Friday, 21 December 2012

21.12.12 - We're here to the end

Well, it looks as though the Mayan prophecy of apocalypse on the 21 December 2012 was about as threatening as the millennium bug at the end of the twentieth century. I'm still here and I'm guessing if you are reading this too, you've made it as well.

The good news is, you have one less excuse now not to apply for placements. Summer 2013 will come around and there are hundreds of companies around the UK crying out for students to apply for their placement opportunities. The Christmas break is not just a time for catching up with old friends, family and indulgence, though I've been just as guilty of the latter as anybody else.

Free from lectures, labs, seminar, tutorials, university in general, use your time wisely and make some applications. I'm not suggesting you spend every waking moment in front of your laptop, getting frustrated by competency based questions, but if you set yourself a manageable target of say 2-3 applications a week, by the time you head back to university in January you'll have applied for half a dozen or so placements and ready to take 2013 by storm.

Keep your eye on Gradcracker, Rate My Placement, Milkround, Students on Placement and your university placement portal. There will be lots of closing deadlines of 31 December. Somebody is going to secure these jobs; it won't be you if you don't submit your application.

Merry Christmas everybody, and I wish you all a very successful 2013.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

And the award goes to.........

You'd be hard pressed to find an industry these days that does not have some sort of awards system for recognising the skills and talents of its members. This weekend the BBC Sports Personality of the Year will be announced (David Weir gets my vote). You'll find the likes of George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Meryl Streep from cinema competing for Oscars, BAFTAs and the Golden Globes. Hell, there is even an awards site dedicated to honouring the memory of people who have managed to lose their life through sheer acts of stupidity (Please do not try to do anything to get yourself a place on that website!).

Since 2010, the National Placement & Internship Awards has recognised and celebrated the achievements of students, employers and universities in the world of placements. This is my industry and having had the good fortune to attend the last awards back in January 2012, I can confirm that the event lives up to the wording of the press release. My thoughts on the NPIAs may be slightly skewed towards positivity by the fact that I left the event with a bottle of champagne, a rather unique t-shirt and a high commendation, but even without those personal mementos I'm sure that I'd look back fondly, having used the occasion to network with fellow placement professionals, recruiters and meet some incredibly talent students.

So why do I mention this now? Well, the shortlist for the 2013 NPIAs was released at the end of November and I was delighted to see that one of my former placement students is a finalist for one of the awards. Having spent many hours trying to help someone to achieve their goal, it is fantastic to see how they flourished while working in industry. This recognition on a national stage is just reward for the hours of dedication put into applying for placements, and then making the most of the opportunity when it finally came along.

My previous article talked about the need to learn from setbacks to achieve success. I'm pretty confident that all of the students up for an award will have encountered difficulties along the way in their search for  work experience. They will have overcome adversity and secured their placements through hard graft and determination. Students who are currently in the midst of their applications should take inspiration from this. Apply the same work ethic throughout their placement search and into the workplace, and they too could find themselves at the NPIAs in the future.

I'm heading back to the Awards in February and very much looking forward to the festivities. Good luck to all the finalists; hope to see you there.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Nobody said this would be easy

In case you hadn't noticed already, it is pretty chilly outside, Christmas is fast approaching and the end of the autumn term is imminent. That went pretty quickly don’t you think? Heading into the festive season, I think it is a good time to reflect on what has happened over the last couple of months with a view for planning ahead for the future.

From my perspective, The Placement Office has never been busier. Interest in placements from my courses has been huge and demand for appointments has exceeded supply throughout the term. The pre-placement lecture series has been very well attended and my students have benefited from listening to the range of employers who were invited to campus, ranging from blue-chip household names to local SMEs. The number of students making applications and being invited for telephone interviews, assessment centres or taking psychometric tests has been very pleasing.

But here is a statistic that I want to share. I'm hoping to place in the region of 150 students this academic year. As things stand, there are 4 placements confirmed. This is not something that is getting me into a panic, though as I mentioned in a previous article, news of early placement success can have a detrimental effect on others. I've been doing this job long enough to know when the bulk of my students secure a placement, and it is from March onwards. In all of the literature I circulate and in the early lectures I make this point abundantly clear, and yet I still find myself being asked “Is it too late to get a placement?” in early December.

I view placements secured before the turn of the year as bonus. The autumn term is the time to soak up information and lay the groundwork for future success. If you've already bagged a placement for next year, congratulations. You can sit back over the Christmas break and get yourself focused on your studies until the summer. You will however be in the minority. For everybody else, the placement search continues.

You may have already made some applications, but not yet had a positive response. Perhaps it time to go through the applications you've sent off, analyse if you could have better answered the questions and look to improve with your next batch of applications.

Perhaps you've got through to a telephone or face-to-face interview, but been unsuccessful. Think about what you did well, what didn't work and how you would prepare better in the future. Very few students will blitz their first interviews, and those who don’t will be better for the experience so long as they learn from it.

Maybe you've not even made an application or drawn up a CV at this point. It certainly isn't too late to start, but why not use the holidays to get started. Lots of companies have deadlines at the end of December and January, so there is no better time to get busy.

Wherever you are at with your placement search, do not be discouraged. View every unsuccessful application as a building block to your eventual success. Nobody said that getting a placement would be easy, but if you remain focused on your target and learn from your setbacks, there is no reason why you can’t be successful.

Monday, 3 December 2012

A Little Discourage

"Is it too late for me to get a placement?"

This was not a question that I expected to be asked on the first Monday of December, but nonetheless was one that I had posed to me today by one of my students. I explained to him that I usually expect to be advertising a good number of opportunities right up until August before they start to dry up. Momentarily this offered some comfort, but I could tell by his eyes that another question was coming my way. And it did.

"Some people on my course have already got a placement. I've not even written my CV. What can I do?"

While the answer to this may seem glaringly obvious, and it was very tempting to point this out, I knew that behind this line of questioning there was a lot of anxiety. Rather than add to the worries of this young man I decided it would be better to try to identify the source of his negativity. A few tactful questions of my own later, I was rather surprised to learn who or what was responsible.


That's right, the person charged with advocating the uptake of sandwich placements, and to help the students from my courses to secure one, had inadvertently caused panic. What was my methodology for instilling such terror? Well, over the past week I've let it be known that several of my students have already accepted placement offers from companies, with a view to motivate their classmates to want to match their achievements. For the most part this has been successful. I have noticed a surge in footfall from students wanting to know if the rumour they have heard is true, and then demanding to have their CVs checked before firing off a fresh batch of applications.

However, while throwing the proverbial cat among the pigeons has had the desired effect for some of the class, clearly it has been somewhat detrimental for others. What is motivational for one person serves as a little discourage for another. Newton's third law suggests every action has an equal or opposite reaction - today's interaction in The Placement Office is probably not quite what Sir Isaac had in mind but it has given me some food for thought when engaging with a mass audience.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Guest Post - Cracking Careers Fairs

This is an article I have been sent by one of my readers who is currently searching for graduate opportunities and wanted to share with my audience how their preparation for a Careers Fair is already starting to bear fruit. Enjoy.

What is the best strategy for making a great impression at a careers fair? I pondered this as I flicked
my free personalised Moo cards across the table. You see last year I took everybody’s advice and
created personalised business cards online, super excited at the thought of handing out my details to
prospective employers. They of course in return, getting in touch and offering me that opportunity I was
so eager for.

It didn't work out like that. As I strolled around the stands, speaking with each company’s
representatives, it suddenly dawned on me that maybe I should be taking their business cards. In fact
all but one of my personalised business card was handed back to me. This made me feel two things.
1, highly embarrassed, feeling like a rejected lover with no date to the prom. 2, slightly annoyed at the
effort that I had gone to, with clearly the wrong strategy.

So what did I do? Well I listened. Listened carefully to all of those representatives on those stands at the
careers fair. They were looking for something tangible, to show them that I would be a great fit for their
company. Aha I thought, a CV would fit the bill. What if I created a one page CV just for the careers fair?
This could highlight my best bits and show representatives that I truly would be a great hire.

A year later with my new masterplan, I got a little excited at the thought of careers fair domination,
creating a mega four page stapled pack that I would hand out. I was warned that this was excessive,
however, I reasoned that the more effort I made, the better my chances of scoring a date to the prom..
ahem I mean a career opportunity.

So I strutted around the careers fair, proudly talking to representatives on each careers stand,
introducing myself and learning about what they were offering on the day. If I felt that I would be an
ideal candidate, I would show them my mega pack. Surprisingly.. this worked! Two pages of my mega
pack were my CV, with the remaining pages detailing my references. I talked each representative
through my pack, with almost unanimous praise from them. I took the representatives details and a day
after the careers fair, I am connected to every one of them on LinkedIn. Not only that, but I have been
contacted with possible job opportunities!

I am now building relationships and networking with my new friends about possible career
opportunities. Oh, and those personalised business cards? Well they come in very handy when closing
my Interviews. Win – Win.

Friday, 9 November 2012

I'm Alive!

It is thought that a picture says a thousand words. Coincidentally, a typical two page CV amounts to roughly one thousand words in which you outline education, relevant skills, work experience and so on. I've yet to come across a picture which I would consider to be detailed enough to dispense with a traditional black and white resume, but wouldn't it be nice if it could?

Perhaps though there can be some sort of compromise. I'm quite a recent convert to Pinterest, and having got past the initial stage of drowning in pictures of dogs and cakes (sign up for an account and you'll see what I mean) I've been looking into ways of using pinboards for career purposes. Some of you will already be familiar with the page I created to help students identify placement opportunties but rather than just using Pinterest to slap some gloss onto a page of links, what about using the system to create a more aesthetically pleasing CV?

I'll happily confess I'm not the first person to try this (hat tip to Gail McGuigan for providing inspiration) but what surprised me was just how easy it was to create a Pinterest resume. In about 15 minutes I was able to throw together something which introduces me, my professional working experience, achievements, a link to my blog and social media contact details. I even managed to throw in some personal interests for good measure. Take a look for yourself and let me know what you think.

I'm not sure that I'm quite ready to advocate ditching the traditional CV in favour of something more creative. However, in future when I am asked by my students 'how can I make my application stand out?' I will suggest they consider using Pinterest as a means for providing colour context to supplement their application. Behind each CV there is a person with a story to tell; why not show recruiters that you are alive and more than just some text on a couple of sheets of A4.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Don't you forget about (S)ME(s)

Rewind the clock 17 years and it is November 1995. The internet is available through 56k dial-up modems, social media does not exist and The Placement Officer is still at school. It was a big year for British music and it came to pass that on the first weekend of the month, I had tickets to go and see two of the biggest bands in the country. On the Saturday I went to watch Radiohead play at Brixton Academy and the following evening Oasis played at Earls Court. I’d delivered hundreds of papers to save up the money to afford the tickets, and painstakingly made tape compilations for my Walkman (no such thing as ipods back then) made up of tracks from Pablo Honey, The Bends, Definitely Maybe, What’s the Story, and b-sides. This was going to be the best weekend of my life, watching two of my favourite bands in the flesh.

Once the weekend had been and gone, there was a very clear winner about who I thought had been the best band. It wasn’t Radiohead, who to my surprise were a pretty sterile live act, and with an honourable exception of My Iron Lung (which produced glorious scenes of carnage) failed to create the sort of atmosphere that I had been expecting. However, it wasn’t Oasis either, who were incredibly dull and static. The fact that I subsequently went to see them play the following summer at Knebworth with 125000 other people remains one of life’s great mysteries, as I’ve no idea why I subjected myself to that for a second time. No, the best band I watched in that star-studded weekend were a little known group from America called Sparklehorse, one of the support acts, who blew away the more recognisable artists with consummate ease. Ever heard of them? Probably not!

You may be asking yourself why am I taking this nostalgic look at my musical past on a blog that is supposed to be about placements. Well, as much as it is fun to hark back to the mid-90s, my experience with Radiohead, Oasis and Sparklehorse provides quite a good analogy for students looking for placements, when comparing blue-chip companies with small or medium sized organisations. While the audience at the Radiohead and Oasis gigs will have been filled with people who will have spent the last 17 years telling people it was the best show ever, there will be others like me who will have felt underwhelmed by the experience and drawn towards the smaller bands. The same principles apply with placement employers. While lots of students will aspire to work for the bigger names in the industry, others may find that a smaller company offering placements may be more appealing.

An SME will offer a different placement experience, but no less valuable than what you will get from working for a better known organisation. While you're looking through the range of placement opportunities advertised by your university, Gradcracker, Rate My Placement or whoever, fight the urge to overlook the companies you are less familiar with and take the time to find out what they have to offer. Your placement officer should be able to help you with this, as they may have worked alongside the SMEs in previous years and know about the students from your course who have undertaken placements with them. Tap into this information source and you could unearth a hidden gem, a Sparklehorse that you may not have otherwise known existed.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

#PlacementChat returns

#PlacementChat returns on Thursday 25 October. From 9pm I will be online to answer your placement questions live.

Questions can be asked using the hashtag #placementchat

You can follow the conversation on Twitter, using Tweetchat or by logging onto my website 

I look forward to seeing you online later this evening.


For those who missed it, you can read how things went by looking in the TweetChat box at the bottom of the page. The tweets should remain viewable for the next week

Monday, 22 October 2012

The 7 C's of Digital Career Literacy - In Practice

This is an article that I recently wrote for Tristam Hooley's blog, Adventures in Career Development. It is not particularly related to placements but I thought it still may be of interest to some of my readers. If you haven't already done so, please visit Tristam's blog which makes for excellent reading. 

I am not someone who typically flirts with career theory. My involvement in career development starts and ends as a coalface practitioner within the confines of Higher Education, where the focus lies in helping clients to reach for the first rung of the ladder. Dosed up on a concoction of CV review and extolling the virtue of employability, I leave the science behind my craft to the thinkers.

However, I was recently drawn to an article by Tristam Hooley published in the NICEC journal in which the author explored the relationship between career development and online technology. In summarising the skills and knowledge required for people to pursue their careers effectively through using the internet, Hooley identifies seven elements for developing digital career literacy, which he calls the Seven C’s.

This struck a chord with me on two levels. Firstly, I encourage my students to take advantage of the opportunities social media and the web can offer in their search for internships and graduate jobs, be that sourcing opportunities, researching industries or networking with recruiters. The Seven C’s offers a simple framework for careers professionals to deliver this message to their students, perhaps through case studies revolving around successful technologically savvy graduates.

What also struck me about the Seven C’s what how much of it I could relate to on a personal level. Over the past year I have actively taken steps to enhance my career through online engagement. In a moment I will outline what each of the Seven C’s has meant to me in practice, but first I will offer a little context into why I embarked of my journey with technology.

I have been working in Higher Education for almost 7 years. During that time I have helped hundreds of students to secure sandwich placements as part of their undergraduate studies. I love the role I play in helping young people to take the early steps on what I hope will be a highly successful career path, and yet paradoxically I have spent little time actively developing my own career. At the start of 2012 I devised a project which could offer both networking opportunities and personal development outside the confines of my traditional working environment and immersed in the digital world.

Here then is my experience of The Seven C’s of digital career literacy

Changing describes the ability to understand and adapt to changing online career contexts and to learn to use new technologies for the purpose of career building.

My project began with a simple idea; a blog written purely about placements, filling a gap I perceived to exist within the careers blogging community. ‘Tales from the Placement Office’ was born and I assumed an online identity called ‘The Placement Officer’. I viewed this as a suitable platform to share good practice and promote the advantages of placements. It also offered an opportunity to practice what I preach to students about online engagement.

Communicating describes the ability to interact effectively across a range of different platforms, to understand the genre and netiquette of different interactions and to use them in the context of career

A blog without an audience is like novel written in disappearing ink; the content may exist but nobody is going to read it. I created a Twitter account to complement the blog by promoting new articles. A LinkedIn profile was also initially established with a view to reaching out to relevant professional groups. However, it soon became apparent that this was not an appropriate platform to advance the project as the faceless profile of ‘The Placement Officer’ struggled to make connections or secure group membership. Subsequently the account was closed down with the Twitter account taking over as the chief communication tool and means by which interactions could occur.

Connecting describes the ability to build relationships and networks online that can support career development

While Twitter provided a means to spread word of the blog, it was important to develop online relationships with key placement stakeholders. Starting from a base of zero followers, I purposefully instigated interactions with organisations that offered a strong prospect of sharing my articles to their audience within the placement community. Rate My Placement provided a link to students, while PlaceNet offered a route to fellow placement professionals. To my surprise, I quickly found a third party (Career Geek) were interested in my work and offered guest blogging opportunities, which I duly accepted with a view to reaching a wider audience.

Creating describes the ability to create online content that effectively represents the individual, their interests and their career history

What began as an idea one cold January evening has thus far spawned 33 placement-related articles. I would like to think that each one of them has been injected with strains of my personality, although the fact that I have until very recently blogged anonymously means that I have some work to do yet if the blog is to offer a true reflection of career history.

Curating describes the ability of an individual to reflect on and develop their digital footprint and online networks as part of their career building

My most recent article in which I unveiled the author behind the blog provided a first step in my new digital footprint. A by-product of this has been an influx of requests from placement professionals who have wanted to join my online network on LinkedIn. My next course of action will be to update my profile to include the blogging experience and to ensure that the digital footprint created as ‘The Placement Officer’ is transferred across to me as an individual.

Collecting describes the ability to source, manage and retrieve career information and resources

Something that I have learned throughout my project is the digital world contains good information, bad information and lots that falls somewhere in between. Separating the good becomes easier as your online network expands, where contacts directly or indirectly refer to quality material. For example, prior to starting the blog, I was unfamiliar with the excellent video resources offered by Aimee Bateman through her Career Cake TV portal, but became aware of her work through a mutual acquaintance on Twitter. Shortly afterwards when writing an article on the potential dangers of social media when job hunting, I was able to refer to a specific resource from the Career Cake website and with permission from the owner embedded a video into my article.

Critiquing describes the ability to understand the nature of online career information and resources, to analyse its provenance and to consider its usefulness for a career

This is perhaps the weakest of my Seven C’s within the context of the project. Where I have offered review of career resources, such as ‘A Student’s Guide to the Top Placement & Internship Employers’ it has been done from the perspective of my audience, rather than in terms of me as an individual. However, this article in response to Hooley’s journal item is a personal (if public) reflection of a career resource and as such falls under the banner of critique.

In conclusion, I have found the Seven C’s of digital career literacy a particularly useful tool for mapping my online career engagement and identifying areas that may require improvement. Each element is easily understood and from the perspective of a practitioner, I can see how I may present this to students as a framework to help them to develop technology-led career savvy. I encourage others to utilise the Seven C’s to reflect upon and assess the development of their own digital career literacy.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Introducing 'The Placement Officer'

When I started this blog earlier in the year, I was looking for a new challenge. After experiencing a number of setbacks in 2011, I decided to immerse myself in a project that would enable personal development, enhance my skillset and build upon a successful start to 2012. Modern day careers advice encourages students to utilise social media as a networking tool and so in an effort to practice what I preach, Tales from the Placement Office was dreamt up and I adopted The Placement Officer as my title.

10 months, 32 articles, 1070 tweets and 385 followers later, I can only be pleased with how the project has developed to date. My humble placement blog was quickly embraced by the careers blogging community, and I soon received a guest blog opportunity from Career Geek. I have been extremely grateful to the likes of Rate My Placement and PlaceNet for publicising my articles to their Twitter followers, which has been a great help in expanding my network and reaching a wider audience. 

I have engaged in a variety of conversations, some serious, others less so, with bloggers, careers & placement professionals, recruiters and students, that simply would not have happened had this blog not existed. While to that extent my time as 'The Placement Officer' has been successful and I have undoubtedly advanced my social media skills, it has been difficult to map personal development as throughout the project I have been hiding behind my online alias.

Anonymity was very important to me when I started out. Initially I wasn't sure how well received the blog would be or if there would be any interest in my musings. 'The Placement Officer' provided a safety blanket which offered protection from failure. I was also very clear that I wanted my blog to retain neutrality, fearing that if it was too closely identified with one person from a particular university it would not appeal to a wider community.

Now that those fears have been allayed, I feel the time is right for a proper introduction. In recent days I have unmasked to a few people and the sky did not fall in. Hopefully that won't happen now either. If curiosity gets the better of you, my LinkedIn profile can be found by clicking here - I know this won't be a complete bombshell for some of you who had already joined together the dots!

With disclosure comes both apologies and confession. At the PlaceNet conference in May I was offered numerous opportunities to unveil but chose not to. Several delegates questioned me directly and to my shame I denied all involvement. I would like to take this opportunity to publicly apologise to all those concerned and I will be contacting them privately to do likewise.

The eagle-eyed amongst you may notice from LinkedIn there is a discrepancy between my job title and my chosen alias. I am not in the literal sense a placement officer, so if any of my readers or followers feel mislead then I unreservedly apologise to you. When picking my name, I went for something that was easily understood and to put it bluntly, 'The Placement Assistant' would not have been half as effective in establishing an online identity. While there may have been a slight embellishment in this area, I stand completely behind the content of my articles. I am passionate about my industry, a huge advocate of placements and if 'The Placement Officer' has motivated even one student to pursue an internship, re-start an application or give due consideration to their graduate prospects, I believe that this will have been a worthwhile project.

Having built a strong online presence, I will continue to blog and tweet under the same alias. However, for this one article I will make a long overdue formal introduction. My name is Graham, I am 'The Placement Officer' and it is great to make your acquaintance.

Friday, 5 October 2012

#placementchat - a retrospective

Have you heard the one about the blogger, the recruiter and the geek?

It sounds like the basis of a pretty cheap gag but in fact goes some way to describe some of the participants in the inaugural Placement Chat hosted on Twitter yesterday evening. I was joined by a fellow university professional, students currently out on placement, a graduate/blogger who benefited from undertaking a placement, and a recruitment consultant/careers adviser.

Throughout the hour discussion ranged from the benefits of placements, parental influence on decision making, how students can help themselves to become more employable and even helped a student with preparation for their quarterly review.

Inspired by the brilliant Career Cam Live I wanted to use social media to create an interactive session to discuss the virtues of placement and hopefully reach an audience beyond my existing network.

The technology that powered the event was incredibly simple. Anybody with a Twitter account could interact with the conversation using the hashtag #placementchat while using an application called TweetChat made it very simple to block out the rest of the Twitter world. Copying a little bit of HTML code, I embedded a TweetChat window into my blog so that my readers could keep track of the event.

In terms of promotion, I probably need to apologise to my Twitter followers as for the last week or so I have been posting regular reminders of the time and date. I'm very grateful to those who retweeted the messages to their followers, particularly my friends at Career Geek who put out a stream of messages through their social media channels. Ahead of the next #placementchat I will look to tap into the marketing expertise of Rate My Placement to reach out to a wider student audience.

So what were the outcomes of this event? From a personal perspective, I was happy with how the session went. Whenever you try something new or innovative there is always the danger of falling flat on your face and I had worried that I would be sat at my laptop tweeting to myself for an hour. That didn't happen but I'll be the first to admit that I was hoping for a little more student engagement in the session. However, a platform has been laid for future events and any fears I held about exiting my comfort zone have been put to rest.

There were other positives too. One of the participants sent me a message afterwards to say they had been inspired and would be looking into the possibility of doing something similar. I noticed two of the participants networking outside of the main conversation and may look to collaborate together on a future project.

On reflection, I am fairly pleased with how things worked out. I'm excited at the possibilities of running similar sessions with my own students, perhaps involving placement recruiters or inviting alumni to recount their placement stories to the current class.

There will be another #placementchat in the near future. Keep your eyes open for the hashtag.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Everything you wanted to know about placements (but you were afraid to ask!)

Are you starting your search for a placement but not quite sure where to begin?

On Thursday 4 October I will be hosting a live Q&A session about all things placements. Between 9-10pm, tweet your questions using the hashtag #placementchat or join me in TweetChat to follow the whole session.

You will also be able to view the conversation from my blog Tales from the Placement Office

If you are unable to join me online on Thursday night but have questions you would like answered, post your questions with the #placementchat hashtag and I will respond to them during the Q&A.

Whether you are are a student, recruiter, placement officer, academic or just interested to find out more, everybody is welcome to join the conversation. I look forward to tweeting with you on Thursday night.

Disclaimer - While my intention is for the TweetChat to be both informative and interactive, in no way should it be considered a substitute for advice and guidance from the Placement and Careers professionals at your university. For a more in-depth consultation without the confines of 140 character spaces, I strongly encourage students to book an appointment with their Placement Officer.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

All aboard the milkround!

It is late September, the weather is particularly miserable and the fun and games that is Fresher's Week will soon be just a distant memory. But while the excitement of a new academic year fades away as lectures, labs and coursework kick in, coming up fast on the horizon is milkround season. Whether it be in recruitment fairs, employer presentations or guest appearances in lectures, recruiters are coming to campus on a mission to identify fresh talent to fill their placement and graduate schemes.

Click here for a comprehensive list of recruitment fairs on the Prospects website

While opportunities to interact with recruiters through social media channels are increasing, the chance to impress in person are much more limited, which means that making a strong and positive first impression is paramount. With that in mind, here are some suggestions for how students should approach recruitment fairs.

Guess what? Preparation!

I suspect that I may end up sounding like a broken record, but just as I would encourage my students to prepare for interviews or assessment centres, so too should they do some homework before a fair. If you head into a packed, noisy venue, without any sort of plan of action it can be a bit slightly intimidating environment. There may be 70+ stands covering a broad range of employers and once you step into the room you may ask yourself 'Where do I begin?' The chances are your careers service will publish an attendee list prior to the event, so track that down and make yourself a shortlist of the people you want to talk to. This will also help you when working on the next suggestion.

Check out the schemes on offer before the event

If you want to have a meaningful conversation with a recruiter, it probably should not start with a question that is easily answered on Google. Don't fall into the trap of trawling for really basic information like 'Do you offer an IT Grad scheme?' or 'Does your company have business placements?' Find this out beforehand by doing a little research on the web and go armed with some knowledge when you walk into the event. Then when you start your conversation with recruiters you can begin with 'I was reading about the ABC scheme on your website and would like to find out a bit more about 123'. Pretty basic stuff but it demonstrates from the off that you have an interest in that employer and have already taken the time to look into what they offer.

Be ready to hand over your details

Employers aren't just coming to your university to raise awareness of their brand and recruitment schemes. They will be looking to sign up students to mailing lists so that further information about their opportunities can be circulated. You would think that writing down an email address would be a simple task, but there are pitfall to avoids. Firstly, if the employer is using the tried and trusted paper and pen to gather their data (rather than the very nifty OCP Mobile Data Capture App) make sure that you take the time to write your details down in a clear and legible fashion. You could have a great interaction with an employer but if you scribble down your email in a way they can't read, they will not be able to follow this up with you. Think carefully about the email address you give them too. Stick to something plain and professional sounding like rather than anything more eccentric.

Do I take my CV with me?

I'm not someone who subscribes to the idea of printing off dozens of copies of your CV to hand out at a recruitment fair. For a start, the document is not going to be tailored towards a particular role or company, but also you are not going to bypass recruitment stages in doing so and you'll still need to apply electronically. If you are determined to hand over your resume, at the very least make sure you go to see a Careers Advisor prior to the event to get it checked out. Nothing hits a dustbin quicker than a poorly written CV strewn with spelling and grammatical errors.

Personally, if I was wanting to give an employer something to remember me by at a fair, I'd be more inclined to go armed with personalised business cards rather than a paper CV. They needn't be anything particularly fancy or expensive (Moo offer student discount) but something that contains your name, contact details and LinkedIn address would do very nicely.

Build upon that initial contact

If all goes well at a Fair and you've had a good interaction with a recruiter, be proactive in following up on it. You can do this by sending an email, but bear in mind that the recruiter may have talked to several hundred people on the same day as you and without a face to go with your name they may struggle to remember you.  However, if you connect with them via LinkedIn, not only will they be able to recognise you from that initial conversation, but they will also be able to view your profile to find out more about you and your past experience.

What about the Freebies?

When I was toying with the idea for this article, one of my followers posed this question to me. 'Do you give tips on getting the best freebies off the table without making eye contact with the employer?' This was said to me in jest but nevertheless raises an important point. Companies may well bring promotional items with them, but the purpose of attending recruitment fairs is to network with employers and put yourself on their radar. The most important freebie you can take is the business card of the recruiter. Tins of mints or branded biros are secondary.

While the milkround will not directly present students with a position on a placement or graduate scheme, it provides an opening to engage with the people whose job it is to supply employers with student hires. If you are serious about getting recruited in the class of 2013, head along to recruitment fairs and employer events this autumn to put yourself in the shop window.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Rate My Placement - Top Employers Guide 2012/13

In the coming weeks, students up and down the country will begin their placement search in earnest. While some of them will have already identified the companies they plan to apply to, others will be looking for information sources to assist with the decision making process. During the autumn term, my students will come into contact with a number of employers through placement lectures and careers fairs which helps to raise their awareness of some of the opportunities that are available. I also like to run ‘speed-dating’ sessions where returning students are available to share their experiences with placement seekers, providing insight into what it is like to work as an intern within their respective organisations.

While all of this provides a strong grounding to help my students to make informed decisions, I am always receptive to new resources that enhance the provision I offer. One such publication which I am very pleased to distribute to my students comes from Rate My Placement, who has just released the latest version of the Student’s Guide to The Top Placement & Internship Employers. The 2012/13 edition is 164 pages crammed full of advice, industry insights plus all of the details of the companies who were ranked as the Top 50 Placement & Internship Employers.

The table is compiled based upon placement reviews submitted by interns who have worked for the companies, and so this guide is essentially put together by students for students. Rate My Placement co-founder Oliver Sidwell explains the benefit of their giant bank of student placement reviews  - “We pride ourselves on being able to provide students with access to the information they really want to know about a company but are probably not going to find on a corporate website. This unique TripAdvisor style approach to placements and internships ensures students make better informed decisions when placing their first step on the career ladder.”

So which companies are rated by students as the Top Placement & Internship Employers? Well, as the infographic below illustrates, the banking and professional services industries dominate the top 10, with Barclays taking the crown from last year’s winner Grant Thornton. Jane Clark, head of campus recruitment, corporate and investment banking at Barclays said “we’re delighted that our programmes have been given such high recognition - to be rated top by the students who have ‘been here and done it’ is a great accolade for us.”     

Aside from the bigger names, Rate My Placement also include details of the best medium-sized and small to medium-sized employers, which I think is very important as placements within smaller organisations are just as valuable as working for a household name, and in some cases can offer broader experience and levels of responsibility. 

While I'm very happy to promote this publication to my students, it is not without its faults. I would not expect to see too many employers feature from more niche industries such as product design or the creative arts, but for other disciplines there is a dearth of employers in the Top 50. For example, aside from GSK who rank inside the Top 10, plus Cancer Research and Unilever, there is relatively few companies from the scientific industries which comes as a surprise given how many pharmaceutical companies offer placements and internships. Likewise, engineering seems somewhat under represented, with only Cummins, National Grid and BP flying the flag. With that in mind, Mechanical Engineering students may prefer to stick to the Gradcracker toolkit for information and advice more specific to their industry.

Those issues aside, the Guide remains essential reading for students who are looking for placements or internships, particularly from business, numerical or IT courses. Expect to find plenty of copies in your Placement or Careers Service, or if Rate My Placement are attending your Freshers' Fair be sure to say hello and grab yourself a guide. If you can't wait for a hard copy and want to check it out now, you can view the guide below.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

The Strategic Fresher

September. A month that signifies the summer has been and gone (did it actually turn up?). The days get increasingly shorter and for thousands of school leavers up and down the country, a cocktail of nervous tension, excitement and anticipation builds inside them as the day draws closer to pack their bags and head off to university. Awaiting them is the beautiful chaos that is Fresher’s Week; that bizarre blend of queuing for ID cards, poster sales, getting acquainted with housemates at the Union bar and integrating into life on campus. My personal recollection of the first few days I spent at university is predictably sketchy. I know I drank more than I had probably ever done so before and signed up for a whole range of random groups and societies, most of which I never engaged with beyond handing over a membership fee at Fresher’s Fair. Fortunately I went to university before the days of social media, so don't have to be constantly reminded with photographic evidence of some of the sillier things I got up to.

The nature of my job means that my interaction with first year students is somewhat limited. I may get wheeled out to introductory lectures or given 5 minutes shout outs to extol the virtues of placements, but by and large the first time I engage in meaningful dialogue with my students is at the start of the second year of their studies. When going through the first drafts of CVs, it is pretty easy to identify the students who made the most of their first year. Believe it or not, the decisions taken in the first couple of weeks at university can have a big impact on your ability to secure a placement.

With that in mind, here is my strategic guide for Fresher's.

Sign up – Fresher’s Fair is more than just a chance to acquire freebies. By all means get yourself bagfuls of gratis energy-saving light bulbs, sweets, pens and energy drinks, but also make sure that you get signed up to clubs or societies with one eye on how they can benefit your CV and future applications. If you’re looking to work in business, think about joining the Entrepreneur society. Sports teams can provide you with opportunities to develop teamwork and leadership. More quirky societies such as Clubbing or Anime Appreciation can still add value to your CV if you get involved with the management team, though just be wary about how things may look to an employer. There isn’t going to be much professional value for example in saying you’re an active member of a beer drinking society.

Power to the people – If there are opportunities to volunteer as a course or class rep, put yourself forward for the role. You’ll get to attend meetings with your department, giving the chance to develop your communication skills, particularly in liaising with heads of school. You may get to pitch ideas, find solutions to problems or disseminate news to your classmates. Somebody will be able to put all of these down on their applications, so grab the opportunity should it arise.

Don’t drop the ball – In those first few weeks at university, it can be very easy to get dragged along to every single event. Night after night of excess is not only going to affect your bank balance but could be detrimental to your learning. Ignore any concept of taking the first year easy. Even if your modules bear no credits for your degree it is in your best interests to get off to a good start. When you apply for placements, you will find that most of the big companies only want to hear from students who are on course for a 2:1 or better. At the start of your second year, the only evidence you have to support you on this is the transcript of your first year grades, so put aside any notion of taking it easy and merely passing the course. Get your head down early, engage with your modules and do yourself justice in your coursework and exams.

Fill in the blanks – If your CV is lacking in work experience, get yourself along to your JobShop and see what is available. There may roles going on campus, either within catering, the Union, academic departments or the library. Student Ambassador roles for open days are a perfect opportunity to build your confidence in public speaking through giving campus tours to prospective students and their parents. Lots of universities now offer Employability Awards, helping their students to develop skills and experience to help them secure employment beyond graduation. Taking advantage of these opportunities will not only bolster your CV but also give you examples to use on placement application forms.

The opening weeks of your time at university will be a blur of emotions and experiences. In amongst the late nights, socialising and acclimatising to your new surroundings, don’t lose sight of the reasons why you are there; to develop your knowledge and learning, and to put yourself in the shop window for graduate employers. What you choose to do even in those crazy days of Fresher’s Week can make a tangible difference to your chances of successfully securing a placement. Enjoy the ride, but not too much.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Inspiring the next generation

Thomas Edison once defined genius as 'one per cent inspiration, ninety-nine per cent perspiration'.

Of the many stories that emerged from the competitors at London 2012, the tale of Bradley Wiggins was the one that struck the greatest chord with me. As a boy, he watched cyclist Chris Boardman ride his way to gold in Barcelona and was inspired to take up the sport. 20 years of hard graft later and Wiggins is not only a winner of 7 Olympic medals but earlier this year became the first British winner of the Tour de France. Clearly old Tommy was onto something with his lightbulb moment.

When it comes to helping my students to secure a placement, I operate within the ninety-nine per cent range. Collectively we put in the hours to achieve a mutual goal; they want to gain work experience, I want them to take advantage of all the benefits a placement can offer to their early careers. My role entails providing advice and guidance, building relationships with industry and empowering the students to take advantage of the opportunities that are available to them. Ultimately the bulk of the hard work rests on the shoulder of the student. I can't force them to attend placement lectures, make applications or attend interviews, so for my students to be successful they either need to be self-disciplined, or retain suitable levels of motivation.

So who or what provides students with their inspiration? Some may look up to icons of industry such as Richard Branson or the late Steve Jobs. Others will have mentors or relatives to point them onto the path to success. There will however be a great number of students in my lectures that have yet to find their spark and I see it as my job to provide this.

Now, before you start pounding your keyboards in frustration at this overt big-headedness, I probably need to explain myself. I'm not going to pretend to be responsible for my students having a Eureka moment. Nor would I ever expect to deliver that all important one per cent. However, while I may not be the person who lights the fuse, wherever possible I do try to provide the touchpaper.

In my experience, students often gain more inspiration from their peers than they get through industry professionals, or indeed the humble Placement Officer. When companies come to deliver presentations as part of my placement modules, I encourage them to send along one of their current interns. The audience can better relate to seeing one of their own talking about their placement experience, while the presenting student is able to talk through their placement search that will have begun a year earlier in the very same lecture theatre. When promoting placement opportunities, I like to include a profile from a student who has previously worked in the role, to give generic job descriptions a more personal feel which my students can identify with. Better still, they may be happy to be contacted informally by prospective applicants, opening the doorway for networking opportunities. Placement students that share insights from their work experience and placement journey provide context; a living, breathing example of what can be achieved through engaging with sandwich placements.

Inspiration can come in many forms. For the 12 year old Wiggins, watching the Olympics changed his life forever. Sourcing inspiration when looking for placements doesn't have to come from such a defining moment, but rubbing shoulders with fellow students from the same course who have successfully secured a placement may be all that you need. After all, if they can get a placement and be successful, why can't you?

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Going for Gold

So here they are. 7 years in the making and despite some predictable grumbling about security and upsetting the North Korean women’s football team, the Olympics are set to kick off with a bang on Friday night. For the next two and a bit weeks competitors from around the world will be going for gold after weeks, months and years of preparation. To get this far, Olympians will have had to dedicate themselves to their sport, make personal sacrifices and shed blood, sweat and tears along the way. Competing at the Olympics is the pinnacle of an athlete’s career and with very few exceptions (Eric the Eel comes to mind) they get there after years of training and commitment.

I understand that there will be something like 24 digital tv channels showing live coverage of the Games, so students enjoying the summer break will be able to feast upon a variety of sports. However, while building up expertise on relatively unknown events such as Modern Pentathlon, or catching up with the latest round of the Water Polo competition, I would encourage students who have just completed their first year at university to take a leaf out of the book of the Olympic competitors and start planning ahead for their next big challenge, namely securing a placement.

The start of the new academic year may be a couple of months away, but it is never too early to get the ball rolling. The fact that the likes of AccentureDeloitte and Deutsche Bank are already accepting applications for placements and internships should be enough to convince a student that they are already under Starter’s Orders and don’t want to be left stumbling out of the blocks. In the next six to eight weeks, lots of the better known placement schemes will open for the 2013 intake so here is some simple advice to enable students to hit the ground running.

1. Focus your thoughts on what sort of role you are interested in. At this point you may not be too sure yourself, but contact your Placement Office to find out the sorts of jobs that students from your course typically do for a placement. So for example, if you are on a finance-related course, do you want to be an Accountant? Maybe a Financial Analyst. Perhaps you see yourself in Banking or want to pursue a career as an Actuary. When making applications it is better to be clear about why you wish to apply for a particular role, rather than spread your bets in a half-hearted fashion.

2. Once you’ve got your head around the sort of placement you are looking for, it is time to identify employers who offer what you want. Again your Placement Office can help you with this, or you can tap into the 10,000+ reviews that have been posted on Rate My Placement 

3. Get your CV updated and ready to send. Don’t be surprised if this means completely re-writing a CV you have previously used to secure part-time employment. What was good enough to get you a job serving coffee or stacking shelves may not be up to the professional standard expected by blue chip organisations. Get in touch with your Placement Officer about your CV during the summer and you are more likely to get an immediate appointment than during the autumn term when you will be vying for attention with hundreds of other students.

4. If there are any obvious gaps on your CV at this stage, you still have time to do something about it before making applications. Work experience, whether through part-time jobs, internships or volunteering is key. If you can find something short term over the next couple of months, it can be added to your CV, provide you with material to write about in applications and demonstrate to a recruiter that you have employment experience. Sitting around watching the Olympics on TV is not going to help you, getting involved with a community project might.

5. Use social media to your advantage. Some companies have dedicated Twitter or Facebook accounts to engage with students. Examples include Ernst & Young (@EY_StudentsUK) , IBM (@IBMUKGraduate) and Barclays (@barclaysgrads) Follow them and be kept updated on their opportunities and deadlines.

In your search for a placement you will face many challenges. There may not be the physical demands that Olympic competitors face, but making applications, sitting online tests and attending assessment days will require you to dedicate time and energy if you are to achieve your aspirations. Finding a placement is more like a marathon than a sprint. If you want to secure gold, you need to put in the hard graft to push yourself into contention. Do your preparation now and you’ll give yourself a competitive edge.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Post-Placement? - Time to cash in

So it is summer 2012. Contrary to what the weather looks like outside your window it is the summer, which means that the students who started a yearlong placement in summer 2011 have either reached the end of their internship or are currently seeing out the last few weeks of their contract. It will have been a year in which a transformation has taken place from undergraduate to young professional. However, once a placement reaches its natural conclusion, relieved of the daily working grind a student has to decide what to do with their time between now and entering the final year of their degree.

Beyond some well earned r&r and maybe a holiday or two, here is some advice on how to make the most of the next couple of months.

First, get the formalities out of the way. Complete any assignments your university expects you to submit in relation to your placement year. You didn’t choose to work a placement just so that you can write a 3000 word report for an Academic to casually read, but it is worth engaging with the tasks set as they will help you to reflect on your experiences, and if the placement year is accredited by your university, will allow you to pick up some extra credits.  

Second, earn yourself a £5 voucher from RateMyPlacement. Easy reward for 5 minutes work.

Third, if you’ve not already done so, update your CV and LinkedIn profile to include your placement. It goes without saying that the CV you used when applying for placements will require a substantial upgrade. My returning students often look amazed when I tell them to tear up the CV we worked on together to get the placement and start over. The simple fact is the commercial experience gained over the last 12 months will in most cases top everything that you have previously achieved, and this is what you should want graduate recruiters to see first when flicking through applications. Likewise, it is time to refresh your LinkedIn profile to detail your placement year and add some recommendations from colleagues.

Fourth, rather than wait until the start of the new academic year, beat the crowds and arrange an appointment with a careers advisor at your university during the summer. Graduation week aside, you’ll find that appointments are more readily available than they will be in the autumn. Getting your revised CV checked at this point will enable you to hit the ground running in making those graduate applications. Which leads nicely into my fifth and final piece of advice.

Start applying for graduate jobs now. Companies such as Ernst & Young and Deutsche Bank are already accepting applications for their 2013 grad schemes, and I’d expect to see the likes of Microsoft and IBM open their doors in August. The earlier you apply, the sooner your application will be screened. Savvy students will already be making applications so don’t delay throwing your name into the hat. The start of your final year will be hectic as you get final year projects / dissertations under way, and you feel your way back into studying after a year in the workplace. Wouldn’t it be great to return to uni having already fired off those applications and got the online tests out of the way?

They said that the early bird catches the worm. Your placement should help you to stand out from your peers when making applications for grad schemes. You’ve built up a bank of experiences, time to cash in and put yourself in the shop window.

Friday, 15 June 2012

I still can't remember what I did last summer

Can you remember what the lecturer said in your management lecture 9 months ago? What about that really important conversation that you had in your politics seminar just after Christmas? Surely you can remember when The Queen stood on a boat in the rain for her Jubilee?

In all likelihood, if you were to try to recall fine details of things that took place in the last year, the most recent events will be the most memorable. Throughout university, students attend lectures and make notes, so that when it comes to writing essays or revising for exams, things can be more easily remembered. Yet when it comes to work experience, the same principles of recording your learning for reflection at a later date are seldom applied.

I always advise my students to keep a diary of their placement year, to document their learning and progression. It may sound like an onerous task, but if you spend just a few minutes a week logging what you have done and the experiences you have had, you will benefit in the long term. A placement isn't just about the 12 months you are working for an employer - the experience you gain is what will help you to stand out in the highly competitive graduate market.

The net result of keeping a diary of your placement will mean you have a bank of evidence to call upon when making graduate applications. Those competency based questions, asking you to detail examples of leadership, problem solving, teamwork etc will be so much easier to answer, but only if you can remember what you actually did. The steep learning curve of your first few weeks will blur into the distance by the time you reach the end of your internship, so if you are starting a placement shortly, remember to take note of what is going on and reflect on your learning.

The student in the animation below is obviously greatly exaggerated, but I'm trying to make the point that just because you do a placement, a positive graduate outcome is not guaranteed. You will still need to articulate in your applications and interviews what you have done whilst on placement, so in the same way that notes are made in lectures, maintaining a detailed account of your experience is a worthwhile activity.

You may find that your university already asks you to record your experiences, whether as part of an accredited module or as part of your PDP. If that is the case, you may see this as just another piece of university work and therefore have reluctance to do it. However, you have made the decision to take a placement because of the benefits it can have upon your early career. Don't keep a placement diary just because your university will give you a few extra credits - do it for yourself so that you build up your portfolio of evidence enabling you to hit the ground running when the graduate jobs start opening up in the late summer.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Some days are better than others

'Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.' So said Forrest Gump and I can see the comparison with a typical day in The Placement Office. Some days are dull and predictable, but most of the time the element of surprise is there. You don't know who is going to walk through the door, or which employer is going to give you a call.

Keeping with the chocolate theme, if I had to describe my morning, it would probably be the last remaining sweets in the Roses tin that everybody has left after Christmas. Lets call it a coffee cream.

Things had started so well too. My favourite type of student email was sat in my inbox, letting me know their good news of securing a placement. But then things started going downhill. First I discovered that one of my students, who only started their placement a couple of weeks ago, had walked out on the job. This was followed up shortly afterwards by a panicking employer who was looking to backtrack on a placement offer made to one of my students earlier in the week. The reason for this dramatic u-turn appears to stem from an unwelcome intervention from one of my academic colleagues. So much for universities embracing the employability agenda.

In the same way that I encourage my students to embrace the challenges they may stumble across during their placement, I've spent today putting out fires and striving for positive outcomes. Regrettably, it is not uncommon for a student to leave a placement shortly after commencement. Sometimes the job isn't what they were expecting, or they hadn't quite realised how far away the location was from home. Whatever the reason, if a student can't be persuaded to stay, I find myself going into damage limitation mode. I want to maintain good relationships with employers, and though students leaving their role prematurely presents difficulties, there is always the chance that the door is left open for another student to fill that role.

With regard to the other student, who finds their placement under threat, a number of conversations have taken place with the employer and I'm optimistic that everything will progress as planned. I work hard with student and employers to ensure that both find what they are looking for. Spanners do get thrown into the works, but you don't necessarily expect them to be planted by people who you are working alongside. I suspect there will be interesting dialogue in the coming days.

To the students who read this blog, particularly those who will be starting placements in the coming weeks, you cannot prepare for the unexpected, but you can react positively to challenges. You will find there will be difficult days or even weeks in your role, but solving problems and finding resolutions is a valuable skill. Take the time to record the issues you faced as you will often be asked on graduate application forms how you overcome adversity.

Today was a coffee cream. Tomorrow may be a giant Galaxy bar. Some days are better than others.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

When Plan A hasn't worked

In the world of competitive sport, teams go into contests with a gameplan. Coaches direct their players on how best to achieve their goals and if all goes according to plan, the desired result is achieved. When things don't go well, a change of tactics may be required and so there is a shift to plan B.

Keeping the sporting analogy, students who have yet to secure a placement could be said to find themselves 1-0 down with 20 minutes to go. They may have started on their placement journey way back in the autumn but now find themselves in the post-exam era and aware that time is not on their side. I have said in a previous article that it is not too late to find a placement, but just as a football manager may need to adapt to the game situation, entering the summer months a student may need to consider a change to their approach.

Here then are some 'gamechangers' that students should consider using to advance their placement search.

Keep in touch with your Placement Office

It may seem silly to say this, but students should make sure their Placement Officer knows they are still actively looking for a placement. You may have attended lectures with them in the autumn, or been for a CV check in spring, but come the summer you may be considered inactive, particularly if you have not been regularly updating on the progress of your applications. Get in touch, maintain contact and provide a number and email address with which you can be reached.

Stay logged on

Ensure you check your email at least twice a day and do the same for the jobs board that your university uses to advertise placements. The clock is ticking for employers too, and it is not uncommon for them to ask for applications to be sent in within a day or two so they can quickly get candidates in for interview. If you aren't checking your messages, you may miss out of some great opportunities that require a quick turnaround.

Broaden your search

If you have been quite particular about the placements and companies that you have applied to up until this point, now would be a good time to open your mind to other opportunities. You may have already missed out on the 'dream' accounting placement at company A, but finance roles at companies B and C will also offer you good experience even if their name is lesser known.

Tap into local knowledge

This is particularly pertinent for students who will be living back home over the summer and away from university. Rather than sit around waiting for placements to arrive in your inbox, why not approach companies in your local area. Get on the phone, fire off prospective applications or make use of your network of friends and family to see what roles may be available. If you source your own placement, make sure to run the job description by your Placement Officer.

Build up a bank of favours

Many students will work part-time jobs over the summer while their placement search is ongoing. Rosters may be agreed a week or two in advance and this can present logistical difficulties if you suddenly find an employer inviting you in for a placement interview at short notice. Keep your manager onside, and perhaps offer to cover shifts for your colleagues so that when the time comes that you need a favour at short notice, your colleagues are prepared to help you out.

There are no guarantees that changing tactics will get you to where you want to be, but if your gameplan hasn't worked over the last 8 months, a change of direction could be just what you need.

Monday, 21 May 2012

PlaceNet Conference - May 2012

Liverpool, that famous city in the North West. Home to two giants of English football, the birthplace of The Beatles, European Capital of Culture 2008. Last week the streets were lined with people who flocked to welcome some very special visitors. It transpired that this fervent hospitality was not intended for delegates of the PlaceNet Conference (apparently there was a visit from The Queen as part of her Jubilee Tour) but for my fellow placement professionals and I, Liverpool proved to be a perfect setting.

If you found that your Placement Office was somewhat quiet last week, it is probably because they were being represented at the conference. Delegates came from all over the country, from York to Portsmouth and just about everywhere inbetween. We all came together to reflect on our learning, share examples of good practice and debate the issues that affect our industry. In addition to Placement Officers, other employability stakeholders such as Rate My Placement and Graduates Yorkshire were in attendance, and recruiters from Enterprise and Jet Set Sports delivered insightful presentations.

Chaired by the tireless Matthias Feist (@matthias_feist), whose passion for Social Media saw a number of delegates tweeting questions to a panel of guests, this was a conference that managed to deliver interesting content while retaining an informal friendly personality. From the unsurpassable ‘Duck Tour’ to the evening socialising, there was very little pretention and from my observation everybody had a good time.

Liverpool Duck Tour - as used by HRH and PlaceNet

For a flavour of the conference, the hashtag #placenet12 provides a summary of the event, including the excellent Q&A session which included questions about student engagement, the views of a former placement student and what can Placement Officers do to encourage more students to take a placement year. The PlaceNet website provides the basic details about the organisation, key contacts and upcoming events, while the obligatory LinkedIn Group is a sounding board of ideas and information. 

To any Placement Professionals who have not been to a PlaceNet conference before, I heartily recommend signing up for the next event in 2013. Follow @PlaceNetUK for updates.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

It ain't over 'til it's over

Many students are currently undertaking their end of year examinations or will shortly be doing so.  Understandably, during this period the focus for many switches solely to revision, with applying for placements and internships put firmly on hold. I can’t say that I blame them, and if I were back at university in their position I would probably do the same. However, the conclusion of the exam period and the decisions a student takes at that time can be pivotal to their future career.

Inevitably, once the last exam is out of the way, there will be a desire to let off steam, head for a few parties and say goodbye to your friends for the summer break. Those students who have already secured a placement will head off knowing exactly what is in store for them but for those without the summer is a period of uncertainty.

Despite my efforts to put things right, there is always a lot of misinformation that does the rounds among my cohorts of students. Rumours circulate that the Placement Office is closed for the summer, that if a student hasn’t got a placement by the end the exams, they will not get one. Both are completely false, but for some there are psychological barriers to overcome if they are to pick up the pieces and get back onto the application bandwagon.

Therefore, here are some thoughts for students who still want to find a placement.

It is not too late

You may have friends who start working for their employer in the next few weeks, but all that really means is that their 12 month placement will conclude early next summer. At my university, students can start a placement year right up until the end of September, so don’t write yourself off just yet.

We are open for business

Some students believe that their Careers Service shuts down for the summer and re-opens in the autumn. I can’t speak with authority for every service around the country, but I would be surprised if there are any universities where this happens. Barring a holiday or the occasional day off, I will be at work throughout the summer and will be doing all I can to help my students to find and secure placement opportunities. Don’t listen to rumours, contact your team to find out their summer opening hours.

I have done nothing so far, surely I have left it too late to apply for placements?

Not necessarily. Ideally you will have engaged with the placement process before now, but every year I meet students during the summer who have not made a single application, but go on to get a placement. Yes, coming to see me in June will mean a lot of companies are no longer advertising, but I will point the students in the direction of organisations that do have vacancies.

I have a part time job and can’t commit to placement interviews

I suppose this is a question of priorities. Yes you don’t want to annoy your manager by having to take days off, often at short notice for interviews, but you aren’t going to get a placement if you don’t go to see the employer. Giving up a few hours of serving coffee to suit up and potentially get hired is a sacrifice worth making.

My friends have decided to go straight into the final year, so I want to as well

Obviously after two years at university you will have made a close circle of friends and they can be an influencing factor on the decisions you make. Ultimately though, your future and employment prospects come down to you, not your friends. You may not think so now, but in a few years time beyond graduation your social circle will look very different to the one you currently have. When you finish your final year, your friends are going to head in different directions anyway and then what are you going to do? If you are convinced that a placement year is going to benefit you, don’t let your friends talk you out of it. And who knows, once you get a job and start earning reasonable money, your friends may suddenly have a change of heart.

You may have been looking for a placement since the autumn, and have a few mental scars to show for it. But with all you have learned from your applications and interviews to date, don't go quitting on yourself now.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Exams vs Interviews - A Placement Dilemna

I will start this article by saying that I have not worked in recruitment at a blue chip company. I am not versed in the logistics of processing thousands of placement applications or been involved in the organisation of large assessment centres. I don’t doubt that it is a difficult task to co-ordinate hiring managers being in one place on the same day. I have great respect for the individuals at placement providers who complete this vital recruitment function, and the vast majority of recruiters I work with are fantastic.

With that disclaimer out of the way, I am going to have a whinge about employers. I don’t wish to tar all recruiters with one brush, but one very well known organisation has got me rather annoyed today. One of my students had been invited to attend the second stage of the assessment process by the company, but the date clashed with an end of year exam. The student begged and pleaded for an alternative date, but was more or less told to pick between the company or the examination. Clearly this is a no brainer and the student has wisely opted to sit their exam. Failure to do so would result in not passing the module, possibly needing to repeat the year and making themselves unattractive to placement providers.

My student is quite rightly feeling a little aggrieved, and I can’t say that I blame them. The Placement was advertised throughout the autumn. A lengthy application was made that passed the initial filtering stages. An online test was completed. The student has been to see the company for a 1st round assessment centre which has been sailed through. And yet here we are in early May, when the majority of students around the country will be taking exams, and the employer chooses this week as a good time to have the next round of interviews.

I don’t expect companies to organise themselves around students. If they invite students from a broad range of universities it would be a logistical nightmare to find an agreeable date for all parties. But a little bit of foresight in planning would be useful, and students will inevitably have exams soon after Easter. My student in this instance is not going to be able to prove to the employer that they are the best candidate for the placement. Having invested so much time and effort to this point, it is extremely disappointing that they will miss out on a placement at the company, not because their skills and abilities have failed to meet the required standards but because they are unable to be in two places at once.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

A helping hand?

For the last ten years or so, The X Factor has been essential Saturday night television. Every Autumn we see hundreds of wannabes lining up to audition for their five minutes of fame. I can't say that I follow the series religiously but will admit that my guilty pleasure is watching the early shows so that I can enjoy some good old-fashioned car crash tv. For the first few weeks, it is less about those with talent and more about the talentless, who egged on by family members proceed to embarrass themselves to a huge television audience.

A supportive family can sometimes make the difference to a student when applying for placements. A lift to an interview or a little advance for a train fare can provide that little helping hand which enables a student to focus on the task ahead and be successful. However, there can be well meaning interventions that are less helpful, and which are more akin to the blind love shown by a mother to their tone deaf daughter on The X Factor.

I am of course referring to parental input into CVs. Now I'm all for having someone check your spelling and grammar before you press the send button, but when it comes to the content of your application, the best people to go and see for advice will be in your placement or careers service. There will be exceptions of course, for example your mother may work in recruitment or perhaps your father is a consultant at the company you want to apply to. However, for the most part, they will probably not be able to add significant value to your CV.

It is therefore a source of frustration when students come in for appointments but do not want to take on board the constructive criticism that is offered to them because a loved one has already given them the thumbs up. My colleagues and I do not pick up on things that could be improved simply because we are pedants. I look at CVs, applications and covering letters every day. I talk to employers to find out what they are looking for, and this is reflected in the advice provided and in the handouts I produce. I will offer an objective view and tell you what needs to be said rather than what you want to hear.

Does your sister work in recruitment?

You are not obliged to take on board everything we say, but in the same way that Simon Cowell (generally) knows more about music than your family, the Placement Officers and Careers Advisers at your university are best placed to provide meaningful guidance as you embark on your search for internships