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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Experiencing the Undergraduate of the Year awards

Barnaby Lewis, finalist of this year's Engineering Undergraduate of the Year award, talks about his experience applying and attending the awards. Followed by a few words of wisdom. 

Sometime last year I received an email from TARGETjobs letting me know about a competition for the Engineering Undergraduate of the year award. Initially I dismissed this as irrelevant as I’m only in the top half of my year, there are 4 years of undergraduates across several engineering disciplines and many universities. Also, I don’t really enjoy public recognition so it didn’t really appeal to me.

Then in the midst of revision at Christmas I got another email telling me the deadline was at the end of the week after my final exam. Whilst I wanted to experience the sort of tests I’d have to take next year when applying for graduate jobs, I thought that was the last thing I wanted to do to celebrate my momentary freedom from exams. However on the day of my exam I got another email and their persistence paid off. I applied.

The application wasn’t really that hard (although perhaps it would have been more stressful if I had really wanted to win) some sections were very frustrating with tricky to answer questions.  I also had to write a few 300 word pieces set by Eon. After writing one of these as an acrostic poem – engineering is fun – I didn’t really expect the email inviting me to the assessment day at Eon’s technology centre at Easter.

The day consisted of an interview which went fairly well compared with previous attempts at gaining a placement. We also had a role play where we had to confront a member of staff about perceived failings in their department. This was a suitably awkward experience for a science student like myself. We also had to prepare a presentation on our ‘plan for Eon’s future’ which was followed by the presentation itself and a group discussion on which plan to take forwards.

I left thinking that it had been a positive experience and would help me in the future, but did not expect to get an invitation to the awards ceremony in Canary Wharf.

This was a rather surreal experience, with a string quartet in one corner, people offering you champagne, and Sir Trevor McDonald stood talking to fellow applicants. We had an amusing and inspiring talk from the man himself followed by the most expensive looking meal I think I will ever eat (caviar is over-rated).
Whilst I didn’t win the award (which would have been awkward considering I already had a placement year sorted with EnginSoft by then) I would say it has been a positive experience which will serve me well in the future.

My advice to fellow undergraduates would therefore be:
-          Take all the opportunities you can to practice interview skills (especially if a free lunch is involved).
-          Don’t worry too much about a particular job interview, being relaxed definitely helps.
-          Don’t give up before you’ve started.

-          Do try to get some work experience before leaving university (I applied to about 15 companies last year to get 3 interviews and 1 job offer).

FTo see all of this year's winners and finalist visit our Undergraduate of the Year website. And if you think you have what it takes to be next year's Undergraduate of the Year why not pre-register?