If you’re looking for an apprenticeship, it’s a good idea to start looking early. Larger employers typically follow a set recruitment process, with applications typically opening around September-March, and closing October-May. The apprenticeship then starts the autumn of the following year, so apprenticeships opening in September 2023 will start September/October 2024. So, start doing your research as early as you can, working out what level of apprenticeship you’re eligible for, which apprentices you’re interested in and which companies you’d like to apply for.
If you didn’t start looking early, don’t panic! Most smaller companies recruit apprentices for an immediate start, and also tend to be less competitive. Here are some places that advertise apprenticeships:
Step One: Application Form or CV & Cover letter
As part of your application, the company will typically ask you to provide your CV and cover letter. Some companies will ask you to complete an application form, where you input your work experience and answer some questions about the role.
The biggest thing is to tailor your answers to the job you’re applying for. For example, if you’re applying for a research scientist apprenticeship, be sure to highlight your research experience and your research skills. Often the recruiter will just skim your CV, so remember to highlight what’s relevant. Furthermore, be sure to highlight not just what you did during each experience, but the skills you learnt from it. Even if you don’t have relevant experience, you can highlight skills that the employer values. Most employers will list what skills they’re looking for, but as a general rule, skills like time management, communication, critical thinking and problem solving are highly valued.
If you’ve been asked to write a cover letter, be sure to tailor it to the company you’re applying to. It’s a good idea to address your letter to a specific employee, by looking through the company’s website or giving them a call.
You can discuss why you think an apprenticeship is better for your future career, highlighting what about the apprenticeship that appeals to you. It’s also a good idea to research the company’s key values or what exactly the apprenticeship involves, and highlight why this specifically interests you. For example, if there’s an employee whose work you admire, you could highlight their work and link it to a project you did or a research interest you have.
If you’ve got to fill in an application form, the key rules are similar: tailor it to the company, discuss specific areas of interest, highlight transferable skills. You’ll also probably be asked more general questions about your suitability, such as why are you interested in the industry and what experience you have that prepares you for the apprenticeship. Here, you’ll need to think about what makes you stand out from the crowd. Did you build a robot or start a science society? Is there a niche area of physics you’re particularly interested in? Showcasing the unique skills and perspective you bring will have companies rushing to interview you.
Step Two: Interview
Many companies will do two interviews, one online or over the phone and one in-person. Here’s what you can do to prepare.
Firstly, reread your cover letter and your CV, and make sure you can expand on any of the points mentioned. For example, if you talked about a research project you did, make sure you can explain how the project went and what you learnt from the experience.
A common interview question is ‘tell me about a time when you used XYZ skill.’ While you may not be able to memorise answers for every skill in the world, you can come up with some scenarios that work for a few instances. Don’t memorise your answer, instead have a rough idea of what you’re going to say. It’s a good idea to follow the S T A R technique when structuring your answers: explain the Situation you were in, the Task you had to complete, the Actions you took, and the Response, i.e. the results of your efforts.
Online interviews can often be viewed as more relaxed than traditional interviews, but this is a common misconception. There are new challenges to contend with during video interviews: finding a quiet place with good lighting for the interview, ensuring your software doesn’t crash and dealing with lags and delays. The best way to prepare for this is by updating your software before the interview, and doing a practice video call with a friend or parent. This way you can see if your software glitches, if the lighting looks right, and feel more relaxed in a virtual environment.
Finally, remember basic interview etiquette. Arrive early, remember eye contact, follow the dress code (even if it’s a virtual one) and maintain positive body language.
Step Three: Assessment Centre
The final step for many apprenticeship applications (especially among large companies) is an assessment centre. This will be either virtual or in-person at the company’s offices; the company will provide more information beforehand. Assessment centres will include a range of exercises like presentations, group exercises and situational judgement tests.
The best tip for assessment centres is to embody the skills employers are looking for with your actions. Take another look at the job description for the apprenticeship you’ve applied to, and see what skills are listed. So, if the company specifically requests team-working skills, in group tasks speak confidently and put your ideas forward, while encouraging others to contribute. Similarly, with situational judgement tests, answer the questions taking into account your true personality and the skills the company is looking for.
Step Four: Rejection or Acceptance
If you’ve been accepted, congratulations! You should be very proud of yourself and your accomplishments.
Unfortunately, it’s likely that you’ll receive some rejections before securing an apprenticeship. Remember that rejection is redirection, and you’ll eventually end up somewhere that’s a much better fit for you.
In addition to asking for feedback, it’s a good idea to think of something else you can add to your CV for next time. For example, you could complete a free online course, volunteer or start a blog.