditional selection methods used to recruit for general positions.

Graduate application forms are usually complex documents which have been designed to measure behavioural indicators of success. These forms are rarely used to simply outline experience and credentials. Completing them therefore takes time and skill.

Ms Underwood recommends graduates research the market and target their top six to eight choices before applying.

'It takes at least three or four hours to complete a good application, so it makes sense to apply most of your effort on your top choices,' she said.

Most graduate application forms are designed around specific graduate capabilities, such as analytical reasoning, building relationships or leadership, which, when observed in graduates, have been shown to increase the likelihood of long-term business success.

Questions are also designed to elicit behavioural evidence of capability. For example, applicants might be asked to describe a time when they demonstrated leadership ability, solved a problem using their analytical reasoning or built effective relationships.

Points are awarded according to the quality of evidence provided in each section as well as for academic attainment.

Applicants should therefore read and follow the instructions carefully.

'If an applicant misses a section or does not follow instructions such as those regarding word count, they are unlikely to progress to the next stage of selection,' said Ms Underwood.

'Similarly, it is not normally enough to simply cut and paste sections of your resume.'

It is also important to adhere to deadlines. 'There is no leeway. The ability to meet deadlines is essential in the financial services industry.'

Every application for the HSBC CIBM scheme is reviewed personally by a human resources specialist trained to identify the better applications.

To stand out from thousands of other applicants, graduates must therefore make the relevance of their experiences clear. But they should not worry too much about the context of their examples.

'Even simple experiences can provide the opportunity to illustrate specific capabilities,' Ms Underwood said.

Typical experiences that graduates might use include acting as the captain of a debating team or taking part in team sports. However, graduates who are active and involved with their community can build relevant examples of capability in other ways. For example, those who have completed some voluntary work might use this experience to illustrate their personal drive and commitment.

Students who have coached poor performers at school might use this to demonstrate leadership or communication skills.

When it comes to describing experiences, Ms Underwood said: 'Focus on describing how you applied yourself to a situation and emphasise your individual contribution to a goal rather than just the team effort.

'For each situation describe the challenges and the results, what you did and how you did it. Don't just offer one-line responses. A graduate might have a lot of very valuable experience but unless this is outlined in detail we will never know.'

Finally, when completing applications via the Web, graduates should pay extra attention to the details and avoid clicking the 'send' button too soon.

'Applicants need to check and double check their content,' said Ms Underwood. 'Some people cut and paste answers from other applications but forget to change the company name. These applicants are almost always disqualified.'

Many problems can be rectified by asking a friend to check the application for errors.

'English fluency is important to us because our graduates are internationally mobile. But we see far too many applications with less than adequate English,' Ms Underwood said.

Tips for completing competitive graduate applications

Spend at least three to four hours on each application.

Identify your top programme choices and focus most of your attention on these applications.

Read the instructions carefully and adhere to word count guidelines.

Complete all sections of the application form in full.

Anticipate sought after capabilities, such as leadership, or analytical reasoning.

Build examples of your skill in these key areas.

Make the most of experience from all areas of your life, including study, leisure and family experiences.

Use full examples to show how you personally contributed to a situation.

Give yourself enough time - do not miss the deadline.

Proof-read religiously and take care on English grammar.