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 Emma McCann who works as an Associate Technology Consultant in Belfast – I told you I’d be branching outside the PR/Marketing field!
Emma attends the University of Ulster (Derry campus), where she studies on the Information Technologies course and is currently 8 months into her placement position. Below are her thoughts on placement life so far:
The application process
OC: With a year in industry being compulsory on your university course, how did you find the competition with your classmates in securing a placement?
EMcC: The competition was definitely fierce, especially with my friends who were on the same course and looking for the same role. I was lucky enough to secure my placement with a company that I had previously done a weeks work experience with, so the pressure wasn’t as bad for me. However, I could tell that my housemates (who studied on the same course as me) felt pressured to secure a placement as quickly as possible due to the fact I had secured mine before we had even began our second year of university.
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?
My journey to securing a placement was definitely more of a breeze for me than it was for other people I know. During my first year of university, two employees from the student recruitment team from my current placement company came to give a talk on the opportunities they had for university students.
One of the opportunities was the ‘Tech Academy’ which was four days work experience in their Belfast office, with the opportunity to gain a placement offer afterwards. So I went for it, and the process to gain a place on the Academy was similar to applying for a job: there was the application process and an assessment centre.
Even from the get-go I was competing with my university friends as a few of us went for the same Academy position and I was the only one of us to get a place. After the Tech Academy finished, I was called back to interview for their placement year and was successful.
I didn’t have much first-hand experience with our university team who helped with placement searching but I know from my housemates that they were very helpful, giving students mock interviews, help with CVs and cover letters.
What would be your advice to students who are looking for placements themselves?
Start looking as early as you can. It may sound like silly advice but it’s something to take on board. I sailed into my second year of university without having to worry about looking for a placement.
Is there anything you would advise them not to do?
I would say don’t just apply for one or two at the one time in the hope that you get an interview for at least one of them. Apply for as many as you can and as soon as you can.
I know if I had to do it again, I would send my CV to any company that I was interested in working for.
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?
For my actual placement position, I only had an interview to do, which wasn’t the easiest. However, the company had sent me a link to their website which had a lot of tips on how to do a successful interview. The process for the ‘Tech Academy’ which led to my placement offer had an application form and an assessment centre when applying.
I never like the application process, especially writing in every detail about education, and past work experience. Everything you need to know about me is contained in my CV so I would prefer to send that along with a cover letter instead of filling in an application form. The assessment centre I attended was very typical in that it contained two psychometric tests and a group assessment.
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)
Experience. Experience. Experience. It’s as simple as that.
Whether I apply for a role similar to what I’m doing now, or go down a different career path, I have experience. I have experience working in a ‘big four’ company taking on many responsibilities that someone who hasn’t completed a placement won’t have had.
The actual role you apply for can be learnt through training and teaching but the responsibilities of the role such as project work, teamwork, talking to a client, doing presentations and attending meetings, can only be learnt through experience.
Had you interned anywhere before your placement? If so, what job role, how long for and what were the main roles?
I had never interned before I started my placement. I worked part-time in Tesco.
On the job
How did you feel when you first started your placement year? Were you nervous/excited?
When I first started placement I was nervous and scared, mostly because I had never worked in this type of environment before and was worried about getting things wrong and making mistakes.
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?
I wouldn’t say that my job is second-nature as I’m constantly doing and learning new things, however that doesn’t mean I’m not confident with my role. I have a great support system that I have built up through networking. This means I always have someone to go to with my questions no matter how silly I think they may be.
From the beginning I’ve been open-minded and knew that I would be constantly learning on the job due to the variety of work my company does.
Have you been able to experience other roles within the company?
As a Technology consultant, we are part of a line of service called ‘Consulting’ and we are ‘resourced’ for projects – which basically means when my company have a job for a client, the director or senior manager will say they need twenty people for this and they pick us from an ‘internal CV’ that details our experience as well as what we would like to do in terms of project work.
My first project that I was brought onto was working with internal IT services upgrading employee laptops, so already I was getting to experience another line of service. I have since finished that project and am currently working as a consultant on an internal automated process project.
What’s been the highlight of your placement year?
One of my best highlights of this year has been getting to be the lead on a project which was actually my first ever project. It may not sound like much but knowing that I was trusted with this responsibility especially at my grade (Associate) boosted my confidence and encouraged me to give 100% in everything I do.
Social events are a big thing in my company and we use these to raise money for charity. However, they are also great to spend time with people outside of the office and to network with other people in the company that you wouldn’t normally see day to day in the office.
What’s been the biggest learning curve/mistake you’ve made?
I would say the biggest mistake I’ve made is not putting time into going to training events that the company organise, to learn new skills or to get a certification in a particular area. My project work is always so busy that I have to make it a priority and this isn’t always the best approach when the company is offering these events.
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?
I know that IT is the career that I want to be in, however, in terms of the role I’m doing now, I would say I want to try more development (building technology) rather than consulting (talking about technology).
Overall, do you think a year in industry is beneficial and prepares students for life post-graduation? Would you recommend it?
I can’t recommend it enough! It gives you experiences that a university course could never give you.
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?
While I have enjoyed my time on placement, I do wish I hadn’t settled on this company straight away and had looked into other companies that would have been more technology orientated compared to where I am now.
I know that I will not be coming back to this role but I am thankful that doing this placement has made me realise that.
Last question – Do you feel more motivated to go into final year or are you feeling apprehensive?
I wouldn’t say I’m dreading it, but I know I will miss the routine of working 9-5, five days a week (and the salary!) but being on placement has motivated me more for going into final year as I know what I’m working towards once I get my degree and that’s doing something I’m good at and that I enjoy.