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 Lauren Magee who works as the Human Resource Assistant for Acheson and Glover Ltd, Belfast.
Lauren attends the University of Ulster (Jordanstown campus), where she studies on the Human Resource Management 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?
LM: Yes, an industrial placement is a compulsory element of my course and once it is completed I will achieve a DPP (Diploma in Professional Practice) qualification alongside the degree upon graduation.
With a year in industry being compulsory on your university course, how did you find the competition with your classmates in securing a placement?
The competition among students on my course was intense as there is 40-45 people on the course, which is relatively big. Not only was I competing with Human Resource (HR) students, I was also competing with general business students who were in the same position as myself, trying to secure an industrial placement.
I did come across a few of my classmates at the interview stage for different placements we had applied for and it was then that I felt the pressure and realised how competitive the process is.
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?
Personally, I really enjoyed the search for placements. I found it interesting researching a range of jobs in varied organisations and it was also my first step into the world of work.
In total, I applied for six placement vacancies, all of which I found through the Employability section on the Ulster University Portal for students. I also had a Placement Tutor who was really helpful in preparing me for placement in terms of CV structure, interview skills and also pointing me in the right direction for finding placement opportunities.
What would be your advice to students who are looking for placements themselves?
My best advice would be to start looking for your placement as soon as you can as the majority of large companies will advertise early.
Make sure your CV is up to date and that you tailor each cover letter so that it is specific to the role/organisation that you are applying for as this is your first impression on the company. Also, avail of all the resources that your university or college is offering to you, such as mock interviews, CV templates etc.
Is there anything you would advise them not to do?
Try to avoid leaving it to the last minute to apply for placement opportunities as this will increase the pressure especially on top of exams and deadlines.
However, do not become disheartened if it takes a while to secure a placement. Remind yourself that it is a competitive process and you are doing the best you can. Each time you submit your CV or attend an interview you are improving and the right opportunity will not pass you.
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?
Acheson and Glover Ltd advertised their placement vacancy via the Ulster University portal which is where it got my attention. I had to complete an application form online on their company website and submit. I was then invited to an interview and within a couple of days I was offered the position, which I was delighted about.
Their application process was basic and fair to all applicants. I found the application form very effective as it asked questions that were specific to the role that I was applying for and I felt that I could demonstrate the main skills and experience that I could bring to the role.
It challenged me as it really made me think about what I was saying and how I could apply myself to the position. The interview was a great opportunity for me to meet with the HR Business Partners with whom I now work with and I also got a better insight into the company/role.
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)
Completing a year-long industrial placement will most definitely stand by me when I graduate and begin to look for jobs as it demonstrates my ability/desire to work. It shows that I’m committed, responsible and motivated to pursue a career in HR. The majority of employers now seek at least 1 year’s experience as part of their essential criteria.
Whilst working in HR, I have had the experience to host interviews for a range of different job roles and we always look for candidates with experience. The interview standard of an experienced candidate in comparison with an inexperienced candidate is evidently better.
I understand that it can be difficult for students to gain experience, but if your course is offering an industrial placement year, I would advise anyone to take it. On the other hand, if your course unfortunately does not offer the placement year, I would advise you to seek summer or part-time work within your chosen field. Even one week’s work experience is better than none.
Had you interned anywhere before your placement? If so, what job role, how long for and what were the main roles?
In terms of a year-long placement/intern, that is something I had never experienced before. However, when I was in secondary school I spent one week on work placement with the HR department in the Merchant Hotel in Belfast. Whilst the duration was short, the experience was invaluable and further strengthened my desire to pursue a career in HR.
On the job
How did you feel when you first started your placement year? Were you nervous/excited?
I remember my first day of placement, I experienced mixed emotions. On one hand I was so excited because I had been looking forward to placement year ever since I started my degree as I was so keen to get experience and put the theory into practical use.
On the other hand, I was nervous and anxious as I didn’t know what to expect or how I would handle it. I had never worked in an office environment before so I knew that alone was going to be a big change. I didn’t know what everyone would expect from me and how I would handle the 9-5 working life.
Once the first month was completed, I felt like I had found my feet and felt ready to take on the challenges ahead. I settled in and realised that I was there to learn and do my best for myself and Acheson and Glover.
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?
If someone had told me 11 months ago that I would be able to do the things that I can do now, I wouldn’t have believed them. From when I started my placement in June 2017, I have come further than I could ever have imagined. The skills and experience that I have gained enable me to come into work and complete tasks like second nature.
Of course, there are still some aspects that I am learning and still getting to grips with – I will always be learning. The world of HR is evolving every day and it is important for me to keep up with that. I have daily tasks that I complete but I like to challenge myself every now and again to improve my confidence in the position.
Have you been able to experience other roles within the company?
Yes, I spend one day a week providing administration support to the Health and Safety (H&S) department in Acheson and Glover. HR and H&S work closely together on occasion so it has been good to get an insight into the H&S function of an organisation.
I have also spent a few days within the Payroll department which was very interesting and is an area I would like to learn more about.
What’s been the highlight of your placement year?
The highlight of my placement year has been my involvement in the Health and Wellbeing programme. I champion the Health and Wellbeing programme which means I promote it by organising different events, communicating tips/advice and attending different training sessions.
I take great pride in the work that I do and enjoy promoting health and wellbeing among employees. Recently I attended the Northern Ireland Health, Safety and Wellbeing conference in the Titanic Quarter in Belfast which was an informative event from which I learnt a lot and was a great opportunity for me to meet and share experiences with other HR professionals.
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?
Spending this year within an industrial placement has further strengthened my ambition and desire to pursue a career in HR. I really enjoy my course and it is great to have an opportunity to put the theory that I learn to practical use.
Overall, do you think a year in industry is beneficial and prepares students for life post-graduation? Would you recommend it?
Yes, I can only emphasise the value of an industrial placement and the role it plays in preparing students for the world of work. It enables students to gain an insight into their chosen career path and helps develop their skills and qualities so that they feel more confident and motivated to pursue their career.
I would highly recommend spending a year within the industry to all students.
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?
Yes I would still choose to do this placement. The reason why I chose to spend my industrial placement with Acheson and Glover was because their HR department is relatively small compared to other organisations that I was applying for.
The HR department is run by two HR Business Partners, therefore I knew I would get hands on experience in all areas of HR and this was important to me. I wanted to gain as much experience as possible during my placement year, therefore I knew it was the right decision to spend it with Acheson and Glover.
Last question – Do you feel more motivated to go into final year or are you feeling apprehensive?
Honestly, it’s a mixture of both. I am dreading it in a sense that I know the pressures it will bring and what is expected of me. However, I feel motivated and determined to work hard to achieve good results and complete my degree.
I will use the skills and experience that I have gained during my industrial placement whilst continuing to work part-time within Acheson and Glover during my final year.