Whether you are reading this while applying for internships and placements, have secured your spot in a company, or are thinking about starting university, my experience will interest you.

My name is Emmanuel De Labauve D’Arifat, and I’m a second year undergraduate in accounting and finance from the island of Mauritius. I am a school rep at Henley Business School and next year’s finance society president. I am enjoying every minute of my studies here at Henley and meeting loads of new people.

My great experience started the day I received an email from the university asking me if I wanted to receive updates on internships and placements. Not too long after signing up I received an email asking me to apply to the Undergraduate of the Year Awards. I kept postponing, thinking that this was way out of my league.

To my great surprise I received an email a week after the deadline, saying I was through to the next stage. I soon got in contact with L’Oréal – they responded by saying that I was eligible for the prize of a summer internship if I was successful at the Awards.

It felt like a real opportunity and I thought to myself: ‘’Game on!’

I was invited to sit three online tests, which I passed successfully, and reached the stage where the sponsor of the Male Undergraduate of the Year Award, L’Oréal, took charge of selecting the best candidates. After responding to further assessment questions and speaking to them over the phone, I made the cut and was invited to the assessment centre in their London headquarters.

On the day, I remember feeling like I was going through the same stress as my first day of school. 40 male undergraduates from all over the UK had been shortlisted. I wanted to break the ice as quickly as possible and went to introduce myself to all of them, making great connections along the way.

From 9.00 am up until lunchtime, we undertook three different assessments, starting with numerical and attention-to-detail tests. We were then asked to present a case study we had to prepare, which was a 20-minute pitch for the new product range of one of L’Oréal’s brands. Just before lunch we prepared and presented a group project, pitching marketing strategies for the launch of a product. It was quite a nerve-wracking moment when the Talent Acquisition team announced the names of the candidates who had met the benchmark and were through to the final in the afternoon.The satisfaction I felt when I heard my unpronounceable French full name is difficult to describe! As I was sitting in the waiting room for my turn to do the final one-hour interview, I thought that no matter what happened next, I was proud of reaching the top 20 and to have experienced how an assessment centre worked.

For anyone planning to apply for placements or internships soon, my greatest piece of advice is to show real interest in the company. You will instantly stand out if you know something about the company that others don’t. Use this material for when you write your cover letters and résumés, which must always be tailored to the position you are applying for. Furthermore, if you are awaiting an assessment centre, you must know that you are not there by chance. The company you are going for really likes your profile and thinks that you have the right skills and experience for the job. The assessment centre is more focused on testing your interpersonal skills and your ability to cope under pressure. My best advice is to be outgoing. Try not to feel awkward about saying hello to someone you don’t know or someone more senior – you will make a great impact and be remembered.

Coming back to the Awards, I left the final with a great feeling, not because I managed to answer every question of the final interview perfectly, but because I got the interpersonal part of it right, managing to turn the interview into more of a conversation between the interviewer and me. As a matter of fact, we even carried on chatting to each other in the lift as she showed me the way back to the waiting room. I came back to Reading that night already feeling as if I had won a prize. I had won invaluable experience and met some great people doing so.

It felt like forever waiting for their email about the outcome. I remember being in my mates’ kitchen when I got it, and I hadn’t even finished reading it before they started shouting. They really knew what it meant to me and I was over the moon!

So off I went, my destination Canary Wharf in London, where I would sit on the L’Oréal table as one of the top 10 Male Undergraduates of 2018.

The venue was beautiful and TARGETjobs had organised a stunning ceremony as well as serving a delicious three-course meal. I am really humbled to have been able to sit amongst department executives and receive great advice for the future from them. Also sitting on our table were some current interns, who gave us an overview of the projects they were working on. This really excited me, and I was even more excited to know who the winner was going to be. When the moment came, I tried to think of another time in my life when I had felt my heart beating that fast but I couldn’t.

I was disappointed not to hear my name, but it made me reflect on the life-changing experiment I had committed to more than six months before. As Rachel Riley mentioned in her speech prior to announcing the winner, we should all have felt proud of sitting where we were. Thinking that I was amongst the top 10 Male Undergraduates of the UK and the only student representing the University of Reading, I sure was proud.

The ceremony was followed by a great after-party hosted by L’Oréal, where I had the pleasure of speaking with Rachel Riley and getting to know the L’Oréal team a bit better. I came back to Reading and met all my friends on the football field in the sunshine. They were also disappointed but realised that I was very grateful for having made it that far.

So, here’s to this opportunity that I kept postponing, thinking it was way out of my league. If you stumble across this blog and are, or will be, in the same situation I was in, just apply! Until the point where you have to show it, you do not know what you are really made off. This experience gave me a new insight into who I am and what capabilities I have, and I am forever thankful because it has changed my life.

The cherry on the cake is that I received an email from L’Oréal offering me a 10-week marketing summer internship in their active cosmetics division! I really look forward to spending my summer with them in London and broadening my skillset, as well as learning as much as I can from their marketing department and meeting many people.

Once more, and as my last piece of advice, BE BOLD and embrace every opportunity that is offered to you. The worst thing that can happen is that you will fail, but you will fail better each time you try again. And one day it will pay off!