This started out as one blog post about securing a year-long placement, however I realised once I had started on my second point that I was 2,000 words deep. And hence, the single blog post turned into a series which will be full of valuable advice for those searching for a placement! I’ll be posting every Friday, the beginning-to-end process of securing your 12 month
break from university paid work experience.
Summer is over, you’ve just returned to university to embark on your second year and all everyone is talking about (and already stressing about) is gaining a placement. Prepare to spend days and nights in the library, endlessly scrolling through Indeed.com and ratemyplacement.com, going to endless career fairs and attempting those Maths and English tests. FYI, they’re difficult.
So you’ve decided you want to try and get a placement and you’re ready to start looking but you have absolutely no idea where to start. I feel ya.
I was in your exact shoes last year. If we’re talking literally, then you must be wearing a pair of Stan Smiths because that’s what I’ve got on my feet right now. Anyway, I was super stressed out that I wouldn’t find the right placement, or heck, even pass an interview stage to get accepted onto one! I was willing to relocate for a placement as I wanted to venture out of Liverpool since I knew I would be coming back for final year. Think about this before applying to the company – are you willing to leave your friends behind and spend a year in a different city? Or maybe you want to head home for 12 months?
I had no idea where I was going to end up, if I was even going to secure a placement or what on earth I would be doing. As my housemates didn’t have an option for placements on their course they also had to know whether I would be staying in the house for another year, and on top of all of my university work, plus working two jobs and only starting this blog and wanting to be consistent, the beginning of second year was quite a stressful one.
Even though I had no idea what I was doing, my journey of searching for a placement seemed to turn out quite well. So I thought I would share some tips of things that I did and some things I would have done differently.
Start looking early
I moved back to Liverpool for my second year of university in August of 2017, for various reasons but two of those being because I missed it so much and because I wanted to secure a part-time job before the influx of new students appeared in September.
Before university began I had a lot of free time during the day as my part-time job was in a bar and my shifts usually started at 5pm. I started to spend a lot of my spare time in the library, mainly researching blogs and trying to figure out how I was going to start mine and what I was going to write about. But while I was there I also had a look to see if there were any placements on offer.
I had my sights set on America but the more I thought about it, the more of a fantasy it seemed rather than something that could actually happen. How would I apply? Why would they choose me over someone that already lived in America? How on earth would I go about getting a visa? What about looking for somewhere to live? It all seemed way too complicated and I didn’t know if I could trust someone telling me I had a job via email.
Get your CV and cover letter ready
You will be sending your CV to many employers and it’s imperative that yours stands out amongst the others that they receive. List your experience by starting with anything relevant to the role at the top, finishing with any part-time jobs or other experience.
Read the job description and person specification and alter your CV accordingly. If they want someone with great Microsoft Excel skills, make sure that’s included in your CV.
You will also have to write a lot of different cover letters. These need to be specific to each role that you apply for. I’ll be writing a full blog post about CVs and cover letters and I am more than willing to send mine as an example for anyone that needs help.
Send emails to potential employers
Small PR agencies were always where I thought I would end up and where I loved interning, so I started to look for small agencies in Manchester, Newcastle, London and Dublin. There were a few that I really liked the look of in Dublin but were too close to home for me. Sorry mum. I sent a few emails to some of the agencies I had come across in Liverpool and Manchester but both couldn’t offer a paid role, which I really needed if it was to be for a year.
Carry out some research into companies that suit your interests and you think might have a potential role for you. Try to find the MD’s email address or make a phonecall and ask if you can have it. Address the email with ‘Dear (Name)’ rather than ‘Dear Sir/Madam’, this makes it more personal and the employer is less likely to send your email straight to the ‘deleted’ folder.
In your email you should outline a brief description of yourself and that you’re writing to enquire about a potential placement. Let them know what you’re studying and how this would be relevant to a role there. List your skills and explain what you can bring to the business and what you would gain from the experience. Your aim is to convince them that they need you on their team and prove that you would be an asset to the business. Don’t forget to attach your CV and a cover letter for their consideration.
Read the email back to yourself and think ‘Would I hire me?’ If not, sell yourself a little better. Just don’t come across like you want to run the place.
Speak to your careers department
At the end of my first year, we weren’t given much information about placement hunting. It wasn’t explained when was best to start looking or where to even start looking. I had heard through the grapevine that other students in other courses and other universities were already applying in July, so I thought I was already way behind the rest of my competition when I came back in September.
I spoke to the careers department of my university and they advised to start looking in October as the big companies knew the students would be back and this was when they usually advertised – and they were right.
So, although most of the larger companies don’t start advertising until October or further on, it’s never too early to start looking or start sending blind applications to small companies that you are interested in. These companies may even give you advice or be able to introduce you to someone that is on the lookout for a placement student. As they say, the early bird catches the worm.
Check your uni emails
The Employability Support Unit at LJMU were amazing when it came to helping us students search for placements. They created a Facebook group for us and sent numerous emails outlining every vacancy that they came across that was suitable. They would let us know who was advertising looking for students, where to apply and what the deadline date was.
You are competing against so many thousands of students around the country and further afield so it’s important to keep on top of what companies are posting vacancies, when their deadline dates are and what roles you are applying for.
If your Careers service help a lot with placement finding, suggest they start a Facebook group for students in each discipline, whether it be Business, The Arts or Education. The students that are seeking placements can then join these groups and it saves the careers department sending mass emails to students that aren’t planning on taking a placement year.
Most employers advertise on Indeed.com which is where I did most of my searching. You can also get notification emails for new or suitable roles which is extremely useful!
If you’re really panicking, go to a fortune teller
This actually happened. Yup, really.
I’ve always, always wished I could see into the future. Especially when it comes to making life-changing decisions such as choosing my A Levels and even more so when it came to choosing my degree and university. I was so uncertain that I really wished there was a way someone could tell me what was the right decision and the one that I would be most happy and successful with. I’m so glad I chose PR and not Finance and that I chose LJMU and not somewhere like Coventry (no offence to Coventry). You will have to make a lot of hard decisions in your life, always go with your gut instinct.
When it came to placements, I had this constant feeling of worry and the not knowing if I would get one, what city I would end up in or whether I would enjoy it, really stressed me out. I just wanted to know that everything would turn out ok so that I could stop worrying and stressing over it.
So I did what any normal person would do and
took up yoga went to a fortune teller.
You might think us absolute lunatics but two of my flatmates and I were celebrating the end of their exams (note their exams and not mine) and were chatting about how we’ve always wanted our fortunes told. So we thought, right let’s do it. Let’s call one and schedule an appointment. Two days later and there he was, sitting in our communal kitchen.
He chose for me to go first and not going to lie, I received an amazing reading. Amazing career, very wealthy, good health, married with two kids (he said my husband will be called Neil and I think for an English guy, that’s as close to Niall as we’re going to get) and overall an extremely successful life. Not bad, eh?
Bear in mind this was May 2016, so it was exam season at the end of first year at university. The tarot reader asked if I was planning on moving somewhere in 2017, away from Liverpool. I said it was possible. He then said ‘Next year is going to be amazing for you. Yes, 2017 and 2018 are going to be very good to you. You need to be in London.’ This put my mind right at ease and was definitely what I needed to hear so that I could stop panicking so much. It may have been a load of old waffle but it made me a lot more content that I would hopefully have a great placement.
16 months later and I can say he definitely got it right!
Check back here next Friday for the second installment in the Placement Series – How to Make Your CV Stand Out