Tuesday, 23 April 2013


Coming up fast on the radar in the placement world is the annual PlaceNet conference. Taking place in Bristol from 15-17 May, #PlaceNet13 provides the platform for placement professionals to share good practice, debate the issues affecting our industry and pick up ideas on how to better the service we provide to students in their search for industry based work experience. Throw in the networking and social aspects of the conference and this is an event that should not be missed.

Having attended the conference in 2012 (read my review here) I'm pleased to be going back again this year for a second instalment. The schedule is already starting to take shape with speakers from a range of backgrounds include graduate recruitment, the NUS, placement officers and somebody who had the daft idea to spend their spare time writing a placement blog.

With confirmed attendees from universities across England and Wales, it promises to be another fantastic conference. You can find out more details about #PlaceNet13 on the PlaceNet website and if you are on LinkedIn be sure to join the group Placenet - Placements In Industry Network

I hope to see you in Bristol in a few weeks time.
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Thursday, 18 April 2013

Considering a placement? Get crackin’!

Here is a guest article written by the good folk at Gradcracker. If you are looking for a placement in the field of Science, Engineering or Technology, make sure you add them to your favourites.

With hundreds of thousands of students graduating this year, the job market is fiercely competitive. Statistics taken from a recent High Fliers Survey showed that there is an average of 52 applications per graduate job. To give yourself a better chance of securing a job, you should try to gain work experience whilst studying – securing a work placement is therefore becoming more and more worthwhile.

The benefits of doing a work placement are many and increase your employability drastically. Work placements are becoming more and more common, with some courses making them compulsory. On Gradcracker we advertise hundreds of Science, Engineering and Technology work placement opportunities all year round. Most companies tend to divide these between summer and year-long placements but shorter placements are becoming more frequent especially amongst Technology companies.

Get that placement!

Writing a CV and covering letter can be a lengthy and tiresome process but they are crucial to your chances of success. Employers are looking for evidence you fit the role and they look for what they refer to as ‘key competencies’. Common key competencies include: problem-solving, leadership, teamwork, decision-making and communication skills. When writing your CV and covering letter make sure you check what skills the employer is particularly looking for and try and highlight these in your application. Use your covering letter to show that you meet the key requirements and you are familiar with the company and what it does. A lot of students make the mistake of using a scatter-gun approach when applying for placements, try not to do this and, instead, send targeted applications to your chosen employers. Last but not least check, check and check your application again and then get a second opinion – spelling and factual mistakes could put you straight into the ‘no’ pile regardless of your qualifications and experience. If you are struggling to compile a CV and covering letter pay a visit to your careers advisor who will be more than happy to help.

Social media is part of our day-to-day life and is great for catching up with friends and family. The increase in the usage of social media and online activity means it is easy for employers to do a quick search for you online. This is becoming more and more common and is being used as a ‘screening method’. It can provide a ‘living CV’ for the employer: all your social networking accounts, photographs, blogs and comments you have made might be accessed. Make sure you delete or hide anything that could damage your chances of securing a placement. Similarly, ensure you have a professional sounding email address such as and a suitable voicemail if employers try to contact you!

Making the most of your placement!

Starting a placement can be a daunting experience with new surroundings and new people. But it is also an opportunity to learn and to make new contacts.

Before starting your placement, you should think about what you want to achieve from your placement and also think about what your employer expects from you. Make sure you check what time you should start and try to arrive a little earlier - starting early/leaving late will only impress. If you are unsure of the dress code, phone beforehand to check as you don’t want to be making a negative first impression on your first day. It may sound obvious but ensure you are polite when talking to colleagues and others.

When you begin your placement try not to be nervous. Whilst a new workplace, job and colleagues may seem a little frightening, after even just a day or two things will start to feel familiar. Making notes during briefings shows an eagerness to learn and get things right and if you need clarification don’t be afraid to ask. During your placement show enthusiasm and initiative, try to do everything to the best of your ability and make a lasting impression – a lot of employers view a placement as an extended interview for their graduate programme.

At the end of your placement thank people who went out of their way to make your stay such a valuable experience, for example, supervisors and colleagues. Try and get a written reference as this will be beneficial when applying for Graduate opportunities. Lastly, think about the skills you have learned and what your placement has taught you.

For further advice take a look at the Gradcracker toolkit here

Gradcracker is the careers website for Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) university students and for employers of SET undergraduates and graduates. Our employers receive over 4,000 visitors a day to their corporate websites direct from Gradcracker is now in its sixth year and the UK’s leading employers recognise it as the number one place to recruit SET students - over 300 companies regularly advertise on

By Claire Sugden from Gradcracker
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Tuesday, 16 April 2013

So much for the ten year plan, I just want to get drunk and headbang

I was asked recently if I wanted to write a guest blog article for the University of Kent Employability blog - little did they know that I am Kent alumnus! Here is the article in which I consider what I would tell the teenage me who rolled up in Canterbury many moons ago
You’ve probably heard lots about Employability. It has been a buzzword around universities for the last few years, used in the context of helping students to be both ready for work and desirable to graduate employers. There’s a huge range of ways in which your careers service can support your employability these days, and if it is anything like where I work, there will be dedicated workshops, focussed employability weeks, the chance to participate in an employability award and various other activities. In other words, it’s in your face and the opportunity is readily available for you to engage, should you wish to do so.
When I started out at UKC some 15 years ago, I was not very career-minded. As a placement professional, I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that the Twitter dialogue which led to this article being written was the first meaningful exchange I’ve had with the University of Kent Careers team. I didn’t seek out their help when looking for part-time jobs or graduate roles. Back then I didn’t know that placements existed. I spent most of my days keeping the Rutherford bar staff employed rather than participate in the sort of opportunities attending university offers to students. If there was a stereotypical undergraduate who could have done with careers advice, I was that person.
So if I could rewind the clock to talk with the 18 year old me, what would I be saying?
Well firstly I’d be telling me to wise up. University is serious business and not to be taken lightly. With tuition fees now so much higher than they were in my day, there is little point in applying if you aren’t going to take your studies seriously. Even if your first year doesn’t count towards your final degree, discount it at your peril as it will count with graduate and placement employers. That 40 per cent pass mark achieved through minimal effort will not look good if you have aspirations for securing graduate jobs. Start as you mean to carry on, knuckle down and have some good grades to be moving on with.
Next, be strategic when picking your clubs and societies.
With all due respect to the UKC Rock Soc who I enjoyed both membership and committee involvement with in my time, in hindsight there are other things I could have done with my time that would have enhanced my CV and experiences beyond bar crawls and the occasional trip to rock clubs in London. Involvement with RAG, CSR (Radio Station) and taking up the offer to play Offensive Lineman for the American Football team I would have both enjoyed and provided plenty of material for writing future applications. (Before I get an influx of messages from Kent metallers, I’d have still joined the Rock Soc!)
Without doubt if I knew then what I know now, a placement would have been high up on my agenda.
I make a living now out of promoting placements and work experience to my students, but it really isn’t a very difficult sell. Paid industry experience, increased graduate prospects, higher starting salary. Never mind the fact that most graduate employers will expect you to hold a certain amount of work experience. Placements are invaluable. I wish I had done one when I was a student and I can’t encourage UKC students enough to pursue internships or placements. If you haven’t already spoken to the Careers team, don’t delay in doing so!
Use social media to get ahead
While the class of 2013 undoubtedly face a more competitive graduate market than the one my peers and I had over a decade ago, one area that you do have in your favour compared to the old school is the emergence of social media. Through effective use of LinkedIn you have the opportunity to network with recruiters in a way that my class could only have dreamed of. Savvy students can engage in meaningful dialogue with companies through #PlacementChat or keep up to date with the placement schemes of individual organisations by following their Facebook page.

So in a nutshell, take advantage of the opportunities that university presents to you, speak regularly to the Careers team throughout your time at UKC and prioritise securing a placement. You will not regret it.

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Thursday, 11 April 2013

We've come a long long way together

Cover of "Groundhog Day (15th Anniversary...
Cover via Amazon
If you are a student who has been looking for a placement since the autumn and not yet secured one, you're probably a little bit fed up by now. You've made dozens of applications, endured those pesky online tests, maybe come up short a couple of times at assessment centres or just missed out in interviews. If this sounds very familiar, you have every right to feel disheartened.

With the end of year exams fast coming up on the horizon, you may even be thinking about throwing in the towel and giving up on the placement dream, feeling understandably bitter at the hours and days lost without reward. Nobody likes being told 'thanks, but no thanks', particularly if you're getting that Bill Murray Groundhog Day sensation of deja vu.

So if you've had enough of placements, I sympathise with your frustration. But before you call it quits, I just want to let you in on a little stat. I was going through my placement spreadsheet (supergeek!) from last year to see when my students secured their roles. What month do you think it was that was the most successful in terms of numbers? Well, I can tell you it wasn't any time before Christmas. It wasn't January. February? No. It wasn't March or April either. The single most prolific month for my students in securing placements during 2011/12 was May.

Check your calendar folks, we're not there yet. You might well have been doing this now for more than 6 months without reward, but I urge you to stick with it a while longer. Every application made, every interview taken, every rejection email received will have made you battle hardened and ready to strike gold. Whereas earlier in your placement journey you may have lacked interview experience, you'll now be more confident in answering questions and presenting yourself to companies as someone they want to employ.

If you give up now, all of your efforts to this point will have been in vain. I can't promise that if you keep going you will be rewarded for your endeavour, but just as my students couldn't see where their placement offer was coming from last year, yours could be just around the corner.
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Monday, 8 April 2013

Seriously, pay your interns

internship (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)
The best things in life are free, but you can give them to the birds and bees, I want money

It is almost 50 years since The Beatles recorded Money (That's What I Want). Fast forward to 2013 and it is a song that is very much in my thoughts with regards to the practice of unpaid internships. I received a placement advert last week that demonstrated in very clear terminology everything that is wrong with current legislation regarding sandwich placements. Placements undertaken as part of a university course are exempt from National Minimum Wage, meaning that employers don't have to pay their interns. 

I'm pleased to say that the vast majority of the employers my students spend their placement year with do offer salaries. For those who don't, I offer very little support in terms of promoting their opportunities and shunt their adverts into a separate online folder clearly branded UNPAID PLACEMENTS. Personally I would prefer not to advertise these roles at all but given that they are not illegal, and in some instances, the industries my students want to work in offer no paid alternative, I duly upload these roles through gritted teeth. 

For the most part, the companies offering these roles are charities or start-up companies looking for a bit of extra man-power. While I still think they should be paying employees for their work, I can recognise that resources may be stretched for these organisations. An extension of the SME Apprenticeship Grant for SME placement providers would be a welcome step forward to help these companies hire and recruit placement students into paid roles. 

Where I get angry is when much larger companies who should be offering paid placements decide that they need not bother and go down the unpaid route. The job description I received last week falls very much into that category and frankly has left me feeling more than a little disgusted. And here is why. The job title does me a favour by marking up in big capital letters that this role in unpaid

Job Title - Marketing Administrator - UNPAID INTERNSHIP

However, just a couple of sentences down, the advertising company proudly boast that they are part of a larger plc which is a FTSE 100 company and has a £2 Billion turnover. So, to type that out, in a financial year their turnover is £2,000,000,000. Lots of zeroes don't you think? Surely within that, they can cobble together enough pennies to offer a student employee a reasonable placement salary, circa £14k? This role may be exempt from National Minimum Wage, but seriously. Pay your interns. 

It could be a really fantastic role, a doorway into a successful career and no doubt the student who takes up the opportunity will benefit (non-financially). However, when a company that clearly has the resources to offer paid placements but decides that their interns can do without, my moral compass tells me to steer clear. I won't be advertising this placement. My students, and students in general, deserve better than this.

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