Interview: gradireland NSC winner 2018

gradireland took the chance to sit down with the winner of the National Student Challenge 2018, Ceithleann Ní Chonluain, to ask her about winning the challenge, what it means for her CV and what tips she would have future challengers?

“When I was announced as winner, it wasn’t just surprise, it was total shock,” says Ceithleann, a few days after being announced as the winner of the 2018 gradireland National Student Challenge, where she emerged victorious from a field of over 50 of Ireland’s best and brightest students. The competitors for the final day, held at Chartered Accountants House on Dublin’s Pearse Street, were drawn from those ranked highest in the online National Student Challenge, which numbered in their thousands. The overall winner took away the gradireland National Student Challenge trophy and a cheque for €1,000.

Why the Challenge?

A final year Politics, Philosophy, Economics and Sociology (PPES) student in Trinity College, Ceithleann was attracted to the challenge by what she describes as a ‘mildly competitive’ streak. “To be honest, it was something we all got into via our WhatsApp group, we just wanted to see where each of us stacked up between ourselves, but it was great to get the news that I’d made the cut and was invited to the final. That was a surprise in itself, as I really had no idea what lay in store.”

The gradireland National Student Challenge is a series of events hosted by some of gradireland’s top employer partners, with the events themselves created and run by Orangeworks. This year’s Challenge was more ambitious than ever before with the students tested on their teamwork, communication; leadership and listening skills. Some of the events included building and racing your own car, disposing of  hazardous waste, guiding a steel ball through a maze while blindfolded and navigating a giant ‘robot’ through an obstacle course. The students compete in teams, yet were judged individually by assessors from each of the companies involved.

And the winners are.....
Ceithleann (centre) alongside second placed Jack Dennehy (UCD) and Lisa Monahan (Dublin Business School) with their prizes at the 2018 gradireland National Student Challenge.

The day itself 

Ceithleann’s first challenge as part of the ‘Green’ team, one of six teams, was to build and race their own air powered car. “It was a challenging one to start with, because despite the introductions and ‘icebreaker’ we were all still a little nervous. At the start of the challenge I was in a ‘hyper-aware’ state, looking for clues as to what to do, when maybe I should’ve been trying to build a dynamic with my other team members. As the challenge progressed though we began to gel organically though as we all realised what each other’s strengths and weaknesses were. While it’s vital to think strategically in terms of each challenge, it’s also very important to learn to work in a relaxed way with those around you. Because if the team fails, you fail!”

Finding the right dynamic is what makes a team sink or swim during the series of challenges, and it’s not just showing your strengths that’s important, but also being aware of what your weaknesses can be that can set you apart to the assessors. “In one particular challenge, which required teamwork, coordination and communication, we were really struggling and due to the lack of progress I took the decision to step aside from my role as leader on that task and I let someone else take over,” says Ceithleann. “At the time I didn’t think I had done anything to enhance my chances of winning, but I suppose it’s important to realise that you may need to take a step back for the sake of the team if there is someone more qualified to lead it forward.”

As the day culminated in an awards ceremony and the naming of runners up and winner, Ceithleann continued to have a very relaxed approach to it. “I really was not thinking about winning, not at all. During the day you just focus on your own team so you have no idea how the other teams are doing, so you’re really not in a position to accurately judge where you might be in the overall standings. When I heard my name called-I was shocked, but delighted!”

Next steps

Hailing from Monkstown in County Dublin, Ceithleann went to school in Alexandra College before taking up her studies in Trinity. She grew up in a bi-lingual household, as comfortable with Irish as she was with English, and she built on her languages by studying French at second level and doing her Erasmus year in Germany. “I probably could have come back with more German, but Erasmus is something I would wholeheartedly recommend,” she adds.

Considering that she had the less than welcome distraction of losing her phone on the morning of the challenge, Ceithleann’s has earmarked some of her winnings to replace it, but aside from that she wants to repay her parents to some degree for what they have invested in her education. “Apart from that I’m just looking forward to completing my degree. I am undertaking a course in South Africa for a month in June and then looking forward to a few weeks backpacking around Central America. As for my career, I’m very much drawn to the political element of my course so I’ll definitely be seeking opportunities in the area of policy, research or lobbying,” she says. As for entering politics itself? “I’m not too sure about that yet. I think I will need to develop a thicker skin first!”

In terms of what it means for her CV, Ceithleann is very proud to be able to add ‘Winner of National Student Challenge’ to her credentials. “It’s a huge boost for my confidence and obviously for my CV, as it’s sure to be a conversation starter with future employers. I’d like to thank gradireland for the opportunity, and I look forward to making the most of it. As for my advice to others, take the National Student Challenge, you won’t regret it and you never know where it will take you, I certainly didn’t!”

So what tips would she have for future competitors at the National Student Challenge?

  • Use the experience that you have gained at college. Although you may not have much ‘working world’ experience you have worked on projects, presentations and other course work that required team work. Use that to build a dynamic with your team on the day.
  • It’s so important to communicate concisely and clearly but it’s also vital that you remember to listen.
  • Think strategically, remember what the objective of the task is and don’t get distracted by trivial details.
  • For the online challenge, practise first on other psychometric tests so that you’re familiar with the sort of things that the Challenge will present you with. When you’re completing it, remember that you’re bound to be better at some elements of it than others, so don’t get bogged down and disheartened by the parts that you find difficult.

Visit here to keep informed about the gradireland National Student Challenge 2019, the countdown starts now!

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