Christine Hejlsborg, HR recruitement partner at NNIT, lifts the curtain on some of the common misperceptions about graduate programmes and hits us with some important insights on how best to prepare your application, should you decide to pursue a career as a graduate in one of Denmark's leading consultancies in IT development, implementation and operations.
Hi Christine. Would you like to start by introducing yourself?
My name is Christine Hejlsborg and I work within recruitment in the HR department of NNIT. I have been heavily involved in the recruitment of graduate students though I also work with regular recruitment tasks for the more commercial part of our business - the Client management division and our Consulting departments. Before I started at NNIT two years ago, I used to be a headhunter - I headhunted technical profiles within IT and engineering.
What is people’s most common motivation for applying for a graduate programme at NNIT?
Drawing from my personal observations, people are seldom confident about what they want to do once they complete their studies. What the NNIT Graduate Programme offers to students is the opportunity to try out different areas. You might know that you want to be some sort of a consultant, for example, but you are unclear about what area you would like to specialize in, how to go about it, etc.
It is prestigious to be a graduate today. Many of our former graduates have now firmly settled in NNIT and occupy high-level positions that are difficult to obtain that fast. The exclusive nature of being a graduate is what draws a lot of people to seek such type of employment. Basking in the knowledge that you’ve been selected from an incredibly talented pool of candidates and recognized for your unique abilities could be a strong pull factor.
What do you look for in a candidate’s CV and cover letter?
That is a good question. We want to see their passion, ambition, and motivation - a clearly articulated position on why do they want to be part of a graduate programme at NNIT. When it comes to academic performance, we look for candidates that have consistently demonstrated commitment to excellence in their chosen field of study, but I’d say that passion is more important than grades. We want to see the person behind the resume.
The skills, qualities, and experience we look for are not always reflected in your GPA, which is why the latter is not a key metric in our initial evaluation of candidates. What could bolster your application significantly is involvement in extracurricular activities, for instance, as such kind of experience tells a fuller story of your strengths.
What part of the application carries the most weight?
It’s a combination of many things, but motivation is something I would highlight. People need to have grit to be able to handle periods of highly intense workload. It’s a steep learning curve that they will be going through once they are accepted into a graduate programme and if they lack the wherewithal to cope with challenging assignments, the ride could be quite bumpy. We need to know that they are motivated enough to go through it. Passion is something else that we emphasize on, as previously stated.
How do you measure that? During an interview, it would probably shine through. But passion and motivation are more difficult to illustrate on a resume & cover letter.
It’s hard to see, that’s an accurate observation. This year we had 120 people going into the interview stage and we ended up hiring a little over 20. Motivation is easier to be gleaned from the cover letter. You can always tell if it’s a generic application that could be sent to a number of companies or if it was specifically tailored to our graduate programme.
We know that a stellar academic record is often part of the eligibility criteria for graduate programmes. You have broached the topic, but I would like you to elaborate a bit more on this question.
We do require good grades, but we’d rather have people on our team who are able to do something else apart from just studying. It’s important for us that they have been abroad or have some work experience that demonstrates they are able to function in a team environment.
That being said, I do not negate the importance of good academic records. We want to see that people can excel in something - courses that they found interesting in university, for instance. But you don’t need to be an overachiever at every single course to get into a graduate programme at NNIT.
How can you balance out a low GPA?
Through work experience - whether from abroad or volunteer jobs you’ve held while in university. It portrays you as a well-rounded person with many varying interests. We need people who are able to work together, people who are passionate about their craft.
How should a candidate prepare for the interview stage and what does that stage look like?
It varies. The last two years have been different. This year, we held an open house event where people could drop in for a casual chat with recruiters and discuss their career goals and aspirations - something like a mini interview before the actual evaluation of the applicant. A high number of people attended. It went really well.
Usually, we put candidates through two rounds of interviews. During the first one, we ask them to give us a short presentation of who they are. It is up to them to decide on the format of this presentation (Power Point or any other mode for that matter). How you distinguish yourself and your originality are your best selling points here. You shine brightest when you’re able to express yourself creatively. The latter gives us an insight into the kind of person you are, as we look for employees who are compatible both personally and professionally within the company. We then shift the interview into a discussion on what prompted them to apply for our graduate programme, what their greatest achievements are, what motivated them to pursue an education in this specific field, etc.
We invite a selected few to take different ability tests - verbal, numerical, and also a personality test.
What type of questions do you ask during an interview?
Why should we choose you? Why did you apply for a position in NNIT? Why are you interested in graduate programmes specifically? What have been your greatest accomplishments so far?
Then we also look into our values. Candidates should be able to relate to our core principles. At our open house event, they could take a test that gauges if their personal values align with our company values (if they can see themselves working for us).
What percentage of the people that apply for your graduate programmes make it through to the end?
Under 5 % though the numbers tend to vary. This year, for example, we took more people than last year.