Applying for an apprenticeship isn’t fun. I’m hoping that you already assumed this would be the case, otherwise that first sentence was probably a bit of a mood killer. Either way, please keep reading, because the majority of advice you’ll find online is written by big corporations that say, “just be yourself!” about one hundred times in every article without sharing any advice beyond “polishing” your CV.
The majority of apprenticeships share an almost identical application process, and I have been through more than I can count. So, here is every step that you might encounter, with all the tips and tricks that you will need to succeed.
Apply for an apprenticeship, and then another, and then another…
Whether you are about to finish year 11 or year 13, the pressure likely feels quite high. Nobody wants to miss out and be forced to wait up to a whole year before they can apply again. In reality, those moving on to sixth form or university have it easier. However, the more apprenticeships that you apply for, the more that this pressure will be eased.
You will improve so much throughout the process, so long as you go through enough applications to see that improvement.
But, in order to apply for these apprenticeships, you need to know where to look. The Career section of the Fledglink app is the perfect place to start here. You can search through the entry-level jobs in the job board, scope out different organisations and even find out about events you could go to to help develop your skills or learn more about a certain industry. UCAS and GOV.UK are also useful places to search too, however, these become very limited after a while (though be sure to keep checking them because new roles are posted all the time!). You might find that after applying for the two or three that appealed to you, there’s suddenly nothing left.
If you’re in that situation, don’t worry! There is no need to put all of your apprenticeship eggs into one basket. For some reason, a vast amount of companies do not list their job opportunities on those ‘apprenticeship finder’ websites. It’s annoying, to be honest, and I think we should have a word with them. But in the meantime, check their websites! Find the companies that work within the sector that you are interested in, and glare open-mouthed at all of the roles that never showed up when you searched for them specifically on GOV.UK. Tesco, for example, provides fantastic apprenticeships that are very hard to come across unless you check their website.
Dealing with rejection
Apply for an apprenticeship with a positive, but realistic attitude. Being perfectly suited to the role does not mean that you are immediately suited to the application process. Surviving each stage is a skill that takes time to perfect, which inevitably leads to making mistakes along the way.
Please do not expect to be successful on your very first attempt.
That statement goes out to everybody, by the way. If you are an A* student who has never failed an interview before, you are still not immune. The sad reality is that many companies receive so many applications, that just a small slice of bad luck or one failed question on an online competency test could be enough to see you rejected.
I’m not trying to scare you by saying that, I promise. I want you to realise that facing rejection in an application does not by any means suggest that you are not good enough. You just need to keep going, keep applying, and keep learning. Don’t lose hope, because they start to become so much easier once you have been through a couple of applications.
Anyway, from somebody that has already been through more than a couple, here is a head -tart on what you will learn about each step of the process.
Step one: the CV and application form
For most apprenticeships, this stage requires you to submit a CV, alongside either a cover letter or an online application form. You can expect these forms to contain anywhere up to about five questions, with the generic: “why do you want to be a…”, “why do you want to work for this company?” etc. There are rarely many surprises at this point, but there are some things that you should look out for:
- Tweak your CV so that it is relevant for each role. There is no need to make drastic changes, but after a while, it can become tempting to just stick with something generic that you whack onto every application. As the cover letter offers ample space to talk about your suitability to the role, just one or two small alterations to your CV for each application should be enough.
- Find the website of the company that you are applying to work with, and look into their ‘corporate responsibility’. Then, use this as part of your justification as to why you would like to work for them (give some specific examples). Big corporations love to hear about how caring they are, and applicants always stand out when they show that they’ve done their research. The Fledglink app has a handy feature that shows 'diversity badges' on some organisation profiles. These give you a good idea of the kinds of policies an organisation has towards different minority groups.
- Make sure that you come across as a human. I failed in one of my applications because I’d spent so much time explaining my love for project management, I never mentioned any real hobbies or interests. Proving yourself to be a well-rounded person (with interests outside of academia) is hugely important.
Step two: online aptitude tests
Apply for an apprenticeship, and you are instantly one step closer to one of the most infuriating processes in your life. The online aptitude test. A huge amount of apprenticeships will use these as a way to wean down those that were successful at the application stage. As a concept, they are deeply flawed, and I genuinely cannot believe that they are still being used. But they are, and there is a way to defeat them.
Should your CV and cover letter be accepted, you may well be emailed with a link asking you to complete some ‘numerical and verbal reasoning tests’. Essentially, these resemble typical IQ tests, where you must deduce the meaning of paragraphs within small time limits, recognise patterns made out of shapes and so on.
Do not fall into the trap of attempting them straight away. The answers are often obscure and can seem illogical, but after some practice, you will start to see what they are looking for. The reason that these tests are ‘deeply flawed’ in my opinion, is that they necessitate a lot of practice, yet practice tests are almost always hidden behind a paywall.
Luckily, Fledglink has partnered with Assessment Day to provide you with all the practice assessments you need to prepare. You can find them in the Real Skills hub of the Fledglink website, or by clicking HERE.
Step three: telephone/video interview
Given the large number of applicants, video interviews tend not to be genuine face-to-face calls. A question will likely appear on the screen with a 30-second timer, and once that timer runs out, the camera will begin recording and you will have anywhere up to three minutes to answer. Unfortunately, you cannot re-do any of the questions; your answer will be immediately saved and submitted once the timer runs out.
This sounds daunting, but it gives you the opportunity to stop and think about each question, something that you wouldn’t have in a real interview. There will always be a couple of practise questions on whichever website that you are sent to, which you should certainly try before starting the real thing.
Telephone interviews tend to be shorter than those over video, and they follow a very generic pattern. I applied for a similar apprenticeship role at two different companies, and they asked me the same exact three questions in each interview. This, again, explains why you will become so much better at the process after you have been through it a couple of times.
If you can answer ‘yes’ to the following three questions, then you are ready for step three:
- Do I know exactly what this role entails, what the job is, and what it means to me?
- Do I know a lot about the company, their current projects and their take on the role?
- Am I suited to this role, and can I explain why?
The most surprising thing that I discovered about this stage, was how little they wanted to hear about me, and how much they wanted to hear about my knowledge of the role and company.
Step four: assessment centre and interview
I have been told that if you reach this stage, the company are pretty much ready to hire you so long as you come across well. Honestly, I am not sure how true this is, but believing it is a very good way to settle the nerves. Assessment centres typically group you together with other applicants, with whom you attempt to complete a series of tasks, presentations and tests. These tasks aren’t designed to be hugely difficult (or even relevant to the job) but are there to see how you work within a team and more generally how you come across as a person.
If possible, try to focus on that more than anything: prove yourself to be a conscientious, collaborative and open-minded person. When organised into teams, the applicant that demands to be a group leader and makes all the decisions will never impress more than the person who listens and works well with others. Don’t try to be better than everybody else.
In a group situation, the best role to go for is ‘timekeeper’. Make sure that your team don’t overrun the allotted time or spend too long on any single idea. It gives the illusion that you are in complete control, even when you may have no idea what’s going on.
Apply for an apprenticeship that genuinely interests you, and you shouldn’t have a problem in the interview. Ensure that you can still answer ‘yes’ to those questions in step three, and just try to show as much passion for the role as you can. Good luck, I believe in you.
Apply for an apprenticeship that you will love forever
I applied for the wrong apprenticeship and ended up leaving after three months. Don’t do what I did.
Having suffered through so many application processes, when I eventually succeeded in getting one, I leapt at it straight away. Make sure that you see through to the end every application that you have committed to, that you have weighed them all up against each other, before you decide to accept an offer.
Pursue your happiness above all else, and you will end up making the correct call. But if you don’t? Well, fortunately, you can read all about the value in getting it wrong in another beautifully written Fledglink article.
The apprenticeship application process is long and gruelling, but I promise you that it will feel worth it when you’re raking in the money working a job that you love.