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 Aoibheann McCormack who works in the Corporate Social Responsibility Student Placement position at Liverpool John Lennon Airport.
Aoibheann attends Liverpool John Moores, where she studies on the same course as myself; BA (Hons) 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: Was a year-long placement compulsory on your course?
AMcC: No, although highly encouraged, it was not compulsory. I decided to apply for placements as I’m a strong believer in learning by doing, at least that’s how I learn. I think it’s great having a degree and it obviously shows your commitment to a career but a year in industry really conveys that extra bit of determination.
How did you find the competition with other students on your course? Did you find you were all applying for the same jobs? Was there a team at your university to help with placement searching?
Applying for placements was a lot different to applying for a regular job. It’s a lot more structured and there’s a certain process to it.
I applied for about 15 placements, with my first application around the start of October. I mainly used Indeed, Prospects and LinkedIn. In my uni, I’m fortunate that the Employability Support Unit (ESU) exists! I booked a CV review, and a practice interview right before two of my placement interviews and was able to really refine my skills with their help.
It calmed me a lot as placement applications can be intimidating. In regards to interviews, I got really lucky and landed my dream placement on my second interview/assessment centre.
I never get nervous for interviews so it wasn’t the most difficult part for me to be honest, but the practice with the ESU helped none the less!
What would be your advice to students who are looking for placements themselves?
I would say don’t be disheartened if you don’t get the placement you really wanted – you will learn amazing and vital skills on most placements, even if the job is not specifically what you wanted (or thought you wanted), so be selective but keep your options open!
Also, one thing that really aided my applications was really looking at the Job Description and Person Specification. I was able to read through the qualities that the employer was seeking and match to the qualities/skills I believed I had and put them on my CV. I am fortunate that I sit within a HR department for my placement and so I have worked a lot on recruitment processes. Therefore, I know this is something important.
Also, make your CV personal. Employers want to meet a skilled individual, but they also want to meet a person – so once you’ve added all the important work experience, don’t be afraid to put down your hobbies and why you like them!
Is there anything you would advise them not to do?
Two things. First, start applying for placements when you start back in September, I mean as soon as you start. The good placements open between September and December and thousands of students will be applying. Put aside a couple of hours every other day and apply for them. If you dedicate a slot time, it won’t get too monotonous.
Secondly, I have been through so many CV’s where people don’t personalise their cover letter. It’s the first thing the ESU tells you and it shouldn’t be underestimated! It takes five minutes to research the company you’re applying for. Find a recent press release, business article about a new product/development and include a paragraph about why you think this is significant to the company. It’s a bit tedious but you’ll be glad you did it when you get your interview invite!
With the company you are on placement with now, what was their application process like? Were there parts you did and didn’t like?
Liverpool John Lennon Airport (LJLA) included an application pack, CV and Cover Letter for the application. I was also required to fill out a Company Values sheet and how I believed I can or have displayed these in past roles. I then got invited to an Assessment Centre which included a Group Discussion, two written exercises, a presentation and an interview.
I really liked the process because it tested many skills I would need for my job and it also allowed me to display my personality!
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)
I believe it gives me an advantage because along with my career goal specific skills I’ve learnt, such as communication, marketing and CSR experience which is highly valuable, you immediately bring a plethora of business skills to the interview table. The ability to work for an organisation is something you cannot teach from a textbook.
My confidence is twice as high as when I started my role and that’s thanks to becoming really adapted to a business environment – a big bonus for an employer as you show you’re capable. Employers look at your experience first so it’s great to have a year in industry to give potential employers a great impression straight away.
Had you interned anywhere before your placement?
I interned a few years ago at Cathy Martin PR (CMPR), Northern Ireland, and I have interned at Influential PR and Marketing, Liverpool. Both were for one week. My role was a PR intern in both internships and my main roles were press clippings, writing a press release, researching information around locations for designing events for CMPR, hospitality, goodie bags, helping organise models for Belfast Fashion Week and helping assist with the general set-up of Fashion Week.
From your previous internships, do you feel this prepared you for full-time work in the role you are in now? Did it help you know what to expect?
If I’m honest, not really. This is because I don’t really have a desire to work within traditional PR. My role now is extremely diverse and focuses on making my company’s brand image nationally superb in Social Responsibility – a vast task for an aviation hub, and I found my internships a bit unfulfilling as ultimately they weren’t in the side of PR I’m interested in, but at least I tried them and know they aren’t really what I’m looking for – as I said, I learn by doing!
On the job
How did you feel when you first started your placement year? Were you nervous/excited?
Oh my, was I nervous. I was this girl from a tiny town in the big bad city starting an internship at a fancy schmancy airport!
I never doubted my ability, but it was scary when I started my first week. The airport is massive and has a lot of different employees. I met every single person in my first week and it was amazing to meet them all, but I also thought ‘don’t mess this up’. I also remember being terrified to make a phone call asking a lady in the Marketing Department for a tiny favour but now I can simply knock on the door and have a conversation with the team without thinking twice.
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 is a strong place for me. I feel the most confident in my role at this point. I feel like I can talk to all colleagues confidently, even in important meetings. I wouldn’t say I know everything inside out as it’s a fantastic place to work as I genuinely mean when I say ‘no day is the same’, so I’m constantly learning something new; a better way to pitch an idea, a better way to organise an event.
I wouldn’t say it’s second nature to me but it’s 98% there. I love it!
Have you been able to experience other roles within the company?
I don’t think there are many placements like mine. My job involves working with every colleague in LJLA. I mean everyone, and it’s the best thing about my job.
For example, I work with the Head of PR & Communications to produce the company magazine and this magazine requires me to interview colleagues as well as gather articles from internal and external stakeholders. My day-to-day job requires me meeting most departments. I am currently creating the company CSR website, requiring me to work with environment, marketing, terminal services, commercial and more.
As well as this, I have worked on numerous events for #LJLALoves Alder Hey, our fundraising partnership with Alder Hey Children’s Charity, raising £200,000 to support the development of ‘Alder Play’ the digital Alder Hey Hospital app. I am fortunate enough that I get to employ, among many others, an entire fire station to aid with our events, as well as an Airfield Operations and Air Traffic Team. Furthermore, I work closely with Merseyside Police for one of our regular events which is really amazing and different!
Also, I have recently been a big part of our Cadet Firefighter Recruitment programme, as well this required me working with the Marketing, HR and Fire Department for an entire week, in a two month recruitment process. Honestly, I’m not guilty about bragging that I get involved with everything I possibly want to.
What’s been the highlight of your placement year?
I have so many. I would say a personal highlight of my year would have been organising our largest event, the Plane Pull. The event took place in December and we invited multiple teams (15 in total) from Matalan, Santander, Peel, Gaskells and more to pull a Boeing 787 on our Taxiway. Why was it a highlight? Well, LJLA in an Airport. There are numerous obstacles in the way of getting hundreds of teams ready to pull a massive aircraft with a rope onto an active Airfield; these being multiple aircraft trying to land as well as serious security legislations.
Among many things, I was responsible for internal promotion and external logistics for the teams – to get 225 individuals through an Airport Central Search while trying not to negatively influence passenger experience was a task. However, I did it. From the initial artwork to communicating the charitable importance of the event, which often isn’t on everyone’s agendas, it was a fantastic event, complete with welcome and goodbye events, entertainment and more.
It made me feel so proud that I had helped pull off an event many people doubted could happen due to the logistical difficulty. It was a massive event that took up a lot of my December, but it was worth it. It was a commercial and charitable success, raising over £6,000 for Alder Hey.
I would also publishing the company magazine was amazing. I have about 16 copies in my flat because I wrote all of it myself, collated the articles and images myself. I’m currently about to send the summer edition to print!
What’s been the biggest learning curve?
The biggest learning curve I have made is that I should never be afraid to voice my ideas. I think the label of ‘intern’ can put people off A) Listening and B) It can stop interns from voicing their opinions on projects. You have been chosen for a reason, and your team wants your input.
In the creative industry I find myself in, I have learnt that speaking up for your own ideas and thoughts can have a really positive impact. I think it’s natural to be a bit quiet when you first begin but after a month or two, you should feel comfortable and confident to say what you think works best. Do it in a respectable way of course, as your team may know better due to experience they have had previously, but at least if you voice your thoughts you will be listened to.
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 definitely think I made the right choice. I chose Business with Public Relations as I wanted to learn a solid core of Business functions but the PR allowed my love of writing and creativity to be explored. The course and my placement have provided both in vast amounts so I’m really glad I chose it.
Also, Liverpool is such a fab city! As for jobs, I will be going down the CSR/Communications route. I really want to depict how important it is for companies to value giving back to society, not only as benefiting those whom the help reaches, but the brand image and respect your organisation receives has been proved to boost profits. CSR is becoming a stronghold of investment and so it’s an exciting time to be part of it.
Overall, do you think a year in industry is beneficial and prepares students for life post-graduation? Would you recommend it?
Placement, as previously mentioned, has helped me learn so many skills and made me a lot more confident in my ability. It has allowed me to put my learning into practice – it’s been invaluable to my professional and personal development in these respects.
However, it has also aided with things like personal routines and being comfortable in new situations. I don’t think I could have coped with graduating from Uni without a year in industry. Knowing what I know now, I would be really scared going into a role post Uni without the experience I have had. I also know there are certain aspects of PR I don’t love, but again, I wouldn’t have known this without interning. So I would completely recommend!
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?
This placement was completely the right decision for me. It has allowed me to pursue the avenues I am passionate about – giving back to society. As well as this, I am so heavily involved with large and small-scale events, external and internal communications, writing and it has really given me the opportunity to explore a side of PR that I really enjoy, which gratifies me as it conveys that PR is not just what the course teaches!
Last question – Do you feel more motivated to go into final year or are you feeling apprehensive?
I think a lot of people on placement will relate when I say I just want to get it finished now. Being on placement offers the benefit that you can start to collect a bank of data for your dissertation so that relieves the stress of big bad final year.
I think I will be able to perform better in Uni next year as I have lived the course… It sounds weird but it’s true because I’ve put what I’ve learned into practice. I will have proper informed opinions when answering questions. Practice makes perfect and I think that applies to placement as I’ve practiced what I’ve learnt from two years of Uni.
It will feel weird being back in Uni life though… I might adopt a 9-5 approach to Uni days as I’m used to having a proper routine now.
Thanks Aoibheann! We’ll see if you’re still sticking to that 9-5 Uni approach when November comes around…