Bournemouth University and many other institutions offer placement years to their students to allow them to gain first-hand experience in the industry they may wish to enter once they have graduated. If the time has come for you to begin searching for your placement then this post may help you get a few ideas on where to start. I am currently on my placement year and know it can be daunting to have to look for a placement whilst keeping on top of your uni work and still trying to have a social life. Hopefully some of the following advice may help you in you search.
Your CV is your chance to sell yourself to any potential employers looking for placement students. Review your CV in depth alongside the job description and consider whether your CV is targeted enough. Incorporate the same key words that are used in the job description and make sure any experience is relevant. It may be time to scrap your year ten work experience that you did in a primary school if applying for a finance position. Space is valuable on a CV so make sure you use all the space you have to its full potential. When writing about your hobbies avoid the obvious like ‘reading, hanging out with friends and cooking’. Try and think of something that may set you apart from other candidates or a hobby that will highlight a special skill set you have. This can be hard but remember this hobby doesn’t have to be something you do daily; if you are struggling you can always make this section a hobbies and interests segment and include topics or trends that you find exciting. The layout of your CV is also important; anything too complicated may put an employer off so make sure each section is clearly labelled so they can review your CV quickly.
Unlike your CV you are not restricted to a space limit. This is your chance to highlight your achievements thus far and give anyone viewing your profile an indication of the goals you wish to achieve over your placement year. My first placement (before I was made redundant) was within a marketing company and I learnt just how important LinkedIn was. Often recruitment companies as well as normal companies are looking to fill positions and you never know who may stumble onto our profile. Make the most of the summary and portfolio section – this appears near the top of your page and will be one of the first things people read when looking you up. If you don’t have any projects to put into your portfolio you can always add pictures relevant to experiences you have gained. People are more likely to click on a picture than read huge chunks of texts so use your portfolio as a chance to grab the attention of a curious viewer. Ensure your skills section is up to date and allow LinkedIn to ask your connections for endorsements. Your profile will only look better if you have other people vouching for your skills.
The famous saying is “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” With this in mind make sure you network with everyone you know. Go to any events your university hosts as it is a great opportunity to make a good impression to potential employers and also allows you to ask questions and get a feel for the company you may be interested in working for. Also ask all your family and friends if they know anyone who works in the industry you want to break into. They may not be able to get you a placement but they may be able to offer advice on how to get noticed or what companies may offer good placement opportunities.
Think outside the box
Your university may advertise placements but remember you aren’t limited to this. Something I never considered which my placement advisor suggested in my mid-placement review was looking into what charity organisations have to offer. They may be looking for new talent to help them in a variety of departments and it could be a great place to gain experience. Also consider what opportunities there may be abroad as well. I have friends currently on placement in Australia and Barcelona whilst my sister recently finished her study placement at a university in New York. Securing a placement abroad will allow you to experience a new culture whilst gaining first hand industry experience. If you are worried about the potential costs of studying or doing your placement abroad, remember there are various grants and funding schemes available to support students throughout the year.
Prepare. Prepare. Prepare.
If you’re application to a role is successful and you are invited to an interview or assessment centre make sure you leave plenty of time to prepare. All companies are different but some may require you to give presentations, take part in group tasks, give your thoughts on their current marketing schemes or sell their own products to them. Make sure you learn a lot about the company before going to your interview or assessment centre including their history, biggest achievements and failures and their plans for the future. Covering the full spectrum will mean you have more information to draw on if you are asked difficult questions. Also make sure you have some questions to ask about the company. This could be about what the placement scheme has to offer, the company’s plans for the future or even what your interviewer enjoys about working for the company.
Google common interview questions and work out how you would answer them. Consider the units you have studied at university and the knowledge and skills you have gained from these as this may help demonstrate to the interviewer why you are right for them. One of the questions I struggled with the most was ‘What are your strengths/weaknesses?’ It can be hard to talk about yourself but the interviewer is only trying to get to know you more, not catch you out. When talking about your weaknesses make sure you follow your statement with how you are working to improve on this or how you hope your placement year will help you develop in this particular area.
Be positive. Be patient.
Whilst some of your friends will secure placements very quickly keep in mind that it can be a very long process. Some companies won’t be able to respond to you if you haven’t been successful but don’t let that dishearten you. Keep applying to different companies and improve your cover letters and CV as you do so. Use the resources available to you at your university and get your placement advisors to read through your cover letters and application forms as sometimes a fresh pair of eyes can help identify where improvements can be made. You might not secure your placement straight away but keep trying and applying and soon you will find the right placement for you.
I hope this helps some of you when looking for a placement. Don’t leave it to the last minute and make the most of it when it is time to begin your year in the industry. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask me! Good luck!