As I’m sure a lot of you are probably wondering what the Centrica Summer Placement entails, I’m here to tell those of you thinking of applying, or steadily making your way through the rigorous recruitment process, a bit about it. I’ve also included some of my own hints and tips that will hopefully help you along the way.
The initial application form is online. With a unique framework of detailed questioning, your application should contain some original answers, and not be just copied and pasted. Try to draw not only on your experiences at university, but on anything in which you’ve shown clear examples of leadership and integrity – whether it’s at your part-time job at a retail store, or that Duke of Edinburgh excursion you did years ago. Really think about how you made a difference to something in your life – and trust me, at some point you have.
The second stage is those dreaded online psychometric tests. I hear you, “Numbers confuse me!…I can’t even spell psychometric let alone take a test on Verbal Reasoning!” Don’t worry. If you can read a sample of text and take in what it is saying, and you can do a bit of Maths revision, then you’ll be fine – you just have to score higher than a pre-defined benchmark. You’ll be surprised how even GCSE bite-size can come in handy if you have to do a Numeric Reasoning test.
The third stage brings with it the phone interview. Not to worry, this isn’t a technical interview. This is just a means of the company getting a feel for whether you possess the correct leadership behaviours (look these up on the Centrica website; they’ll come in very handy)! My best advice for this is to plan ahead – be in a quiet room with good reception, have a piece of paper to hand with a few scribblings about Centrica’s current projects, key statistics, etc. It might not hurt to have a few webpages open on your laptop as reference material either. Make sure your flatmates aren’t going to burst in with a load of gossip at any point. When the call arrives, take a deep breath before answering any questions, try to speak clearly and, whatever you do, don’t waffle!
And finally, if all has gone to plan, you will be invited to the assessment centre. I was applying for the engineering stream, so I was invited up to Aberdeen for mine. I did all my research. I even got to Aberdeen early the day before and stayed up late researching. I memorised projects, the different areas of the business and looked into what engineering in the oil and gas industry entailed. In fact, I stayed up so late, and was so tired, that I forgot to set my alarm the night before. This resulted in me waking up the next morning feeling refreshed, and already half an hour late to my interview! Now, I know what you’re thinking. “How on Earth did you get a job if you turned up late?” Well, no-one was as surprised as me when I found out, but I think it boils down to a couple of things. First of all, I walked in and told the truth. No elaborate lie about how a truck had jack-knifed on the way over to the office. Second of all, with what I assumed meant complete failure breathing down my neck, the nerves began to subside a little. I walked into the competency interview with a senior manager and just had an honest conversation with him. After a couple of tricky questions in which, again, I was upfront with him if I didn’t know the answer, I moved on to the technical presentation. “Just breathe”, I kept telling myself. Initially, I couldn’t get the flip chart working and all the pages fell on the floor (“the assessment centre from Hell continues”, I thought to myself). However, I just stood up straight, maintained eye-contact with the assessor, and told him my ideas. Coincidentally, I now sit next to that same assessor on my Summer Placement.
We eventually went to lunch at the canteen. It’s important to remain professional throughout the day, so don’t take this opportunity to get complacent and start moaning about your course or how drunk you got at the weekend. This is a great opportunity to network with the assessors, so use it to your advantage. Talk to the assessors. Take an interest. Ask about their role, their lives, engage with the other interns – show them you are a ‘team player’.
In the afternoon, we moved on to the group presentation. This, I’ve been told since, is what clinched the position for me. The task we were set didn’t need any technical knowledge whatsoever. What it did require, however, was strong listening skills. When I say listen, I don’t mean leaning over the table and staring so intently at the person across the table from you that you make them cry. What I mean is genuinely listening to feedback, letting others talk, asking for a consensus. Equally, don’t compete with somebody else who appears to be naturally steering the conversation – if you do that you will appear overly competitive and may even appear aggressive. Follow the flow of conversation. Everyone will want to add to the conversation to show how they are adding value, so ensure they are able to. Equally, if you think another person’s idea isn’t viable, politely tell them why you think it may not work. Hiring 30 reindeer for a Santa’s Grotto fundraising event may sound great, but is it practical?
Anyway, I left the assessment centre having had a fairly enjoyable experience, truth be told. The other candidates were all in the same position as me, and the grad team’s regular contact and detailed feedback throughout the process really allowed me to evaluate my strengths and development areas. However, afterwards, all I could think to myself was, “If only I hadn’t spoiled it all by turning up late!” Anyway, fast-forward to 5 days later and I’m walking through campus when my phone rings… And the rest, as they say, is history. I will, however, leave you with some parting words of wisdom. If you do get through to the assessment centre and you happen to be sleeping in a particularly comfy bed the night before, remember to switch your phone charger on at the wall.
Find out more about Centrica's Graduate and Undergraduate schemes here.