Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Happy birthday to me

Birthday Cake
Birthday Cake (Photo credit: Will Clayton)
It is the 30th January and a quick flick through the article history of this site tells me that Tales from the Placement Office is one year old today. This time last year when I started typing enthusiastically away, I didn't know if I'd still be going in 2013 but I'm pleased to be here and still going strong.

The cyclical nature of my job means that I've turned a full circle. What I wrote in the first article a year ago is very much where I am today. Business is starting to pick up in a big way and undoubtedly it is time to get busy. Three of my students secured placements yesterday, many more have interviews in the coming days and weeks and all the stress and sweat put into the Autumn term will now start to bear fruit as the number of students with placements secured builds steadily. I'm anticipating it will be a good year and certainly hope that proves to be the case.

Having reached this milestone, I'm giving quite a lot of thought towards the future direction of this blog. I've built up a nice little audience and have no intention of deserting you, but I am very conscious that I don't want the content to become repetitive. While there will be topics that merit new articles, there is only so much that can be written about documenting your experience or creating a good first impression without starting to sound like a broken record.

Some of the most popular articles over the last year have featured external content, such as the video for How to kill your career in 140 characters, the RateMyPlacement Top Employers Guide and the article about Careers Fairs written by my Guest Blogger. I'd like to think I'm in tune with my audience and if there is wider interest in the blog posts that aren't exclusively my witterings, I'm happy to give you what you want.

I'm therefore looking for other people to get involved to help keep this site content rich. You may be a student currently looking for a placement and want to share your experience of the process to date. You could be someone coming to the end of your placement and want to tell the world about why it has been such a worthwhile experience. Maybe you're an employer wanting to reach out to students and placement officers about your fantastic placement and internship opportunities. I'd also love to hear from other Placement Officers about the innovative ways in which they are helping their students to secure work experience.

If you feel like you want to contribute to the site or want to get in touch to discuss things further. I'm looking forward to hearing from you and seeing what collectively we can bring to this site over the next 12 months.

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Saturday, 19 January 2013

A year in the making

12 months ago I had the good fortune to attend the National Placement and Internship Awards, RateMyPlacement's annual event that recognises the good work of universities and employers in the placement industry, and celebrates the success of the top interns and placement students. The clip below provides a nice recap of how things unfolded on the day.

I left the event feeling inspired. Maybe it was listening to the stories of triple Olympic medallist Steve Backley, or perhaps it was talking with some of the student nominees about the highlights of their work experience and plans beyond graduation. Whatever it was, when I left City University that evening I felt my passion for placements elevated to another level, and on my journey home the first thoughts about developing a placement-themed blog started to take shape. One year on, and I'm still here doing my thing, so I guess it wasn't such a bad idea.

I will be heading back to the NPIAs again next month, and very much look forward to being inspired again. Only this time, I want to share the experience with somebody else. And that person could be you.

As a thank you to everybody who has read my blog, viewed my Pinterest board, engaged with me on Twitter or taken part in #PlacementChat over the last year, I am offering one of you the chance to be my guest at the Awards. I have two invitations. One of them is for me, the other could be yours. 

2 Invites. 1 is mine. Who wants the other?
If you fancy taking a trip to London town on Friday 15 February and have the opportunity to network with the top placement and graduate recruiters, as well as enjoy the great hospitality of RateMyPlacement, read the small print below and then leave me a comment on this article telling me why you would like to be my guest at the Awards. You have until 9pm on Wednesday 23 January to do so.

Important Stuff

  • The NPIAs are taking place on 15 February in Central London. If you can't realistically be in Central London on 15 February, don't throw your name in the hat.
  • The times listed on the invitation is 2.00pm - 7.00pm. Going on my experience of 2012, the Awards may stretch beyond 7.00pm so bear this in mind when considering your travel arrangements.
  • More information about the event can be found at
  • The invitation covers entry to the Awards only. It doesn't cover your travel expenses to and from London or any other expenses incurred. They are your responsibility and I cannot offer any financial support (though if you're lucky I may buy you a drink when the Awards moves to the pub afterwards). I appreciate this may restrict things to people based in the South East, but I can't do anything about the location of the event. 
  • The dress code for the event is smart casual. Look at the video clip above and you'll see that the majority of attendees leaned towards smart. Turn up in a hoodie and timberland boots and I'll revoke your invitiation
  • It is not a mandatory requirement to do so, but the winner will be invited to pen a short guest article for my blog, documenting their experience of the NPIAs. 
  • There is only one invitation available so there will only be one winner. The winner will be chosen by me and my decision will be final. 
  • Please include your Twitter username in your comment - I'll need to contact the winner to let them know the good news!

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Thursday, 17 January 2013

Today was a good day

In every job I've held, there have been good days and there have been bad days. I'm approaching my 7th anniversary of working in the placement industry and the reason why I generally approach my desk every day with a spring in my step is because on the whole there are more good days than bad. Today was no exception. Today was a good day.

Things started off with a packed inbox. One of my courses had a deadline for what is usually a very popular placement opportunity. A few days ago I was sitting on just a couple of applications. Clearly word had got around and when the deadline passed in total I had 33 applications to send to the employer. Quantity is not as important as quality, but I was delighted with the standard of CVs and covering letters that had been submitted. A big box ticked for all the groundwork laid in the autumn term through lectures and appointments.

This afternoon I hosted an employer who was presenting to a class of students who I help to find placements. The employer founded a games company following their own placement year and got the business off the ground while still at the university. Some 7 years later, the business is now 60+ employees strong, producing games played by millions of people around the world. Not forgetting his roots, the employer returned to the university, as he has done every year since graduating, to present about the business and inspire the next class of students to apply for placements, whether in his company or elsewhere in the industry. As much as I back myself to sell the benefits of placements to my students, there is nothing quite so effective as hearing the success story from someone who had sat in the same lecture theatre from the same course not so long ago, and gone on to build their empire. I'm expecting lots of appointment requests from this class in the coming week as a result!

On my way home from work, I was greeted with a message from my guest blogger who informed me that they had received two graduate job offers this afternoon. Knowing how much hard work and dedication has gone into applications, preparing for assessment centres and interviews, along with the string of disappointments that have gone their way in recent months, I can't begin to express in words how pleased I was for them. Success earned the hard way, and thoroughly deserved.

And then this evening came the small matter of the first #PlacementChat of 2013. What started as an idea a few months ago and had humble beginnings with just a handful of participants has blossomed into something on a much larger scale. Tonight I was joined by recruiters from several companies, fellow career and placement professionals, career bloggers, RateMyPlacement and an incredible number of students all wanting to ask questions about placements and internships. Information was sought about interviews, assessment centres, placements, how to answer particular questions, and in return the participants received advice from professionals and the chance to network. What began as a hashtag on my notepad is evolving into a melting pot of opportunity, where placement stakeholders interact through social media in a way that they weren't necessarily doing so before. 

Today was a good day. Here's hoping for many more to come. 
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Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Ignore work experience at your peril

On Monday afternoons, I take my turn in manning the reception area of my service. Yesterday, with winter's arrival and a torrent of sleet and snow falling outside, I was expecting a quiet afternoon with relatively few students walking through the door. True to form, the office was pretty dead, and those brave souls who had ventured outside looking distinctly damp and chilly.

In amongst the typical queries regarding part-time jobs, CV checks and booking appointments was a guy who informed me he no longer wanted to do a placement year and would like to know the process for changing his course registration over to the three year full time course. I duly obliged in providing the information that he requested but made a point of asking him what it was about placements that had put him off. His reply, and I paraphrase here was 'Nothing really. I just want to finish my course and get a graduate job instead.'

This wasn't the first time I've had a response like this and I'm sure it won't be the last. However many times I hear it, I still find myself wanting to ram my head through a structurally sound brick wall.

The view from my desk
I don't know if it is just youthful ignorance or whether some students wilfully choose to disregard the information that is put out there by placement officers, employers, academics and the more helpful sectors of the media. Either way, I felt the need to challenge the student over the importance of work experience and offer some facts that I hoped would sway his decision back in favour of placements.

I quoted a statistic from our Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey, which reveals that on average a sandwich placement leaver from his university earns a salary that is almost £5,000 higher than students who complete a full time course without a placement. I pointed towards the fact that students who undertake a placement on average achieve one degree classification higher than their full-time counterparts. The student barely battered an eyelid, thanked me for the information and said he was off to his undergraduate office to switch course mode.

You can lead a horse to water but can't force it to drink. I don't think of my students as horses before anybody sends me a fidgety email, but the proverb holds true in this example. Shortly after this interaction, I noticed that High Fliers had published their annual review of The Graduate Market. Had I'd seen it beforehand, I'd have run off a copy and given it to the student as it makes such a strong case for work experience.

You can download the full PDF report from here but here are some key quotes from the executive summary.

Whilst the total number of graduate vacancies is set to increase in 2013, recruiters expect that over a third of this year’s entry-level positions will be filled by graduates who have already worked for their organisations – either through internships, industrial placements or vacation work – and therefore are not open to other students from the ‘Class of 2013’.

Three quarters of the graduate vacancies advertised this year by City investment banks and half the training contracts offered by the leading law firms are likely to be filled by graduates who have already completed work experience with the employer.

Over half the recruiters who took part in the research warn that graduates who have 
had no previous work experience at all are unlikely to be successful during the selection process and have little or no chance of receiving a job offer for their organisations’ graduate programmes.

These aren't statements put out by placement officers who are touting for business. These are research findings based upon a survey of leading graduate employers. I don't think anything could spell out the importance of work experience in clearer language. A large chunk of graduate opportunities are only open to students who already worked within that organisation, be it a placement, internship or vacation scheme. If you have not already got work experience within an investment bank, you've little chance of getting in as a graduate.

I know that finding a placement is not an easy task. I know it is a painstaking and time consuming activity. I know that people don't like the taste of rejection. I know how disheartening it can be to spend hours in front of an online form only to have an automated thanks but no thanks message bounce back moments later. It is hard, it is tough and there will be times when you may find yourself questioning why you are putting yourself through it all. But I also know how many graduates struggle to secure jobs when they leave university. I know how many come back to talk to careers consultants and regret not paying a little more attention to what their placement officer tried to tell them a couple of years earlier. And I know just how competitive it is to get onto a graduate scheme.With 'no previous work experience' there is 'little or no chance of receiving a job offer' for 'graduate programmes.'

If that doesn't convince you of the importance of work experience, quite simply nothing will.

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Saturday, 5 January 2013

A New Year with New Opportunities

Happy New Year everyone. I trust that you had an enjoyable festive season and are feeling refreshed ahead of the challenges that 2013 will bring. How many of you have made securing a placement your New Year resolution?

While the Autumn term was all about CV writing, attending company presentations and getting your head around the horrors of psychometric tests, the period between now and Easter will be when things really start to happen for placement students.

Coming up on your horizon will be telephone interviews, assessment centres, group exercises, face to face interviews, and hopefully you'll be looking at offers after that. To get there though, you will need to follow up the hard graft put into you applications and ensure you prepare fully for meeting employers.

Preparation can take many forms and combinations. You may want to thoroughly research a company and their competitors, or read up on their recruitment practices via Wikijob. Talking to your Careers Consultant or Placement Officer can secure you valuable interview practice, or if there is an opportunity to attend a mock assessment centre, sign up straight away. Try to network with current employees of the companies, particularly their existing interns, who will be best placed to offer insight on what it is like to work there and the responsibilities given to student employees.

There will be some of you who perhaps aren't through to the interview stage just yet. Don't be disconsolate, there is a long way to go yet for your placement search. I'll still be placing students come September, so don't be giving up on yourself.

#PlacementChat returns at 9pm on Thursday 17 January (not 10 January as previously advertised!) If you have interviews coming up and have some some questions, or just want to know more about placements, ask away.
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