For those who have been following The Smart Kid for a while, you will recall that last December I wrote about apprenticeships and touched upon higher and degree apprenticeships. The Sutton Trust recently launched a campaign for better apprenticeships to become more accessible given that it is a great vehicle for social mobility. Their research pointed out that disadvantaged young people are substantially less likely than their better off peers to take up the best apprenticeship roles.
I’m pleased to report that within The Smart Kid’s community we have a real life example of a young man who has successfully clinched a degree apprenticeship place with a leading investment bank in conjunction with a Russell Group University. This young man will complete his degree debt free with much more relevant work experience than most of his peers.
Find out how Mani secured this highly sought after opportunity below.
How did you find your degree apprenticeship role?
Firstly you have to remember a degree apprenticeship is a job so it is found on the careers and employment pages of a company’s website.
Having said that, there is a comprehensive degree apprenticeships page on the UK Gov site that helped me.
Searching for the kind of degree apprenticeship I wanted on the internet helped me find the universities and companies that support degree apprenticeships.
I wanted to do a computer science degree if I went to university. The closest thing that I could find was a Digital and Technology Solutions degree, which most companies label as the technology (degree) apprenticeship.
I recommend thoroughly reading the terms of the apprenticeships you find online because some are not titled as a degree apprenticeships and you may miss them out easily. I would also recommend checking the career pages of a number of companies first to see if they have any degree apprenticeship positions.
In addition try to be open with your choice of company and kind of degree apprenticeship, because the selection process is very rigorous and having a lot of options will help you refine your approach for your interviews and give you the experience of what to expect. It means you will also have other choices if any of them turns you down.
I initially signed up for only one technology degree apprenticeship with an investment bank but got a little flustered with the video interviews because I had never done one before. Luckily, there was still time to sign up for others, so after that interview I signed up for three other degree apprenticeships. One of the three that I applied to following that first one is the investment bank where I will be doing my degree apprenticeship. Although I had increased my options, in the end I found out that the first bank had added me to their reserve list and I hadn’t done as badly as I’d assumed.
What does the selection process involve?
Firstly it is a long and stressful process with lots of anxious waiting between stages to see if you made it. It is very similar to a job interview.
It starts by filling in an online application with some personal information, a CV and some questions on why you want to do the degree apprenticeship. It is slightly different for each company, some may also ask for application cover letters or other paper work.
If you pass the first stage they will typically request a phone interview, so try to make time for that about a week or two after you send the application. It should only take about 10 to 20 minutes and they will go through your CV and ask for more information about you and why you chose the company. Make sure you do your research on the company and the industry. For me, this meant watching a lot of YouTube videos on investment banking and the free-market before the interviews.
Assuming that goes well they may invite you to a video interview with HireVue. During the video interview, questions appear on the screen for 30 seconds; then a timed recording will be taken immediately after, in which you have to give a well-structured and coherent answer to the question. The time given to answer may seem very short or too long however try not to waffle, just because you have extra time doesn’t mean you need to use it. End the recording if you are satisfied that you have answered the question but remember once you end the recording or the time runs out you can’t retry. The questions tend to be general competency questions and they may also throw in a few theoretical ones where you have to select from a multiple choice list or type an answer.
Following that you’ll be invited to an assessment centre if successful. Here you get to meet the employees of the company in a Q&A session and do a practical assessment or theory exam. Asking good questions that are really insightful and show interest in the company will help to get you noticed. It’s not the end of the world though if you can’t come up with a question. I didn’t ask a question in some Q&A sessions and I still got through.
This is typically followed by face to face interviews which is where the traditional interview rules apply. The secret to face to face interviews is to just be honest and be yourself. Be friendly, the interviewers are not there to see you fail they just want to get to know you better.
After this, they may throw-in one more video interview just for fun and then if you scale through all of that, they make you the conditional / unconditional offer. If the offer is dependent on your A-level grades they will state that you need to meet the minimum requirements requested by the university that will be awarding the degree. A key thing that could stop you going through at the end is if the university rejects your application because you did not make your grades.
In the lead up to results day, they will request background information from you and ask for some copies of legal documents and GCSE certificates for your background check. Then on results day you send them a copy of your results and then will provide details your starting day whilst the university will get in touch about the course.
How different were the selection processes for the applications?
I applied for five in total, I did not make it past the initial video interview stage with three of them but made it to the final stage with two investment banks. The one where I will be undertaking the apprenticeship gave me a conditional offer immediately after the final stage. However after results day the other bank got in touch to see if I would still like to do the degree apprenticeship with them. The processes were very similar but with different questions and in a slightly different order. The main stages to look out for are the:
- video interview;
- assessment day; and
- face to face interview.
They all give you feedback after each interview stage.
What do you think made you stand out as a candidate?
I feel that my extensive work experience with software development companies helped a lot because I already had an in-depth experience of how software goes from an idea to a finished product and I had projects and work that accompanied it. I also have a keen interest in technology, know multiple programming languages and use them frequently when developing my own games.
A major part in which I feel that I was able to stand out was in the practical assessment, which was followed by an interview. My experience at the software development firm was useful because I was able to explain key concepts in-depth to justify my approach to resolving the problems given in the practical assessment and they were impressed by that.
What are the minimum requirements for degree apprenticeships?
The minimum requirements vary depending on the degree apprenticeship and the university that is supporting it but they tend to be
- Five A*-C (9-5) at GCSE; and
- A, B, B at A-level in relevant subjects.
However, be sure to check for yourself.
On a side note, even if your predicted grades are well above the requirements still aim for your predicted grades. I was predicted AAAB but ended up with ABBC, luckily this met the university’s expectations. Remember that your place is not guaranteed until you get the results. Some people did not make it after passing the selection processes because their results were less than the university’s minimum requirements.
What are the closing dates for applications?
The closing dates vary; some close in January but most close mid-March.
Did you get any support?
The initial application is a straight forward process. They are very clear on what information they want and they always have an application help line on the application page if you need help or are confused on what they are asking.
For the interview, get as many people to help you as possible. Everyone has their own unique tips and tricks to doing interviews and they can provide knowledge on the industry. Also get as many people as possible to read your CV and application letter to make sure it reads well for everyone. But with that in mind if you get too overwhelmed with feedback only change the things that more than one person tells you to change because you may end up making more mistakes in your CV.
In the lead up the interviews practice introducing yourself to new people in a professional way, (handshake, smiles etc). I know this is awkward but it helps get over that initial big moment of meeting the interviewer and helps you relax and eventually you’ll be comfortable enough to just Be Yourself. If you can’t find anyone or don’t want to embarrass yourself ask a relative, friend’s parent or teacher.
As a final note I’d like to say keep learning, find out what works and what sounds right in the interviews. Just because you didn’t make one process doesn’t mean that you can’t succeed in others. Take what you learned and apply it.
Where to find more resources?
This is a list of every apprenticeship in the UK. Level 6 and above means there is a degree involved.
Finally, these are all the apprenticeships supported by the UK government. The level D ones are the ones with a degree; the list also includes the wage and location.