While I was looking for work experience, I spent time going through any website that could hopefully land me an internship. I also set up email alerts and frequent notifications from websites for new opportunities. It was only near the end of the year that I received emails from TARGETjobs about the Undergraduate of the Year awards. Initially, I only wanted to apply to positions that were relevant to my studies, but after many attempts and failures I decided to broaden my horizons and apply to as many places as possible, including the awards.

After a thorough look through the different titles, I was surprised to see Liang O’Rourke sponsoring an award and offering the amazing opportunity to work on some of their projects. I decided to complete the different application tests as best as I could, not knowing how I would do. I was not very hopeful as I knew lots of people would be applying with better qualifications and skills.

Weeks passed, until I finally received an email from the Liang O’Rourke team. Thinking it would just be another rejection email I opened it, but was surprised to find that they wanted me to come down for a group assessment. I had never reached this stage before with an employer, let alone the awards, and I was shocked that they wanted me.

The night before the assessment centre, I remember going through my presentation and thinking that I had no chance – I didn’t feel confident or at all prepared. On the way to the interview, I felt sick and just wanted to go home. I kept thinking that I would be wasting their time and probably wouldn’t progress. Eventually, I decided that this would still be an experience for me that I could learn from, as it was my first assessment centre. As I sat down in the reception, I started speaking to other applicants and hearing about their experiences and qualifications. I knew this would be hard, but I took the opportunity to make connections and friends from around the country. During the day, I spoke to as many people as I could and, using LinkedIn, made as many connections as I could to try to improve my chances for future applications.

As it got closer to the final round of the awards, I had a lot of coursework to complete and became so busy that I didn’t want to open the email about my application in case it dampened my mood and affected my work. But not knowing was worse, so I opened it to find myself laughing and smiling with my friends. I had a lack of confidence in my chances, but I had made it to the final.

Before the awards, the group of students competing for the construction and engineering award decided to make a group chat on LinkedIn and meet up beforehand. We all met at the venue and congratulated each other for making it this far and thanked the staff from Liang O’Rourke for such an amazing opportunity.

As the awards were being read out, the tension grew until they reached the construction and engineering award. As soon as the winner was announced, I knew they had picked the right person. I was even more happy that the winner was from my university and we were taking the award back to Manchester.

Even though I didn’t win, making it to the final was one of the proudest moments of my life. I had never reached the assessment stage in any application, but now I was a finalist for an award. I have made sure to use this in future applications and updated my social media and CV with all the highlights from the day. This opportunity helped me learn more about assessment centres, gave me interview and presentation practice, and gave me the opportunity to meet fellow undergrads and new friends. It also helped me secure a work experience placement at Network Rail and get recognition from my professors for my achievement – my name even appeared in the university magazine.

I would say to anyone thinking to apply or on the fence: just apply! I had no idea that I would get this far and it has made me a lot more confident in my ability, as well as giving me the chance to discover new opportunities and be part of a special group of people. I never thought I would be one of the finalists and, even though I didn’t win, I have made myself and the people around me proud for getting this far. Getting to meet people with a range of different experiences and from every background showed me that you don’t have to be an amazing student solely on your qualifications, sometimes it helps just to be yourself and try your best.