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.