Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A surreal experience, but an exciting year ahead...

Well, I said my second blog would feature employability in engineering, but this has been postponed for the third blog!

It’s been two incredible months since I was named Engineering Undergraduate of the Year 2013, sponsored by E.ON, at the spectacular final for the Undergraduates of the Year at Canary Wharf. The initial shock took some time to wear off and I am starting to understand the exciting future this opportunity has provided me with - a year placement with one of the UK’s largest energy suppliers, E.ON.

I suppose the first thing I need to mention is that I definitely was not expecting the award (as Adam Cox pointed out in his TARGETjobs blog). The competition was extremely fierce and upon meeting all the other finalists I certainly felt very privileged to be among such equally motivated peers. The arrival at the venue was unlike any event I have been to before; an outstanding setting with a champagne reception and string quartet. After meeting all the other finalists (some of whom I had met at interview), I had an opportunity to meet with finalists for other awards, which was a fantastic opportunity to network with employers and finalists from across other industries. Following the rather lavish reception, we were shown to our tables and I met with E.ON employees, including Maria Antoniou (HR Director, E.ON UK) and Neil Price (Performance Leader), who now happens to be my placement manager. Personally, I think we were set up to dine next to each other.

After being seated in this wonderful venue, I remember just smiling and feeling incredibly privileged to be sat there. And then, Sir Trevor McDonald was welcomed onto the stage to give, what I would refer to as, a truly inspirational presentation. I don’t know how he did it, but he related to every single person in the room and drew us in with his exciting experiences and wit along the way; a remarkable man. Next was the presentation of the awards; for each award, it was great to see a variety of students from a range of backgrounds. When the Engineering Undergraduate of the Year award finalists were announced, I felt extremely proud to be representing UWE among the other finalists.

The long-anticipated moment was looming and the winner was announced by Sir Trevor and Maria, I remember just being perfectly still in shock and Adam, who was sat next to me, telling me to get up and go! After a few moments, I made my way up to the stage and had my photo taken with Maria and Sir Trevor. As I made my way back to my seat, Sir Trevor read out my biography of accomplishments and it suddenly hit me; all those morning meetings and late evenings of work were worth it. I’m in the extremely fortunate position to be the first in my family to attend university and I think my parents are still in shock I’m even studying for a degree. When I phoned my mum, who was in Tesco at the time, to say I was stood in Canary Wharf and I had been announced as Engineering Undergraduate of the Year, she just burst into tears…

If you’re considering applying for next year’s award, then I have one piece of advice – go for it! I’m not going to make it seem easy by saying I applied last minute, because I don’t think that would be possible. I submitted my application in December if I remember correctly, so that I could complete my January coursework without worrying about the application. It was certainly arduous, but understandably rigorous thorough. For the initial application, E.ON simply required personal details and confirmation that I was on track for a 2.1 degree in Engineering. Note: I study Aerospace Engineering, so don’t let it put you off if you don’t study mechanical. I specialise in aerodynamics and flight mechanics – not exactly relevant to energy industry! Although, lots of transferable skills and knowledge which will definitely help me during my time at E.ON.

Following the initial application, I was asked to complete three essay questions. I believe these are a true test of commercial awareness and leading industry issues. For example, I was asked about risks within the power industry and how I believe I could address problems in the sector. My advice would be to spend a lot of time on these, as they are really the only opportunity to showcase your motivation to E.ON. The application provided no opportunity to list extra-curricular activities, so make sure the essay answers are perfect and perhaps include examples of your extra-curricular activities. Subsequent to the questions, I was invited to undertake a number of numerical, verbal reasoning and personality tests. These are certainly not an activity for a Sunday morning when you are feeling a bit worse for wear after a Saturday night out! I decided to spend a whole day in uni completing these and I remember leaving the library when it was dark outside. So, my advice, leave plenty of time to complete your tests and perhaps don’t complete them all in one day? I found it extremely tiring and I would certainly recommend completing practice tests beforehand as well.

To my surprise, I was invited to an assessment centre with E.ON at their Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station in Nottingham. The assessment centre was a full day exercise incorporating group activities, a personal interview, a presentation task and role-play situations. It was an extremely exhausting day, but you can understand how E.ON gains quite a colourful picture of your personality by the end of the day. In terms of advice, there isn’t a great deal to offer. All I would say is that E.ON want you to be there and would like you to do well. We were made to feel very welcome by E.ON and this certainly made me more relaxed in the interview. Regarding the personal interview, it was interesting to note the lack of technical questions; yes, there were a few, but not many. The majority of questions wanted to understand my extra-curricular activities, my commercial awareness of the energy industry and situation examples I have encountered. If I could offer advice, it would be to research the STAR method and learn an example for lots of different situations. Furthermore, know your achievements, strengths and weaknesses, as well as reading a newspaper or energy magazine before the day. The assessment centre is a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the company, as well as make some good friends.

So to conclude, a long process. But worth it? YES! The opportunities that I have had opened to me, as a result of this award, have been huge. The ability to add such a prestigious title to my CV and get my foot in the door with one of the world’s largest power and gas companies; it’s a dream come true. UWE were absolutely delighted with the award and I received personal congratulations from the Vice-Chancellor himself, which meant a lot to me. I hope I have inspired others that, regardless of your background, you can achieve what you dream. I live my life through two goals. The first is to approach things with an open mind and never dismiss an opportunity. The second is to embrace new challenges with good humour. 

Regarding my future, I’ve secured a year placement with E.ON and a trip for two to Sweden to visit key energy projects. The future is looking exciting and I hope I have a successful year. I would like to offer my sincere thanks to TARGETjobs for their wonderful organisation of this award and E.ON for sponsoring this award and providing me with the opportunity I’ve been aiming for. I would also like to congratulate all the finalists of the Engineering Undergraduate of the Year award. I’ve made some fantastic friends and I look forward to our forthcoming social events.

And to those still reading; remember, it just takes one application and you could be the Undergraduate of the Year. 

If this has inspired you to apply for next year's Undergraduate of the Year awards pre-register today to be the first to know when the awards applications open in September.