Friday, 21 December 2012
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
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
Monday, 3 December 2012
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
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
Tuesday, 6 November 2012
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
Questions can be asked using the hashtag #placementchat
You can follow the conversation on Twitter, using Tweetchat or by logging onto my website www.theplacementofficer.co.uk
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
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
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
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
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
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 email@example.com 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
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
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
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
Sunday, 15 July 2012
Friday, 15 June 2012
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
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
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
Thursday, 10 May 2012
Thursday, 3 May 2012
Thursday, 19 April 2012
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