Take the National Student Challenge, reap the rewards

Ava Mahony from University of Limerick (UL) was this year’s winner of gradireland’s National Student Challenge 2014. The first female champion, she qualified for the final with an online test score of 3870 points and went head to head with other finalists to emerge victorious with the National Student Challenge Trophy and a cheque for €1000. She spoke to gradireland of her experience at the Challenge and why it makes sense for students and graduates to take part.  

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Ava Mahony, winner of the National Student Challenge 2014. 


So how did you hear about the Challenge, and what made you want to take part?

I heard about the National Student Challenge through my career services centre at UL. Psychometric tests are often not a student favourite; however, I really enjoyed the online challenge and how it was structured.  I never imagined the end result would include a ticket to the final in University College Dublin, an incredible experience and of course winning made it extra special

Tell us about the Final and your experiences on the day?

I was both excited and curious for what was in store for the finalists. The day began with an ‘ice-breaker’ task, giving us the opportunity to get to know our team-mates before tackling the day’s challenges together. All six challenges set up by the employers were entirely different from one another, each aiming to test a particular competency. The variation of the tasks kept my attention, so I managed to stay thoroughly engaged with every challenge we faced.

As a finance student, I expected to enjoy and perhaps excel at the challenges set by PwC and EY. I found EY’s debate and PwC’s presentation orientated tasks to be well suited to me. My experience as a tutor at UL means that I am comfortable taking on a public speaking role, which is an advantage when confronted with these particular situations.

I have to admit I found myself quite outside of my comfort zone when faced with Jameson’s challenge. With my educational background, I am more familiar with structured assessments, so having to harness my creative side to ‘think outside the box’ for their marketing task was definitely the most testing experience of the day for me. However, every task challenged me to some degree; Boston Scientific, Lidl and SAP all arranged innovative and enjoyable challenges that tested my aptitude for creativity and my team work abilities. I found every moment of the day to be enjoyable, stimulating and an invaluable experience.


Ava (centre), working with her team during a challenge.

How did you feel hearing your name being announced as winner?

I was in utter disbelief! Unable to register the winning announcement, I stayed seated awaiting the winner to claim the prize, until my friend shook me, then I realised that it was my name. I thought I preformed relatively well in both tasks set by EY and PwC, and perhaps an individual prize awarded by one of the two firms was not entirely out of reach, but to win the entire Challenge was beyond my imagination. I was absolutely thrilled!

How can students benefit from taking the challenge?

The National Student Challenge gives students the opportunity to challenge themselves and see how they would perform in a workplace environment. In my opinion, the experience will stand to me and all the other participants when confronted with the often daunting process of finding a job and making a successful start to our careers. The Challenge emulates some of today’s most popular methods of recruitment, including psychometric tests and assessment centres. I believe the Challenge boosts your confidence and helps the job seeking process.

The experience also gives students an insight into what recruiters seek in their future employees; each employer was testing for a particular competency through their tasks, revealing the skills they value when recruiting for new graduates.

What advice would you have for future finalists? 

The event closed with a drinks and food reception which we all enjoyed. To be in a relaxed social environment with a room full of employers is an opportunity that does not present itself too often. My advice for all future finalists is to take FULL advantage of this situation; take the opportunity to network and establish contacts. The reception offers a further chance to network and impress a potential employer, and it’s in a comfortable and friendly environment.

Finally, be yourself, trying too hard to impress your team-mates or the assessors may fall flat, let your own natural ability shine when the opportunity arises. Don’t obsess over the tasks, just do your best and get to know your team-mates as well as the other participants, and most importantly enjoy yourself and all the National Student Challenge has to offer.

For further information on the National Student Challenge, visit http://challenge.gradireland.com/. 

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