Hello. Welcome to my newest blog series, documenting the thoughts of placement students as far and wide as I can. Each week (hopefully) I will have a profile of a current placement student giving their thoughts on searching for placements, the competitiveness, how they found the process and what they think of their placement they are currently undertaking. And most importantly, they will give their verdict on whether they think a year in industry is worthwhile.
This week’s interview is with Abagail (Abby) Griffiths who works as a Marketing Coordinator for Sainsbury’s/Argos – Financial Services.
Abby attends Liverpool John Moores University, where she studies on the same course as myself, Business with Public Relations and is currently 11 months into her placement position. Below are her thoughts on placement life so far:
The application process
OC: Is a year-long placement compulsory on your course?
AG: No, a placement for me was a choice but it was something I knew I would be doing when I first signed up to my degree. I think it’s a no-brainer really, being able to gain on the job experience in a field you ultimately want a career in this early on really appealed to me.
And I wanted to be a student for just one more year!
How did you find the competition with your classmates who had also chosen to pursue a placement year?
As Public Relations is already quite a niche market when looking for a placement, it did mean the race was on as soon as applications went live.
I wouldn’t say we were all applying for the same jobs, but definitely the same roles and as a lot of the other students on my course – like myself – are from the North West, it was hard to find an opportunity which no-one had seen before. It was healthy competition though.
Pressure came from the fact that this was a new thing to me; a lot of lengthy application processes and covering letters filled my time, not to mention the added stress of actively completing my second year studies.
I think it was just the ‘What if I don’t find one?’ question which stirred me a little bit crazy and the fact I had Orlagh in my class who flew through the Coty application process quicker than I could even switch my laptop on.
How did you find applying for placements; Did you apply for many? Was there a team at your university to help with placement searching? What websites/resources did you use for your search?
I made the decision that for my placement year, I was going to live back home in Manchester, so I started my process by looking for PR companies in the North West area on websites such as RateMyPlacement, Indeed and LinkedIn.
Applying for placements was pretty straightforward and most companies followed the same steps: online application, CV, covering letter, telephone/video interview, assessment centre etc. and this made the process a lot less daunting as I knew what the next steps were going to be each time.
This did begin to prove difficult though, as most of the major PR companies are based South, so I started to write my own covering letters to PR agencies in the North West and started emailing them asking if there was any availability.
I worked closely with the Employability Support Team at LJMU during this process, who were amazing at helping me prep for interviews etc. and helping me realise that I needed to broaden my search.
What would be your advice to students who are looking for placements themselves?
Wow, well the list really could go on forever. My top tips would probably be:
- Start the search as early on as possible – some major companies like to have the process over and done with within the first few months of second year.
- LinkedIn – set up your profile to a high standard, add a professional photo and try and connect with as many relevant people as possible. It’s also great for finding placements.
- Broaden your search – I was constantly looking for a PR placement and I am now 11 months into a Marketing placement with one of the biggest retailers in the UK and I’ve had so much PR experience it’s untrue.
Is there anything you would advise them not to do?
I may/may not have made some of these, but here are a few I can suggest:
- Don’t send out the same CV to every company. You need to tailor your skills to the role you are applying to.
- DON’T have any grammatical errors in your application. I am the main culprit for grammar mistakes but I made sure I had lots of eyes reading over my work before I sent it.
- Don’t compare yourself to others on your course. You are your own individual and you move at your own pace. A company perfect for you will be out there.
With the company you are on placement with now, what was their application process like? Was there anything you particularly did or didn’t like about it?
As mentioned previously, Sainsbury’s/Argos’s application process was the same as all the others I went through. But one main difference was how I didn’t feel pressured at all. You could tell they wanted you to do well and they just wanted to get the best out of you.
How do you think completing a year in industry will give you an advantage when applying to jobs over those that haven’t? (If you think this is the case)
You can only learn so much about a subject being sat in a lecture hall and this became much more apparent during my placement year.
When applying for a graduate job I will have relevant on-the-job experience for the career I want to work in rather than just a degree, which will prove to employers that I am capable of the roles I apply for.
Had you interned anywhere before your placement? If so, what job role, how long for and what were the main roles?
I actually interned for two months before my current placement at a company called Sentinel as a Marketing Coordinator. Sentinel was the first 12 month placement I applied for, but after being unsuccessful, I was offered a two month paid internship after showing interest in gaining any experience.
Sentinel are a water treatment company specialising in products which will preserve the life of water systems (glamorous – I know!) but I will forever be thankful of the experience I had there as it was extremely focused on my development.
I worked on organising an event, learned how to build a website using HTML and worked closely with their PR team on press releases and social media. I am still in touch with these guys now!
From your previous work experience, do you feel this prepared you for full-time role you are in now?
Massively! I think having this two month experience was one of the main reasons I secured the placement I am in today. It showed employers that I wanted to gain experience and I was willing to work for it!
On the job
How did you feel when you first started your placement year? Were you nervous/excited?
The fact I had a two month placement before I started Sainsbury’s/Argos really helped calm my nerves. By all means I wasn’t confident but it helped to know what to expect.
Compare your feelings of how you started with how you feel now. Do you feel like your job is second-nature? Or do you feel like you are still learning?
The role is so varied and includes contact with so many different internal and external stakeholders so I don’t think I could have ever known everything within 11 months, but I do feel confident! I mean, you could say it is ‘second-nature’ now, but there will always be ways for me to learn more and improve my work.
Have you been able to experience other roles within the company?
Yes. As soon as I started, my manager knew that I wanted to gain as much experience in PR as possible during my 12 months and the company really made sure this happened. Even though the area I work in does not yet include any PR (I help market the My Argos Card App) I was urged to work with internal and external stakeholders to gain as much experience as possible.
I have sat in meetings with the Argos Pet Insurance team and their PR agency JAM PR. I have been to Edinburgh for three days to work with the Sainsbury’s Bank PR and Social team and I am due to visit McCann Birmingham (our creative agency) and sit with their PR team for some more experience.
My management team have been great with putting my development at the forefront of my placement year and I am super grateful for that!
What’s been the highlight of your placement year?
Working with the Sainsbury’s Bank PR team was definitely a highlight for me as this was an experience which will help me when looking for graduate jobs.
But overall, the sense of achievement I have felt when a campaign I have created does really well is really my main highlight! I’d create a brief, source the data and work with our creative agency to produce a marketing campaign and seeing how well it performed does wonders for self accomplishment.
Placements – are they worth it?
Since you’ve been putting your degree into practice, do you think you’ve made the right decision with the course you’ve chosen? Could you see yourself in a similar job once you graduate?
Definitely. Although I am currently in a Marketing placement but completing a PR degree, it was an experience to see what a career in Marketing would be like. I gained so much PR experience as well, which will help me if I want to look into a PR graduate role.
Overall, do you think a year in industry is beneficial and prepares students for life post-graduation? Would you recommend it?
I couldn’t recommend it enough. I now know what areas I want and don’t want to work in. I know what role would suit me best and I also have a much more comprehensive CV to give to employers when looking for a graduate role.
Now that you’ve almost finished your placement year, if you could go back to second year when you were in the application process, would you still choose the same company and role?
In hindsight, if situations were different, I think I would have liked to relocate and search for a Public Relations specific placement. But hindsight is a great thing!
My placement this year has been perfect for me location, role and experience wise and I have also been able to network with more people than I could have imagined. So yes, the role was and still is perfect for me.
Last question – Do you feel more motivated to go into final year or are you feeling apprehensive?
I have so much more passion and understanding for my degree after completing this year. I am excited to move back to Liverpool and put all my experience into practice as well as my knowledge into my dissertation!
One year to go…