Hi there! I’m Emma Nolan and I am an Apprentice Software Engineer at Thales UK. I’m doing a level 6 degree apprenticeship – I study Digital and Technology Solutions at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU).
I hope I can provide some insightful advice on the process of looking for apprenticeships, to submitting applications, going through the hiring process and eventually getting the job!
Searching for an Apprenticeship
The first step to becoming an apprentice is finding what’s available. As popularity in apprenticeships is increasing, job opportunities are really available all year round! However, in my personal experience, the most common window for apprenticeship applications to open is December-February.
From what I know, there are 3 ways to look for apprenticeships:
- The Find an Apprenticeship website
- Through a university scheme
- Through company websites
Find an Apprenticeship Website
The find an apprenticeship website is run by the government, and employers are encouraged to post their apprentice job openings. You can search for apprenticeships based on your preferences and you can do this initially without making an account! However, I would encourage you to make an account as you can get notified when opportunities are available and have constant set preferences.
Tip: When using keywords to help refine your search, use lots of different terms to make sure you don’t miss any opportunities. For example, I wanted to be software engineer but I searched for lots of different like-terms such as: “Software”, “Programmer”, “IT”, “Digital” etc.
Manchester Metropolitan University Scheme
There are many universities that now run apprenticeship programmes, as I am on the MMU (Manchester Metropolitan University) scheme this is what I can tell you about.
I am on the Digital and Technology Solutions apprenticeship, but MMU offer many different degree apprenticeship courses and each may offer various pathways. For example, my degree specialises in software engineering, but another of the pathways is cyber security.
MMU work with over 200 companies so there is a world of opportunities through a single university. A great thing they offer is a sign up for alerts when new positions are opened. This is a really way to see many apprenticeship openings.
MMU also run a few careers evenings throughout the year to offer you the chance to meet face-to-face with various employers and existing apprentices on the scheme – this is actually how I met Thales!
If you know of any companies that offer apprenticeships, then it can be worth keeping an eye on the company website to look for job openings.
In fact, when you find an apprenticeship through the government website or through a university, you may simply be redirected to the company’s website and have to do your application the same way you’d apply for a job.
So what is involved in an apprenticeship application?
Applying for an apprenticeship
Tip: When it comes to submitting apprenticeship applications, apply for any and all opportunities that come your way that are relevant.
I honestly applied for around 10-15 companies. The thing is, if you get a job offer but you’re not certain on the company, you don’t have to instantly sign a contract – you can wait and eventually choose where you want to go. It’s the same way you put in 3-5 choices for a university UCAS application.
Based off the amount of applications I submitted, the 2 most common requirements are for you to submit a CV and answer a couple of questions.
I feel like writing my CV was the most daunting and pressuring part of applying for an apprenticeship. School and college made a massive deal of it and the media does too.
Your CV just showcases who you are and what you’ve done – and it can direct what questions an employer will ask in an interview.
At a young age, employers are not expecting you to have a world of experience. Put on your grades and any work experience or voluntary work you’ve done, but then make sure you have interesting things to talk about!
Awards like DofE are great talking points, but even the simpler things like your hobbies are good too – in my interview at Thales I talked about my love of Nintendo as I had said that I enjoy gaming on my CV! Of course, if you have any hobbies related to the job, these are great to include. For me for example, I did a lot of programming challenges in my spare time.
Tip: Check your local area for CV writing workshops if you’re struggling – I remember Bolton College offering some when I was submitting applications.
I think every job application I submitted asked very corporate questions that you have to answer. The two I remember being asked most frequently were:
- Why do you want to join [Company name]?
- Why do you want to do an apprenticeship?
For questions on the company, I would recommend looking through the Company’s website and finding things that interest you, or find facts/achievements that they highlight and seemingly pride themselves on.
For questions on the apprenticeship, I’m almost certain you have your reasons for choosing an apprenticeship over a degree route – I would be honest about these reasons! But I would also mention the benefits to doing an apprenticeship, like gaining on-the-job experience.
The Recruitment Process
Once a company has reviewed and chosen your application, the next stage is the recruitment process. This will vary between companies. Some will begin with phone interviews or have aptitude tests; in my experience, most of them hold an assessment centre and an interview.
I think it’s really important to note here that companies aren’t necessarily judging you on your skills/abilities. They want to see if you’ll fit with the company and the current employees in that office. And it’s just as important that you feel comfortable when you visit that office.
Assessment centres (or assessment days) will also vary between companies. They all tend to consist of a group activity and include your interview, but there may be other components to them as well.
I’ve been to 2 assessment centres.
The first was with a company that didn’t end up offering me a job. It consisted of a group activity and an interview, but also had a guided programming task. I don’t believe we were being judged on the programming task though – it was more for those who hadn’t programmed before to be introduced to it.
The second assessment centre I attended was with Thales. Once again there was a group activity and an interview, but this day also had a writing task – a bit like a comprehension.
I want to add a little side note here that if you can’t attend an assessment centre, please tell the company. On my assessment day, 3 people simply didn’t show up and I’ve watched it happen again with the assessment centres for new apprentices this year. Whether you’re on holiday or have accepted another job, just tell them! It’s likely the company will arrange a new day for you to come in and have an interview – but if you just don’t show up then you’re going to lose the opportunity.
The group activity
Both the group activities I’ve done consisted of being handed a giant book with loads of information in and then you have to work with the group of strangers to come to some sort of decision. You tend to have some individual information that you’ll need to share too.
They start off by giving you a set amount of time to read the information and make your own notes, and then discussions begin and eventually you’ll have an end decision when time’s up.
From the feedback I received and also really from self-judgement, I know that I didn’t stand out at the first assessment centre as I didn’t do as well as I could in the group activity.
Tip: Don’t get disheartened if you fail an assessment centre or an application or anything – always ask for feedback and then you can improve for next time.
I messed up in the first assessment centre because I didn’t read all the information! I was very nervous and missed one of the pieces of paper in front of me on the table – I only realised when everyone was sharing their individual information. I got really flustered as I flipped it over and began making notes while everyone else was sharing their information. I’d missed everyone else’s contributions and ultimately felt too nervous and useless to perform as well as I should have.
So really my advice to you is to breathe, and make the most of the time when you get to make individual notes. Make sure you’ve read over everything twice. Also, a good role to take to show responsibility is time-keeper!
I will also say that some people will show up seemingly very prepared with calculators and other equipment. If it’s not been said that any equipment is necessary, the company will either provide it, or you don’t need it. Don’t let the people who seem to have it together put you off – they’re just as nervous as you, if not more.
Just like with writing a CV, interviews are made out to be a big deal… In reality they’re just a chat. Like I said earlier, I talked to my interviewer about my love of Nintendo – and that interviewer is now my manager!
Like CV’s, the company and interviewer will understand that you’re young and may lack relevant experience. It’s possible the company have set interview questions they ask any applicant, and so some may be difficult to answer when you’ve only been in education. Just do your best to answer all questions with relevant examples. A common question for degree apprentices, for example, is to describe a situation where you’ve balanced 2 pieces of work (to judge if you can handle working and doing a degree). I simply used that I’d done my computing and product design coursework at the same time and got good grades in both.
Tip: Look up common interview questions and prepare some answers beforehand. Even if you don’t get the exact questions, it should help you have some good scenarios in your head that you can twist to answer similar questions.
Apprenticeships can be incredibly competitive so if you’ve had a phone call offering you a job you’ve done really well… go out and celebrate! But how long will it take to get that dreaded call? And what now?
How long it will take to get the call of whether they want to hire you or not will be vastly different from company to company. Don’t be afraid to ask on your assessment day or in your interview when you will be contacted.
At the Thales assessment centre, they said it would take up to 2 weeks… They called me 2 hours after I’d left! I for sure thought I’d been instantly ruled out, as everyone says no news is good news, but it was the complete opposite.
The other company took a while to get back to me and it was a horrible wait. It was definitely saddening to not get a job offer, but like I said earlier, I asked for feedback and managed to improve myself for next time.
So… What now?
On my call from Thales, they asked if I wanted to take the job. In my situation, I wanted to work for Thales and so accepted the job instantly. It may be that you have an assessment centre lined up for a company you think you’ll prefer more. If this is the case you can say you may need some time to think about it.
After the phone call, emails from HR at Thales came in fairly quickly with forms to fill in and my contract to be signed. I really wish someone had warned me how many documents there would be!
During the time between signing the contract and starting work, I was still in college and had exams to do. After my exams I did an induction day at the office where I got to meet my manager, team and existing apprentices. I then had my final summer holiday before starting work in September. Each company will differ with when you start, or what happens in the time before you start – this is something else you can ask about on your assessment day.
Of course, all of this information is based off my experience and knowledge. Manchester Metropolitan University and Thales made the application as effective as possible for me and I’m very thankful for that.
I wish you the best of luck in finding your apprenticeship!