What's the fuss with placement year?
With more and more undergraduate students opting to take sandwich degrees, which have a placement year built into them, it’s getting harder to land your dream university placement. But we’re here to help you!
How hard is it to get a placement?
It definitely feels like getting a great work placement in your sandwich year is becoming much trickier. With more students opting to do a placement and many companies reducing paid placements due to COVID impacting their business, it can feel pretty tough.
But the good news is that, if you’re prepared to put the work in, there are still plenty of placement opportunities out there for you!
How long does it take to get a placement?
Like most things in life, there isn’t one path to success. Everyone’s student placement journey can look very different. For some students it can take them up to 12 months to secure a placement, but for most it is usually between 6-9 months. So, be prepared for the long haul and don’t get discouraged if it feels like it is taking longer than you expected.
It's a marathon not a sprint, so here are our top tips to keep you on track.
Placement top tips:
Before you get too stuck into the placement search and application process, take a moment to think about what you really want to get out of your placement.
Is it to have networking opportunities with industry leaders? Or is it to be hands on with every task in your area? Do you want to experience working overseas, or do you want to have the chance to be close to home? Is it to earn as much money as possible, or to follow your passions?
In short, how will you measure that you have had a successful year and that you really have made the most of the opportunity?
Perhaps you're lucky enough to have always known what you want to do when you grow up! For most of us, we haven’t got a clue! Working out what type of role you want to do can be the hardest part.
There are entire careers services dedicated to helping with these questions but here are some good places to start:
- Make contact with your university's careers or placement team as soon as possible. Book in a session to discuss your career aspirations and personal preferences. There is no point searching for corporate jobs if you want to pursue a career in the creative industries.
- Take some online personality profiles. There are all sorts of free tools which can help shed a bit of light on your personality and related preferences. Often your careers service will have access to some of the paid-for tools for free so make sure you tap into those free services.
- Ask for feedback from friends and family. What can they see you doing? What are your strengths and weaknesses? They will often have more experience of work and may know about job roles you’ve never heard of. Speak to your personal tutor or course director. They should have been tracking with you through university and are there to help with placement advice.
Some key questions to have a think about include:
- Do you want to work for a big brand or smaller niche company?
- Do you want to work in the UK or abroad?
- What type of sector do you want to work in? Finance, health, government, charity, engineering… each sector has its own unique way of doing recruitment so it's important to know how the ones you are interested in work.
Universities usually have placements or careers events towards the start of the year, so getting along to these is an absolute must! They provide an opportunity to speak to some companies about what they have available and hear first hand what they are looking for and how to make the most of your application. Or you can just browse and see for yourself!
Companies or sectors have different deadlines, so make sure you know the deadlines for your areas of interest. For example, investment banking and the civil service are known for their early deadlines, so you could have missed them without even realising it!
If you start early, you can perfect your CV and a cover letter template, which you can then personalise to each company. It’s important to show why you are interested in the company and show that you are passionate about their industry or area of work.
A lot of companies hold virtual events to give an insight into what it’s like to work there and for applicants to ask questions. It is important to show up and network with existing employees or other candidates. Be sure to follow any event and the company’s social media so you’re up to date with what they are doing.
Why not reach out to your existing network? You already know lots of people in a range of different companies. They could be your family, friends or even ex-teachers. Don’t be shy to ask for any work experience opportunities or short term summer placements and internships to boost your CV. Demonstrating that you have had lots of experiences of work shows proactivity as well as experience.
LinkedIn is the social media platform for professionals. Not only can you keep up with industry trends and post your personal achievements, you can also look for jobs there. A lot more applicants now use LinkedIn as a platform to showcase their creative CV and application, for example, what they would do with the company’s merch if they were working there already. This will gain attraction and maybe even attract employers too! This will also set yourself ahead of the crowd and stand out.
If you’re a student with a lack of experience, why not take part in online courses with digital badges? Here at StudentCrowd, we offer a Digital Marketing Challenge to earn Digital Marketeering badges for your profile. Check out the challenge here.
Don’t forget to clean up your online presence as well! Go through Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and other platforms and delete what you don’t want your employers to view. More employers are checking out shortlisted candidates' social media profiles to work out if they like what they see!
Don’t rule out any type of business! Why not write to companies that you want to work for to ask for any opportunities available. Be sure to point out in your email/letter/application why you decided to choose their business to contact.
Working in both large and small businesses will be rewarding: experience is experience! You might be able to get an overview of a department when working for a large business, whereas when working for a small business you might have more responsibility! It all depends on what you want to get out of your placement year!
One way to make your applications stand out is to get creative. You can do this through simple things like redesigning your CV to make it more visually appealing (Google ‘creative cvs’ to get inspiration). Then there are the more elaborate ideas, like pitching your idea to a business to solve one of their problems. Or why not go all out and make a video CV, or a CV out of the company's products.
Every company's application and selection process is different, so it’s important to understand the differences to help you best prepare yourself. The process is usually outlined on the company’s website. If you can’t easily find it, you can look up resources like Glassdoor where previous employees and applicants share their experiences.
Here's a typical process for a large company:
- Initial application
This might be through an application, a cover letter or just your CV. Make sure whatever you submit is catered to the role and include the keywords and skill set the employers are looking for in your information.
- Online assessment
This step might be a psychometric test, personality test, numerical reasoning, logical tests or something slightly different. This depends on what your role requires. There are free tests online, so why not practice beforehand? Depending on your role, you might also be asked to put together a presentation on a topic of the employers' choice.
- Phone/Video interview
You might be asked to do a phone/video interview with the employers asking situational questions. Or you might be asked to record yourself with questions the employers provide you with. Practice presenting in front of a camera as it is very different to a live face-to-face presentation.
- Assessment centre/final interview
Finally, you might be asked to attend a day at an assessment centre where you will take part in a whole range of activities including group work tasks, different types of interviews and possibly a second round of psychometric assessments.
This would also include a final interview with further questions, so why not prepare some interesting questions to ask the interviewers?
The majority of large companies use automated systems for the selection process, so it is super important to use keywords and phrases you see in the job description on your CV and cover letter.
Interviews are dynamic and unpredictable. So be prepared and practice in front of your mirror! Make sure you’re dressed appropriately and be punctual.
And be honest. If you don’t know the answer or don’t understand, just ask. Nobody’s perfect. Showing you understand your weaknesses and how to improve on them is a real positive.
Remember to be confident: fake it til you make it!
Keep going and persevere! We know how hard it is to land a placement role, but an industrial placement can be one of the best ways to secure a great job after graduation. So keep at it and all that hard work will eventually pay off.
Not sure what a placement year is? Read out article about it here. What is a University Placement?