Tuesday, 1 October 2013

The Great Placement Race

At the weekend I did something that I had not done before in my life. With a number on my vest and a timing chip on my shoe, I lined up to run a 10km race. In the holding area before the starting gun was fired, you could hear a number of different conversations; some looking to record personal bests, others just hoping to last the course. As I stood there taking it all in, the best bit of advice I heard was to ignore what everybody else is doing and just concentrate on running your own race.

This was something I tried to take on board and in many ways offers a good analogy for where most of you are now at the start line in a search for a placement. Summer 2014 seems like a long way off, a bit like the finish line before the race starts, and while every student starts from the same point (effectively now), not everybody will reach the end at the same time. With that in mind I've identified 5 distinct 'runners' who make up the field in The Great Placement Race

The Pacesetters

There will always be those who surge ahead and get to the finish line first. In athletics this can come down to natural physical prowess or dedicated training regime, while in job hunting it may be an excellent academic record or prior internship experience that helps them to run away from the rest of the field. They will probably have already got applications made and in some cases have interviews or assessment centres lined up. In the next month or so when many students are still finding their feet with a placement search, they will hear about Pacesetters who have already secured a job. Don't let their success discourage you as there is still plenty of time to get to the finish line.

Steady Runners

These are the students who get on with the task at hand, make their applications, see their placement officer and will get their reward in a due course. As with my 10k at the weekend, this is the largest chunk of the field. They have seen the speed merchants running ahead, but rather than chase their shadows have gone about their business in a pragmatic manner. There will be obstacles to overcome during the race, but with a bit of determination these will be overcome.


In any race, the people I have the most admiration for are the grafters, determined to reach the finish line no matter how long it takes. At the weekend there were people completing the course more than an hour after the first finishers, but refused to be denied their moment. I see lots of students like this during each placement cycle. Rather than let unsuccessful applications get them down, they come back fighting and through sheer will power and self-motivation keep going until they cross that finish line.


Of course while the Pacesetters, Steady Runners and Grafters all get to the end, there are also those who Did Not Finish. Looking for a placement is a demanding discipline requiring time and commitment, and while nobody intentionally wants to be in this category, inevitably not everybody who starts the placement race will cross the finish line to secure a placement. Maybe it was a more difficult challenge than was anticipated at the start, or perhaps there just isn't the never give up mentality of the Grafters. Either way, lots of students who make applications in the next few months will hit an obstacle, and rather than pick themselves up to keep going, will let their placement search end prematurely.


Then of course we have the Did Not Start group. More than one thousand runners registered for my 10k, yet only 800 or so began the race. The same thing happens with placements up and down the land. Some students will register to do a placement, either when applying through UCAS or at the start of their second year, and then fail to show. No applications. Non-attendance at placement lectures. Don't reply to invitations to meet with their Placement Officer. In many ways these are the most frustrating group, as they remain an untapped source of talent and there isn't a Careers or Placement service that doesn't try to reach out to this disengaged group. The fact is though, they do exist. If you're reading this article, it probably means you don't fit into this category, but I'm sure you know a few people in your class who do. Be a friend, and give them a nudge about placements.

So there we have it. 5 distinct groups, each with a different approach to completing (or non-participation) in The Great Placement Race. There isn't a one size fits all method for being successful with your search, but do take on board the advice I received while waiting in the start area - run your own race. Don't be led by the crowd, find your own way and keep going to the end.

The starter gun has fired. Good luck to you for the journey ahead.

For those with curious minds, I finished in a respectable 56 minutes 38 seconds and together with colleagues have raised over £900 for the Lynda Jackson Macmillan Centre.
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