Thursday, 23 January 2014

Placement Interviews - Causing Me Panic Since 2006

Yesterday I welcomed an employer into The Placement Office, who conducted interviews for their intern scheme. Typically interviews take place off campus at the base of the company, but on rare occasions like this it is useful to observe the recruitment process in action.

Like any other placement professional who arranges and hosts interviews on campus, I experienced a nagging feeling of dread that consumed my consciousness up until the day has passed. No matter how much attention to detail you put into the organisation of employer interviews, ultimately your reputation and that of the university lies in the hands of your students.

Will they turn up on time? Have they dressed appropriately for an interview? Did they bother with at least some basic research of the company? Dear lord please don't let them ask something totally ridiculous that the interviewer will pick up with me over lunch! I'm not typically of a nervous disposition but interviews on my watch that I have arranged and therefore culpable for turn me into a doubting Thomas.

And yet I should be much more relaxed about it all. I provide my students with simple interview instructions, making it crystal clear where they have to be and when. I remind them that although they are meeting an employer on campus, they should dress in exactly the same way that they would if there were to attend an interview at company HQ. Punctuality is discussed, though as I point out, they really should know how long it will take to get to our building on campus, and are unlikely to get lost in unfamiliar streets en route. I don't say it as such but the inference is clear - please don't make me look like an idiot.

At the conclusion of yesterday's interviews, I was both relieved and proud. There weren't any 'no-shows'. All candidates arrived on or ahead of time. Nobody turned up wearing a hoodie and Timberland boots as I've seen happen before, or a P Diddy style white dinner jacket; dress to impress clearly was lost in translation on that occasion!
Diddy Make It Rain
Diddy Make It Rain (Photo credits: Giphy)
My pride stemmed from the fact that for most of the interviewees, it was their first placement interview. They clearly took on board the advice they had been offered and prepared accordingly. They looked the part and behaved impeccably as ambassadors for the University. With the employer complimentary for the smoothness of the organisation, I really couldn't have asked for more and went home tired but happy. Hopefully offers will be forthcoming in due course.

In the grand scheme of things, my role as a third party should not be important. Ultimately yesterday was about employers meeting candidates and whatever was discussed in those half hour blocks in my interviewing room is what really counts. Why then do I get so stressed about facilitating these events? In a nutshell, reputation. What is often overlooked by students is how the placement opportunities we upload onto our blackboard/moodle/insertyourownVLE are sourced. Some come directly from employers who market to every university. Others are sourced through intermediary websites such as RateMyPlacement. Then there are the companies who target specific universities, and they are our most precious commodity.

Placements are cyclical and so retaining repeat business is a big part of what we do. Building and maintaining relationships is king. As a consumer, if I receive crap service I will take my business elsewhere. The same principle applies with recruitment. Yesterday was the ninth time I welcomed the same recruiter to campus to meet with my students and I very much want to see them again next year. Despite all those year of building employer relations, it only takes one negative experience for that relationship to be broken, and the loss of a bread and butter internship for future cohorts.

So if you are a student and wonder why your placement team get so mumsy when it comes to interviews, and want to ensure you follow instructions to a T, now you know. We've done our bit to open doors for you; please make sure those doors remain open for the future.

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Thursday, 9 January 2014

Don't waste your time, or mine

2014 has come around and it is no surprise to me that the Placement Office is busier than it was in the weeks immediately prior to Christmas. Whether it is a new year resolution to be more active in a search for a placement, or the penny has dropped that ideally they would like to be starting work in a matter of months, students who have gone AWOL since signing up in the early autumn have been coming out of the woodwork and wanting my help.

I don't mind this at all. It would be preferable to have been working with these students during the autumn so they could have applied for a number of roles already, but better now than the summer when opportunities will be in shorter supply. But when several months have already been lost in a search for a placement year, it is important for students to take heed of advice and act upon it without delay.

Something that is a huge frustration for me and fellow Placement Officers is when a student doesn't take our suggestions on board. I'm not big headed enough to think that everything I say is gospel, or that I have mastered the science behind writing applications. But I've been in this game long enough to offer sound advice and when I see things on a CV that require improvement, a student should take note.

Most do just that, but there are always a few who don't. Today was a case in point. Having sent detailed feedback to a student, which included some thoughts in the body of the email and tracked changes with comments in the word document, I received back a revised version and was asked if I could cast my eye over it again before applications were made. I was happy to do so and pleased that the ideas I put over in the email had been taken on board. However, on closer inspection, the changes I had tracked remained in their original form and had not been amended.

I don't pick holes in a CV just for the sake of it. No Placement Officer does. If we see something that needs attention before it reaches an employer we will tell you. We do this to give you a better chance of being invited for an interview, not to make your life more difficult. One of the things I pointed out in this particular example was it didn't look good to claim to have a good eye for detail on one line, while spelling Excel with 2 Ls on the line below. When this hasn't been corrected in a 'revised' version, please don't be surprised to find me lying on the Placement Office floor waiting for an ambulance to whisk me off for treatment for a violent case of banging my head against a wall.

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