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 Ciara De Carteret who works as the Marketing Assistant at Gordons Chemists, Northern Ireland. I must say, this is the most detailed and honest response I’ve received to my questions to date. I resonated with a lot of Ciara’s thoughts; about the fear of having to go home, what people would think and having a huge lack of self-confidence. But Ciara proved herself wrong and is currently killing her placement!
Ciara attends Liverpool John Moores University, where she studies on the Marketing course 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?
CDC: No, a year-long placement is not compulsory on my course, but I knew when I was selecting my choices on UCAS that I wanted to do one, so I had chosen a Marketing degree with a sandwich year.
I decided this after lengthy conversations with my parents. My dad works in IT and conducts quite a lot of graduate interviews for his company, and he had said that he would rather choose a candidate who had a year’s industry experience rather than someone who didn’t. So I said I’d give it a go!
What was the competition like with other students on your course? Were you all applying for the same jobs?
I found that quite early on in my course many students were already thinking about placement and where they wanted to go. I did feel a little pressure but I’m quite laid back (not a great trait, I know) and soon forgot about it with the mountain of work I had to do.
In first year, I did do a little digging to find out what jobs were available that year and try to figure out which sector I wanted to go into. But then my Tuesday and Thursday nights were soon taken up by visits to Brooklyn Mixer and Baa Bar.
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?
This is a bit of a weird one. I actually only applied for one placement, which is the one I’m in now. Pretty lucky, I know – but I didn’t even want it in the first place!
Second year of my course was very difficult for me. As we started to get deeper into the subject, I started to feel ‘stupid’. Everyone around me seemed to be understanding everything that my lecturers were saying and I felt like everything was just going right over my head. I couldn’t grasp simple concepts and I found assignments really difficult – it was like trying to learn a different language!
Second year as a whole wasn’t great – money was tight, work started to pile up and I lived with five people who hid in their rooms. Thank God for my friend Finbarr who lived in the room beside me and stopped me from pulling my hair out. So as you can imagine, by the end of the year I just wanted to get through my course – I wasn’t even thinking about placement.
Then my mum sent me the application form for a Marketing placement with Gordons Chemist in their Head Office in Banbridge. She told me that it was so close to home and it would be great if I got it so I could live at home for the year and save a bit of money. So, I just sent in my application form and within the week I got a text to schedule a phone interview.
I had the phone interview and burst into tears as soon as I hung up. Not because it went badly, but because I was freaking out at the thought of having to move home for a whole year after two years of independence. I ended up getting through that stage anyway, despite the mental breakdown and attended a face-to-face interview that Easter when I was home.
By that time, I had come around to the idea of spending a year at home. After all, it was only for a year and after that, I could do what I wanted and go wherever I want.
But when the interview came around, I started to doubt myself and had done a complete U-turn on my original ‘I don’t want to come home’ mentality and started to freak out that I wasn’t good enough and that my parents would be so disappointed if I didn’t get the job. I just wanted to come home. But, I got the job and a year later, here I am!
What would be your advice to students who are looking for placements themselves?
I would say start researching different sectors that you might be interested in working in and start early. I got very lucky with my placement – it was the only one I had applied for and I ended up getting it, but don’t bank on that happening. Set up a LinkedIn profile, connect with different professionals in your field, follow organisations you would love to work for and you might find job opportunities that you would’ve never thought of.
Apply, apply, apply. Apply for as many jobs as you feel that are the best fit for you. If I could go back in time, I would probably have applied for a lot more placements than just one – don’t get me wrong, I love my job and I’m very lucky to be able to get as many opportunities as it’s given me – but it doesn’t hurt to keep your options open.
But my main advice would be to never doubt yourself. Believe that you are the right person for the job and the employer will see that. If you act confident (even if you aren’t), that confidence will shine through and everything else will fall into place – you got this!
Is there anything you would advise them not to do?
I would say, don’t sell yourself short. When you are filling in application forms for placements, put in as much information about yourself as you can. Everything counts, and especially with a degree like Marketing – everything can relate back to it.
Show that you’re interested in working for that specific company – make your cover letter personal. You might think that employers just disregard the cover letter and skip straight to grades/experience.. Nope. Your cover letter makes you stand out and shows personality like the rest of your CV can’t. You know you’re the best candidate they have.
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)
Like I said at the start of the interview, my dad had convinced me that completing a year placement would be the best option because it would give me an edge over other candidates when applying for jobs after I graduate.
As you also heard, I found the second year of my degree very difficult. I was demotivated, felt ‘stupid’ and that I was never going to survive in the industry because I wasn’t good enough.
Now, 11 months into my placement – I have never felt more confident in myself. I can say that I finally understand Marketing and everything that my lecturers taught me, now makes sense. Living, working and breathing this Marketing placement has given me such an insight into the industry. I have gained so many opportunities already, attended many events, started a blog and networked with so many amazing business people. (https://ciaradecarteret.com/)
Gordons Chemists is not as big as its competitors like Boots and Superdrug, but it still has 63 stores across Northern Ireland and Scotland. There’s only around 50 employees that work in the Head Office, which works as a great advantage to me. I’m given so much responsibility and the work that I do, doesn’t go unnoticed. Being able to show future employers the sheer amount of experience I’ve gained, is really going to give me an advantage over those that haven’t got any.
On the job
How did you feel when you first started your placement year? Were you nervous/excited?
Going into my placement year, I was so determined to prove to myself that I actually CAN do it, and do it well. After a bit of a crap year with uni and feeling inadequate to my classmates, I was more motivated than ever to make this year count.
Of course, I was afraid – I didn’t want to let myself down. I prepared as much as I possibly could to make a good impression on my new employers. I researched the company, brainstormed ideas about their marketing and advertising techniques and kept up-to-date on all of their social media channels in the months leading up to my start date. I wanted to be fully aware of what campaigns they were running, how well they worked and took notes on any ideas I had to improve. I even read a few books and blogs to try to understand what they may be expecting from me. For once in my life, I can say I was prepared!
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?
11 months in, I feel very confident in my job role. I feel like I adapted quite well to the new surroundings and it helped that my colleagues welcomed me with open arms. I feel like I can now work independently without needing much guidance compared to when I first started. I was constantly asking for approval and guidance on certain things because I was cautious of doing something wrong.
It’s true what they say – practice makes perfect. I did make a few mistakes when I started (don’t get me wrong, I still do) but I’ve learned to prioritise my tasks and improve my time management so I meet deadlines.
I definitely wouldn’t say I know everything inside out – I feel like I’m constantly learning as it’s a sector that is constantly evolving. 11 months or 11 years, I don’t think anyone could say that they know the Marketing industry inside out. And if you do – please make yourself known!
What’s been the highlight of your placement year?
I was given the opportunity to organise a blogger event just before Christmas. Gordons usually run a VIP Night for local businesses where they can avail of early discounts. I questioned why we didn’t run an event for local bloggers as I had recently been introduced into the NI Blogger community and I knew these kinds of events worked brilliantly for businesses. I was then tasked with organising a blogger event in under one week, just in time for Black Friday. Yes, one week! As you can imagine, I felt very under pressure. But it was my idea – so I needed to make it work!
I usually work better under pressure (at least that’s what I tell myself when I only start studying the night before an exam) so I was pretty confident I could get this done.
In the short time that I had, I managed to secure a lot of free products from big companies to fill the goody bags (including Coty), I selected a venue that I thought would work best, sorted staff for the night, secured a catering company and most importantly… sourced Prosecco!
The night went off without a hitch. Over 50 local bloggers attended, there were makeup demos, on-the-spot prizes and early access to Black Friday deals. My main objective was to get the event as much free publicity as possible and encourage conversation about Gordons. It worked so well that customers were asking in store about Black Friday deals that they had seen on Instagram from the bloggers that had attended. So much so that my boss made the decision to switch the deals on a day early because there was so much demand for it!
I gave myself a great big pat on the back and had a little celebration dance at my desk. They had never held an event like this before, and they even plan to continue them after I leave – I better get an invite! I’d say this was probably the highlight of my placement year… so far.
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?
The main reason I had chosen to study Marketing in the first place, was because I knew that every day was going to be different. Marketing is constantly evolving and I wanted to work in a sector where I was always going to learn something new. I definitely think I’ve made the right decision to study Marketing and taking part in this placement has just emphasised that.
I have really enjoyed my overall job role – but I’ve found a specific interest in Social Media/Influencer Marketing and would love a job where I could focus more of my time on that.
My placement year has turned into 14 months. They asked me to stay for an extra two months until I have to head back to university – so I must be doing something right!
Overall, do you think a year in industry is beneficial and prepares students for life post-graduation? Would you recommend it?
Absolutely. I can’t recommend it enough. If you’re like me right now and feel demotivated and uncertain about your degree choice, take a year out, go and work in the industry you’re studying or simply intern a few times a week. This will show you straight away if your chosen industry is for you.
It’s honestly the best thing you can do to prepare yourself for life after university. As prepared as you can be… Does anyone really know what they’re doing?! Also – the salary is pretty great too!
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?
I don’t think I could have chosen a better placement. Gordons Chemists is a big enough company that I can get a lot of great experience, but also small enough that I can be given more responsibility and gain recognition for my work.
I never would’ve thought that I could have gotten the Marketing experience I have in Northern Ireland. I always thought, that to get noticed, I needed to be in a city like London – the Marketing and PR capital. However, I have to say I’ve enjoyed being the big fish in a small pond. Maybe one day I’ll be the big fish in the big pond!
Last question – Do you feel more motivated to go into final year or are you feeling apprehensive?
Three words – BRING. IT. ON!