Friday, September 6, 2013

5 top tips from the winner of the National Schools' Challenge 2013

If you are thinking of entering the 2014 National School’s Challenge, sponsored by Siemens make sure you read this interview with Alicja Borsberry Woods, (2013’s winner).  Here she discusses her motivation behind taking part in the challenge and tips to succeed.

Full name: Alicja Borsberry-Woods
Age: 19
School attended: Kennet School, Thatcham

What motivated you to enter the challenge and how was your experience on the day?
My mum is constantly telling me that life is a competition where the challenges constantly get harder and that you should take all the experience you can get along the way to ensure you become successful. When I spotted the online challenge I had to take part – it was a potential experience to be gained and there were more boundaries to be pushed. The final was, without doubt, the most exhilarating experience in a learning and competition environment that I have participated to date; I had the chance to meet with an amazing group of blue chip employers, discuss with them ‘exactly what they do’ and discover various entry opportunities into their businesses. Having the chance to participate in observed group activities judged by potential employers was also a pretty unique experience. I wanted to test myself, I wanted to win and I’m pleased I managed both of those things.

If you could give 5 tips to this year’s participants what would they be?
1.       Firstly, make sure that you get the basics right - dress correctly, but comfortably, wearing something you feel confident in. The tasks are judged by business professionals and a smart appearance is a good start! Also allow plenty of time to find your way to the challenge – I know this is obvious but you don’t want to arrive hot and stressed from rushing.

2.       Secondly, believe that you will win and act as if you can. Of course you will want to win the overall competition, but there are many other ways of coming out on top: making some great contacts, gaining experience, learning a few things and even making new friends. It’s one day of the year and it’s unlikely that you will know anyone at the challenge, so get stuck in and don’t hold back – you will regret it afterwards if you do!

3.       Research what happened in previous years’ competitions. Read about participants and winners, try to find out about the type of tasks that you will face and prepare. Also research the companies that are supporting the event - not necessarily to help you win but to find out who you really want to talk to about potential jobs/internships/work experience in the future. Also think about what potential employers are looking for in their winners. It’s not always about winning the actual task. Think about what behaviours leaders and great employees might demonstrate and plan how you will show case your talents.

4.       Get some practice: practice simple things at home like speaking your name out loud as at the beginning of every task you will have to introduce yourself, so make a good first impression. You could ask a teacher at school to plan some group tasks, or even better, you should plan your own! You want to appear cool, calm and confident in a group setting. If you’re feeling brave, you could ask for feedback from you teachers and parents about your natural strengths and weaker tendencies so you can be aware of these and use your strengths!

5.       Approach the final focussed but open minded. Listen to instructions, take notes in fact. You’ll only have a short amount of time in front of the judges for each task, so don’t be afraid to get stuck in straight away. So, have a great time – you’ll enjoy some challenges more than others but I guarantee that you’ll have fun. Good luck!

And finally what are you goals for the future and has winning the challenge made a difference? 
Prior to the challenge I felt under great pressure to identify a ‘vocation’ and this meant I really struggled to choose a course for Uni.  Winning the challenge greatly influenced me:  I withdrew my UCAS application for Veterinary Medicine in favour of Maths and Physics at Bristol to keep my options open for a future career in a more general business role. My focus right now is on knuckling down to get the best degree I can, and over the next few years I’ll be hoping to use the contacts made at the challenge to secure internships and work experience.

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