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7 Ways to Secure a Placement Year

EmployabilityUniversityWork Experience

Considering a year in industry but not sure where to start? GRB's marketing placement student from UWE Bristol reflects upon her 7 ways to secure a placement year so you can be one step ahead of the game...

With the graduate job market becoming increasingly competitive, employers are now expecting more than just good grades and a degree.  Having an industrial placement under your belt will give you the edge over other students as you’ll have practical, real-world experience in your desired industry. As well as giving you an eye-catching CV, a placement will also provide a real insight into your chosen career path, with many students securing a firm job offer at the end. Although you might get a bit of third year FOMO, the benefits of doing a placement are endless. Sold? Use my top 7 tips to help you through your placement-searching journey.

1) Perfect your CV

This goes without saying. Make sure your CV is up to date, accurate, and easy to read. You want every line to strengthen your application so make sure you only include the most relevant information and past experience as you don’t want it to be more than two sides. If you don’t have any direct experience in the sector you're going for, think about any work experience or academic activities which can demonstrate your transferable skills. Get your friends or family to check over your CV for grammar and spelling errors - they will be able to spot mistakes far easier than you will.

On average, employers spend about 6 seconds scanning your CV before deciding whether or not to consider you, so one tiny mistake can be the difference between you getting an interview or not.  Remember to tailor your CV and cover letter to whichever job and company you’re applying to, as different employers will be looking out for specific work experience and skills. If you don’t already have one, create a professional sounding email address, and make sure you actually remember to attach your CV when sending your cover letter!

2) Plan

Applying for placements can be time consuming and stressful, especially when you have other commitments and deadlines to deal with. It’s easy to underestimate how long applications can take to complete, so the earlier you start applying and the more organised you are, the more likely you will be to get one. Make a plan of how many applications you want to send off per week, and make sure you are aware of the closing dates of each vacancy so you don’t miss out on any opportunities. Keep track of each application and regularly check your emails, not forgetting to check your junk. Most employers let you know if you've been successful or not within a good time frame, but don’t be afraid to chase up employers with a polite email if it’s been a while – it will show that you are eager.

3) Research

For each placement you apply for, extensively research the company and make sure you fully understand the job description.  Think about each company’s branding carefully and ensure you showcase how you’d suit them and their values. Remember, employers can receive hundreds of applications per vacancy so it's crucial that you highlight your best qualities and experiences in order to make you stand out. In interviews, employers will often ask how much you know about the company, so this is a great opportunity to show them you’ve done your homework. If you fail to show any knowledge of the company, it will give off the impression that you don’t really have a genuine interest. 

Thoroughly read the job details and make sure you 100% want to go for it, as otherwise it’s a waste of your time. Look out for key factors such as previous experience, subject and grade requirements, or whether or not you’ll need a driving licence - these can be make or break factors (but are often easily missed).  Assess the practicalities and heavily take into consideration the salary as well as things like the commute, how far you are willing to relocate, and rent prices.

4) Use your careers service

You are probably paying around £9k a year to study at university, so make the most out of the services they have to offer! Most careers services have a dedicated placement team who are there to guide you throughout the process, although ultimately, it’s up to you to be proactive and secure one for yourself.  They can typically offer you help with your CV and cover letter, but look out for additional workshops on other aspects like interview techniques or even how to utilise LinkedIn. Many universities directly source placements and advertise them on their careers page, but often know of other useful ways to find them – all you need to do is ask.

5) Think outside the box

As placements are becoming more and more competitive, try and think of alternative ways of finding openings rather than going straight to a generic placements website. Although this is completely fine, it’s likely that 90% of all the other students will also use this as their go-to first step. Note down the vacancies on these sites that don’t expire for a while, and in the meantime, think of other platforms to use. Go to your university’s career fair and get chatting with employers about any placement opportunities they may have. Employers will love that you’ve shown initiative and it gives them a chance to meet you face to face. In addition to this, you can get a real insight into the sort of firms you want to apply for, as it’s hard to get a feel for company from behind your laptop screen.

Revamp your LinkedIn profile and use it as a tool to start networking and looking for opportunities, as companies are increasingly using this as a way to advertise placements and graduate jobs. Think creatively and don't just go for companies that are well known - you could even look for placements abroad! Lastly, use your connections. Your family or friends might know (or even know someone who knows) of a perfect placement for your desired industry at their company. They might be able to put in a good word for you so it's worth asking around - you’ve got nothing to lose.

6) Be prepared

When it comes to the next stages of an application, remember that many firms will require you to pass things like numerical, cognitive, and personality tests. Larger companies often hold assessment centres where you’ll be tested on a range of your skills in order for them to see if you’d be a good fit.  There are heaps of websites that allow you to practice these online tests, so familiarise yourself with them beforehand as they can be quite challenging. Similarly, read up on other people’s experiences of assessment centres, as it will give you an idea of what to expect on the day and will make the experience less daunting.

Do answer calls from unknown numbers. Although cold calling is a common annoyance, you don’t want to chance ignoring a phone call that could be an employee interested in your application. Try and answer the phone somewhere quiet, and always answer in a polite manner as you don’t want to mess up your first impression by sounding rude or hostile. If you’re too busy to talk, politely arrange another time for them to call you back.

Before an interview, make sure you’ve learnt your CV inside out and bring a copy along with you. Arrive about 10 minutes early and make sure you know exactly where you're going beforehand as you don’t want to arrive late and go into your interview flustered. It is vital that you prepare questions to ask at the end as you want to show your enthusiasm and leave the interview on the best note possible. 

7) Stay positive

Securing a placement can take a lot of perseverance and resilience and it’s easy to get disheartened when you check your inbox only to find a bunch of rejection emails. It’s crucial to remember how competitive placements are and the sheer volume of responses employers receive. Applying for placements can sometimes be a matter of quality and quantity of applications, especially in highly desirable industries. There may be times where you only just missed out to another candidate on being shortlisted for an interview, so focus on the positive aspects of your application and try not to dwell. Don't be afraid to ask employers  for any constructive feedback – just use it as an opportunity to improve yourself for next time.

Finding yourself a placement can be a lengthy process, so keep reminding yourself just how impressive it will look to future employers and how much it will boost your career prospects.  Make the most of your resources, keep a positive mindset, and don’t hesitate to ask for help! By using these tips and bagging yourself a placement now, you’re doing yourself a massive favour when it comes to looking for a graduate job later down the line.

p.s. want to do my job next year? Keep an eye out for our placement year vacancies in 2018, or email [email protected] to register your interest.

Are you currently doing a placement year and have any more useful tips to share? Let us know via Twitter!

kathryn woodward grb author

Kathryn is an English Language & Linguistics student at the University of the West of England and is currently doing her Industrial Placement as a Marketing Assistant at GRB. She enjoys watching Netflix and looking at  Gemma Collins memes in her spare time.

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