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.