5 tips for getting a graduate engineering job at Thales

Written by: Stephen Harris
Published on: 8 Jan 2015

In the UK, the company designs and builds a large number of electronic systems for aircraft, military vehicles and the transport network, working on everything from missile guidance to railway signaling – meaning they offer a huge range of roles on a plethora of important projects.

The Student Engineer spoke to the company’s director of emerging talent, Miranda Davies, to get the inside scoop on how to grab yourself one of Thales’s hotly contested graduate jobs.

1. Don’t stress about work experience
Employees in Palaiseau
Source: Thales
Direct work experience is a bonus but anything that demonstrates your skills can be useful.

Everyone should know that work experience is vital to securing your first engineering job. Every year around half of Thales UK’s 60 engineering interns go on to permanent roles with the company.

But that still leaves the firm with around other 60 positions to fill. And while having directly relevant experience of aerospace or transport electronics projects is a bonus, Thales is looking more for the broader skills acquired through jobs and placements, says Davies.

‘It is understood that the number of internships versus number of undergraduates means not everyone has the opportunity to do one. We wouldn’t screen someone out for having no direct work experience or having non-engineering related experience. For example, you can acquire as many skills dealing with customers and communication by working in a customer service job.’

2. Pick the right role for you
Source: Thales
Thales offers you the chance to get straight into a specific role, whether it’s designing cockpit simulators or navigation systems.

Unlike many big employers, Thales don’t put all their new recruits onto a general graduate scheme. Instead, most candidates apply for specific roles in different departments that are all backed up by a standard two and a half-year training programme.

This means it’s important to research the role and the relevant sector as much as possible in order to be able to demonstrate how your skills match the job when filling out the online application form.

‘Each of the grad vacancies comes with an individual job description that has its own set of degree and/or technical or module requirements, so detailing all of that is important,’ says Davies.

The exception is the research and technology scheme in which a small number of grads are sent on numerous placements around the company, so candidates here need to be able to demonstrate their broader engineering interests.

3. Be flexible

Employees in Templecombe
Source: Thales
Thales has several facilities away from big cities, such as its submarine sonar factory in Somerset.

Although all of Thales’s divisions are oversubscribed, the company finds certain roles much harder to fill than others, particularly electrical/electronic hardware, software and some systems engineering jobs.

So if you’re set on working for Thales, look broadly at everything it has to offer and – depending on your engineering skills and degree course – don’t just jump for the popular mechanical roles.

But also remember to be flexible when it comes to where in the country you’ll be working. Jobs at the firm’s Glasgow and Belfast bases have strong links with local universities. Others in more rural areas such as Somerset, where Thales designs and manufactures submarine systems, tend to receive much less competition.

Staying open to being mobile is also important in becoming chartered, says Davies. ‘Although we recruit into that individual role initially, as they move through the early years of their career they need to be flexible to move around otherwise they won’t get the breadth of experience to achieve their professional registration.’

4. Show you can take responsibility
Security. Defence messaging system (MMHS) : MUSE
Source: Thales
Thales’s technology underpins numerous critical systems so taking responsibility for getting things right is vital.

If you make it past the online application form and testing, you’ll be invited to an assessment centre for an interview and group work, where Thales will be looking for you to demonstrate a number of competencies such as teamwork and communication.

Importantly, the assessors want candidates who can accept accountability. ‘We’re looking for people to take ownership of their actions, decisions and behaviour,’ says Davies.

‘So if we’re observing a group exercise, it’s important to see somebody is prepared to either take the lead or if mistakes happen – and they do – to take responsibility for them and see how they deal with that situation.

This also includes how you manage yourself, she adds. ‘How you manage your own time, how you manage and conduct yourself, how you are flexible and adaptable.’

5. Sharpen your presentation skills
Training & Simulation. Civil emergency training : AMC3S (Advanced Mission Critical Command & Control Simulator)
Source: Thales
Luckily your Powerpoint slides don’t have to be as good as Thales’s emergency control systems.

At assessment, you’ll also be asked to give a presentation on your final year project (or another topic if you’re a maths graduate who doesn’t do project work).

This is a chance to show off both your technical and communication skills, but also demonstrate other key abilities, says Davies. ‘What sometimes comes out through the final year project are the competencies around problem solving, shaping solutions out of complexity.

‘Equally we can assess how they manage themselves because if they’ve been in a project team we’ll get a better understanding of how they worked particularly if they’ve had a difficult working relationship with other members of the team.’