Firstly, thank you to TARGETjobs for offering the Undergraduate of the Year Awards. They provide a fantastic opportunity for undergraduates across the UK to be recognised for their hard work, determination and resilience.

I applied to the Undergraduate of the Year Awards during my final year at university via the TARGETjobs email alerts that I had subscribed to earlier in the year when I had started to look for graduate roles. It is a daunting time searching for grad schemes as they are super competitive and very time consuming. My advice is to start applying early. Having looked at the award categories and previous winners I felt inspired to apply. Maybe I will be successful – who knows, I thought, but I did know that without applying and taking that first step in the application process I would be missing out on an incredible opportunity to showcase the work that I had been doing in the background of my university degree.

I applied to the Future Business Leader of the Year Award, sponsored by Proctor and Gamble (P&G), as I felt that I could relate to the criteria needed to apply: specifically, ‘passion for leadership’, ‘excellent communication and social skills’ and ‘building strong, effective relationships’. These attributes I have formed through the summer internships that I carried out during my four years at university, which included becoming a management trainee at Enterprise Rent-A-Car, a supply chain intern at EnQuest and finally a marketing intern at Subsurface Global. Having had the opportunity to experience various industries and roles, I had the confidence to apply for this award.

Coinciding with the amazing award title, the sponsor company (P&G) was a company that I had initially applied to for a role on the P&G sales graduate program as it has always been a company that focuses on internal progression brought about by considering how employees think and what they would benefit from, and I believe that my values align very closely with P&G purpose, values and principles. Unfortunately, that role had closed and I had not completed my application in time so when I saw this opportunity and the possibility of winning a place on the summer internship it was almost as if I was given a second chance to work for P&G.

For the first stage of the application process, I answered two questions set by the sponsor: I had to write about a time when I demonstrated leadership, along with the main challenges to the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) industry over the next 3–5 years. As an example, I used my time at Subsurface Global and my responsibility within the company to assist with the planning and execution of marketing activities by positively promoting the company’s image, services, capabilities and flexibility, thereby increasing brand awareness and facilitating growth. I remember applying just before the deadline closed and fully expecting to hear back with an automated ‘sorry but you have not made the next stage’ email.

To my absolute surprise, the following week I checked my emails to find I had been successful with the initial application and had progressed to stage two. I had two Skype interviews with members of the P&G team to see if I matched the company’s performance factors. These interviews were very well managed and the team member from P&G made me feel at ease throughout. I was asked about my leadership qualities and how these skills and capabilities translated into the work experience that I had already done. I had to provide examples and the best way to ensure I answered their criteria was to follow the STAR metric (situation, task, action and result) as this helps to formulate a clear answer when performing in a certain scenario.

Later in the week, the UK went into national lockdown so my confidence levels dropped as graduate employers were putting internships and graduate schemes on pause. I was worried that this would negatively affect my application with P&G. As lockdown restrictions got tighter, I moved back home from my university flat in Edinburgh, opened my laptop to continue my dissertation and I saw the email: ‘congratulations, you have been invited to a virtual assessment centre.’ I was elated and so proud to have made it to stage three of the process. The online assessment centre was an all-day event where we got to learn more about P&G and the sales function as well as meet the other candidates. It was great to network with like-minded, talented and motivated individuals who all shared ambition for success. Then followed the nerve-wracking wait to hear if I had been successful or not.

At the end of the week, I got a call from an employee at P&G. I, Laura Mitchell, had made stage four and the top ten shortlisted for the Future Leader of the Year Award. I was so proud of myself for making the shortlists but was not the only highlight: I was also given a 6-week internship within the sales function (virtual due to Covid-19 restrictions), starting in August 2020.

Unfortunately, unlike previous finalists who got to experience the beautiful awards ceremony at Canary Wharf, this year the awards were held virtually and during the penultimate week of my internship experience. The virtual awards were well executed and I was able to watch along with family and friends as well as network with the other finalists. Rachel Riley (from countdown) hosted the awards and we were able to chat with her during the one-to-one virtual networking session before the announcement of who had won each category. It was then time to switch over to the platform where the winners would be announced. I was getting more and more nervous as the categories progressed. Suddenly, my name was announced and I could not believe my ears. I was speechless, overjoyed and honoured. Wow, I had just been named Future Business Leader of the Year with an award sponsored by P&G.

What an absolute privilege it was to be a part of this whole process and to have been announced the winner – an achievement that I would never have imagined possible. My advice to any aspiring individual who wants to push themselves out of their comfort zone is to apply for any of the awards. It’s an incredible opportunity to be recognised for the hard work and the possibilities are endless. What have you got to lose?! Best of luck to anyone considering this and feel free to connect on LinkedIn – I’d be happy to answer any further questions about the application process: @laura_ailee_mitchell.