How to perform well under pressure and qualify for the best graduate jobs

Posted by Daniel Headford

Performing well under pressure is life long skill which is very important to master at the beginning of your career. 

In this Facebook Live interview we spoke with the winner of the Top100 Graduate Employers and Future Leaders Competition (#GCTop100) Hilti Engineering - Mechanical Engineering Award, Jonathan Dufty about his experience.  We spoke to him about the ins and outs of the graduate job application process, from psychometric testing to one-on-one interviews. Here’s are his 3 top tips:

#1 Honesty and sincerity

Important tips to find the best graduate job for you include honesty and sincerity, particularly when it comes to psychometric testing and video interviews according to Jon. It is important to say what you feel and not what you think the employer wants to hear.

#2 Soft skills

Keep in mind that certain aspects of the process are designed to bring out different soft skills and  core values, such as business-mindedness, initiative and teamwork, all of which are embodied by different companies so be sure to research this beforehand.

#3 People skills

In the end, employers are people too, if you can identify with them they can understand where you are coming from.

Jon’s approach to applying for graduate programs is not to put too much pressure on yourself, what is there to lose? Register as a student  to be notified of our diverse range of graduate opportunities opening year round.

Interview transcript:

Daniel: Hello everybody, welcome to another GradConnection livestream. We’ve actually got a guest in today, Jon Dufty. Jon was one of the participants in the GradConnection and Australian Financial Review Top100 Future Leaders Competition the other day and he was actually lucky enough, or talented enough should I say, to take out the Hilti engineering award so Jon is essentially the top engineering grad in the country at the moment which is pretty incredible. So we thought we’d get Jon in today to just have a chat about the experience he had going through the assessment centre process, video interviews, live one-on-one interviews with employers just to get a few tips and tricks because the grad recruitment season is coming up and a lot of you will be wanting to apply to big firms and corporations so it will be good to know some hints from Jon and how he navigated the process, but I might just first start by asking Jon a bit about yourself; what you’re studying, where you’re studying, where you’re up to in your degree and what you’re looking for at the moment.

Jon: Yeah, well obviously thanks for having me so I’m studying a double degree of aerospace engineering and computer science at UNSW so I’m going into my fourth year so I’ve got about two years to go so I’m finishing at the end of next year, so again also in that period where you’re starting to look for certain placements.


D: Awesome, that’s fantastic! The other day we ran the Top100 Future Leaders Competition. Can you run us through from application to video interviewing and assessment centre and then one-on-one interviews and sort of you’re thinking about why you applied and how the process took place from there?

J: Applications I think were back in September or August is when they first opened and I found out about it through GradConnection. I thought I’d just do it on a whim originally because you see something that is Top100 leaders and you think about people who are out in the crowd, in your face all the time and I wasn’t really someone like that so I didn’t really initially think that I’d progress very far so after the application which was a few application questions and your CV and you just did some psychometric testing which was a combination of numeric problem-solving, there was an integrity test where they asked you questions about honesty essentially, and then there was another problem-solving one which was arranged more in a game to kind of take that edge off.


D: So with the psychometric testing, we get a few questions quite often, could you prepare for that or was it just instinctive problem-solving skills that you would have normally or was there any way you could train up to take those tests?

J: Yes and no. I would have done a few by now and most of the time I would Google the company running it because generally on their website they have some kind of practise questions so it’s not something you can study for, they don’t ask you questions that you can remember. It is very much instinctive kind of questions but you can get used to the type of questions and the thought process behind them because a lot of it is pattern recognition and stuff like that.


D: Ok awesome, because I think most companies now do a psychometric testing component to their applications to see if you are the right fit not just IQ but in terms of the integrity testing side of things as well. So what was the next step after that?

J: A few weeks after that I got invited to a video interview and I hadn’t done one before so I didn’t know what to expect and so it was on a video platform where you can log in pretty much any time and they ask you three or four questions and you get two minutes to answer it with a twenty second period in between to kind of think of an answer so you do get time to think about it but you do need to be kind of succinct so it was a bit of a weird experience because I hadn’t done one before so I didn’t really know what to expect but the approach I took with this whole application was I didn’t really put any pressure on myself and just didn’t really have anything to lose so I was very casual about it in that sense.


D: I guess that’s a really good approach to take and coming from the background now that you’ve done one video interview, are there any tips you would give for video interviewing and people about to undertake video interviews for the grad recruitment season coming up?

J: I think what benefited me was almost the sincerity of it. Don’t try to act your way through it or forge an answer which you think will be the answer like I think one of the questions I got was “who is a leader that you look up to?” and I said my boss at work because he brings the best out of people and at the same time scares the hell out of them and so that was obviously a reaction thing that I think made it more of a personalised and honest answer as opposed to what you think they want to hear. The video interview isn’t a time to plug yourself like you would in a face-to-face interview and that’s where you start using all your work experiences and stuff. I think the video interview is generally to kind of see how you, talking to the HR guys, it’s all about how you present yourself and the person you portray so I think keeping it honest and sincere is probably more important.


D: So if you’ve just joined us, we’re here with Jon Dufty, who’s won the Top100 Future Leaders Engineering Award so essentially the top engineering grad in the country, well done. We’re just running through the process of how applications and work and just a few tips from Jon so far on the psychometric testing were to Google the provider and give honest, presentable answers and so just say what you feel, not what the HR team is going to want to hear and that has brought us to the actual event at UTS last Thursday. Editors from the AFR came down to take photos and interview candidates about their experiences. Do you want to run us through how that day worked and your feelings throughout the day as well?

J: We found out we were in the finals months before so you tended to almost forget about it but we started off at the day and they briefed us in and we went into a group activity, split into our respective awards, and that was conducted as if it was a grad assessment centre so it caught you off guard because it was very intense and happened very quickly, sort of an hour in and out, and that’s essentially how they structure it so it was a pretty invaluable experience and some of the feedback we got from that was particularly valuable from the guys, and these were guys who do grad recruitments for loads of companies so the insight they gave of things we were doing, things we weren’t doing, things we should have been doing was pretty great to get that from the group activity and then after that it was more of a personal interview so we had to give a brief presentation, but then again it was very lowkey, it was more of a conversation where they didn’t talk back for a bit and then it was a very brief one-on-one interview so that was the stages of the latter part of the grad assessment program.


D: During this assessment centre style set up, what were some of the activities they made you do, for example?

J: So it mainly revolved around the group activities so we were split into groups of five or six and it was based around one task where I think our particular one was we had forty minutes to design a pitch based on the Google Home and it’s security concerns. A lot of it was based around working with this group as a team to find out the pros, the cons and design essentially a model and a pitch on how to market this Google Home based on it and some of the feedback we got was, because a lot of the things grads are looking for now is obviously business-mindedness, along with the typical things like initiative and teamwork, so they were saying they designed that sort of task to bring out those qualities so I think that’s something to be mindful of when you’re doing it, that there are those qualities that they’re looking for and grading you on and so they’re kind of the things you want to try and demonstrate.


D: So I guess what tips we hear a lot of the time are when you are going for a job interview at a certain company, all companies have a set of values that they all adhere to, so if you’re ever going for a job interview at a certain firm always look up what they’re values are and then that’s the sort of values that they’ll be looking for in the tasks, so say teamwork, integrity and leadership are all values of the firm, they’ll really be looking for that in people they’re hiring so if you can really display your skills in that area, that’s a real advantage as Jon has outlined in the Google Home example they went through in the assessment centre so that was really good. Moving onto the one-on-one interview, what sort of questions do they ask and also how did you prepare for those sorts of things?

J: We were originally briefed saying “you don’t have to do any preparation for this”, which was a big lie. It started off with us doing a three minute presentation on our personal brand, and as someone who hates plugging myself all the time, it was particularly difficult and then they ask you questions based on that so it was obviously different for lots of people and I got asked what I thought about where the future of engineering was going, why I applied for the Top100 position and my opinion on how GradConnection and Fusion ran the day, so that was a feedback question everyone got.


D: That’s really cool. So after the one-on-one interviews, what was the next stage after that?

J: That was the last stage of the assessment day so there was a presentation, the one-on-one interview and the group activity and that was what they used to assess the winner based on the award categories so after that it was the awards at the end of that night so I had a good six or seven hours to chill out, reflect on what happened and then the awards dinner. Obviously there were all the students there but also all the Top100 grad employers and so there were heaps of people there, obviously lots of high achieving students and employers to chat to and I think a lot of people commented it was a very enjoyable night and they were surprised at how casual and laid back everyone was. These grad employers can sometimes seem like daunting executives but they were there to have a good time as well and I think that’s something that helps when approaching people and approaching things like interviews, they’re people as well.


D: Yeah, I think that’s great feedback and always think about that when you’re going into interviews. They’re people too and they can understand where you’re coming from and I think another great tip that Jon touched on is always be ready with personalised stories around what you’ve done in certain situations. Also if there are any other questions from people you have for Jon or myself, just type it in the comments and we’ll be able to answer any questions that you do have. Even if it’s after we’ve finished, we’ll be able to answer them once we’re offline as well. So I thought we’d play a bit of a game with Jon so people can comment just to guess, so we’re going to do two truths and a lie. I’m just going to ask Jon to give us two truths and one lie and if people can comment on which one they think the lie is, there will be some sort of prize for the winner of whoever can guess it correctly, so do you want to hit us with two truths and a lie?

J: Sure, so I can play four musical instruments, I spent part of my childhood living out of a tent and me and my housemates play in a band.


D: Alright, so we’ve got: lived part of your childhood in a tent, can play four instruments and the third one was house band, so whichever one you think is the lie, just comment in the bit below and then we’ll be able to set that up for you down the track. If there are any other questions, let us know briefly, we’ve got Jon here. He’ll be able to answer any of your questions for the upcoming graduate recruitment season, which kicks off, most companies will open up next Monday and they’ll run for three to four weeks usually, sometimes six weeks for bigger firms and you can go and apply, read all the information on GradConnection, set up an account and we’ll notify you when any opportunity relevant to your degree opens up. If you do have any questions about anything on the site, you can message us on Facebook and we’ll get back to you or comment on any of our posts in relation to any employers. Quite a few employers on our website now have Q and A sections so you can comment questions on there as well and so that’s where we’re all up to. It’s going to be exciting times with lots of companies opening up, lots more grad employers this year and more grad employers this year than ever before so it’s a great time to be graduating university and finding the best graduate program for you. I think everyone should just get out there, get involved and have a go. Any other comments from you, Jon?

J: I think the important one is even if you’ve probably got no chance with application, like I did with the future leaders thing, there is literally no harm in applying and I took that approach throughout the whole process and it ultimately puts less pressure on yourself, which I think ultimately benefited myself so I think that there’s definitely no harm in applying for things where you don’t think you have a shot.


D: Yeah perfect. So I guess what’s the next step for you, you’ve won this competition, you’ve got a couple of years left of uni. What are the next steps for you?

J: This week I was being contacted by Hilti, the guys who were the award sponsor, and we’re trying to tee up some part time work. I know a lot of the award sponsors had the same approach to all of the Top100 guys because they obviously know that if you get that far, you’re quite capable so the plan is to tee up some part time work and try to knock over my industrial training, which is compulsory, and then obviously graduating at the end of next year, we’ll cross that bridge and try to find the best graduate job, whether I stick with Hilti or not.


D: Once you finish uni, what’s your goal for your career? Do you know what you want to do when you finish or it could be anything?

J: Yeah, doing aerospace, it’s quite a specific engineering field so to work in any kind of aircraft design would be great but also being realistic in the sense that it’s going to take a while for me to get into any aerospace engineering because it’s not as big as the construction field. Engineering is a very foot-in-the-door industry as well, to be honest most industries are now, so this work experience will be great and then moving on after graduating, I think getting any kind of full time industry experience like doing fieldwork or design work and then slowly making my way to aero field would be the end goal. I know it’s not a quick path.


D: Thanks so much for joining us. If you have any questions comment, send us a message, register online for an account, we’ll keep you notified about any job opportunities that are relevant for you because jobs are opening now for the next four to six weeks, so it is a bit of a short time frame so just make sure you don’t miss out on any opportunities and, as Jon said, there’s no harm in applying. You can go to our website, and register an account. There’s over 350 big corporates on there and you’ll be surprised at what companies are willing to hire for your degree, from arts to actuaries to zoologists to aerospace, biology. Companies are looking to hire from a vast range of industries now. People aren’t so tunnel-vision on what you’ve done, as long as you’ve done something so if you’ve got a degree, go out and apply and I’m sure you’ll find a company out there for you. Thank you so much and catch you guys next time.


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