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.