The Student Engineer spoke to Serena Tulloch, graduate recruitment adviser at engineering consultancy Atkins, to find out how to navigate the firm’s hiring process.
What kinds of roles do you recruits graduate engineers for?
When a graduate applies they do so for a business area. Within Atkins we have various areas such as transport, energy, aerospace, defence and so forth. So a candidate will be applying to that particular area of interest and what they get involved in will depend on the team they sit in.
What we’ve done is design a degree checker, which is on our website, and that lets students know that with, for example, a degree in mechanical engineer what kind of business area they can go into within Atkins.
We also look at the degree modules they’ve studied at the application review stage when we’re looking at their qualifications and experience. And that may be something quite particular to the potential team they’ll be going into. That’s why we would recommend for students not just to state their degree title but also to put down what they’ve done in each semester.
Although new recruits will be working on real projects from day one, they are part of our graduate programme, which lasts three years and where they are classed as a graduate engineer.
How does your graduate programme work?
Graduates join a team in a particular business area but they aren’t pigeonholed in terms of a specific role and that being all they get involved in. If they want to go into renewables, for example, they would apply to our renewables business but would get involved in the design aspects, the consultancy side, the project management side.
For a lot of engineers on the graduate programme one of the key aspects is chartership and professional development, and they need to get involved in that breadth of projects and work to be able to gain that status.
It’s typical to stay within the same time while on the graduate programme but there is the opportunity to do placements and secondments outside of their business area after the first 12-18 months. Some roles are more structured where have to do placement and in some areas there’s flexibility where they may not wish to do a placement but to get the breadth of experience they will get involved in different work aspects.
How does the recruitment process start and what advice would you give to applicants?
First they need to make an application to Atkins and that’s where we ask them for information on their education, work experience but also competency questions on why Atkins and why they’re interested in the business area.
Then they compete online psychometric tests in verbal and numerical reasoning. We use tests from the provider CEB, formerly known as SHL, and they’re the standard graduate tests.
Then their application is reviewed by the business and they are considered for a briefing call. That’s where we go over their application and discuss their reasons for applying and find out if they are flexible in terms of location or where they want to be based. We ask many questions to try to get an understanding of their interests.
One thing I always say is do your research first in terms of the company and business area. Also think widely in terms of work experience, not just experience that is industry-related but also societies, competitions and activities that may showing their potential as more rounded engineer. We’re not just looking at their technical ability but also other aspects in terms of their interpersonal skills, their team-working abilities, things like that.
How important is relevant industry work experience? Would you expect candidates to have placements in an engineering company in the relevant business area?
Industry experience is not essential. Some form of professional environment work experience would be great. But it may be something they can gain from aspects of university: anything where they are able to transfer the experience they’ve had into work environment as a graduate.
Industry experience is great but there are not that many companies that offer that amount of placements so that’s why we look more widely in terms of where they may get that experience from.
What are you looking for in a candidate? What makes a good Atkins engineer?
We look for someone able to demonstrate technical ability but also behaviour ability. In terms of skills and qualities it’s things like customer focus, flexibility and passion. That can come through from application and the assessment day, how they come across through the different exercises they have to complete. Are they able to bring out their own personality. It can be daunting but we try to make them relax as much as possible so they can get as much out of the day and come across as their true self and show qualities that would come naturally to them in other situations.
Do you have assessment days or interviews? What advice would you give for those stages of the process?
We do have an assessment day where we test technical ability with a test and an interview. Then there is the competency aspect, which includes a written exercise, a face-to-face interview, a group exercise and a question and answer session.
The test lasts 30-45 minutes and questions are based on their degree discipline on the fundamental principles they’ve learnt at university and it’s a matter of applying that to real life situations that may come up. That then forms the basis of the interview: the paper isn’t taken away and marked like an exam; the interviewer goes through it with them.
It’s not marked in terms of right and wrong answers but in terms of their thought process and how they approach the problem and how they communicate it. We’re a consultancy so if we need to know if we were to put you in front of client how you would communicate technical ideas with them.
The written exercise is based on a scenario case study and they’re asked to construct a report on their recommendations, using the information and their initiative to come up with some conclusions.
The question and answer session leads on from the written exercise where they have to answer a series of questions based on what their findings were. We’re assessing how they respond to their questions, if they were honest in their approach and also their communication.
The face-to-face interview is competency based so we’ll ask a series of questions related to experiences they’ve had. For example, give a time when you’ve dealt with a challenging customer.
The group discussion is based on a scenario again, and they’ve got to discuss as a group and agree on an approach to complete some objectives, to show they can work in a team.
What other advice would you have for potential applicants?
Do your research, apply early, utilise the recruitment team to ask questions, and keep up to date with us on social media in terms of what we’re doing, our activities and the stages of the recruitment process.
Keeping up with what Atkins is doing is also important. It’s not only about understanding the company but also the industry and the challenges in that market. Then when they come through the various stages they can show they’ve done their research, not only on the company but more widely.
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