Placement is a hot topic for second year students at Aston – the majority of undergraduates do embark on a year in industry during their third year at university. You hear many stories of students on their placement and how they had such a wonderful year, it sounds like a good idea right? You’re getting paid, you’re acquiring new skills, you’re creating your professional network… the list goes on. But the question that is probably on your mind, is how do I get that placement? Here are a few tips to help you get started.
If you are undecided about taking a placement, see my other blog post about the reason why taking a placement is totally worth it.
1. Get into the routine
The clock is ticking as soon as you start second year, many positions even open before you return to university from your summer holidays. The pressure to get the ball rolling will disappear, so start searching for companies who are advertising placement opportunities as soon as you can. Devote some time each week to allow yourself to search for opportunities and research about the different companies you could apply for. I blocked out time on Wednesday mornings and an hour or two at the weekend and explicitly displayed this on my timetable. This will help you to remind yourself that you need to get cracking with your placement search and start filling out applications. It will only come to bite you back in the bum, if you delay yourself in applying for positions, so start early and set yourself some goals each week on what you want to achieve. Some people set targets for how many positions they applied for each week, some broke this down further by research, CV, cover letter and the actual application – find out what works best for you and stick to it.
2. Tailor your CV to each position
It’s so tempting to upload the same CV for every position you apply for, but you will not get much success in doing so. A curriculum vitae is the main document an employer will look at and most likely will influence whether you proceed to the next stage in the recruitment process. You want to increase the likelihood of going through to the next round so take some time out to study the job description – this will tell you information about the job, including the responsibilities and skills that are required. If this is what the job requires, then you should have it! Use this information and incorporate it into your CV. That does not mean re-writing your entire CV for every application – once you get into the swing of things and you’re familiar with the process, it can be done fairly quickly. You won’t be able to include every skill and competence on your CV so taking a few minutes to understand the job requirements and which of your qualities are most important to the vacancy, then you can add in a few more if you think its necessary. By adjusting your CV to each position, your application will become more prominent to that specific recruiter and therefore increase the likelihood of continuing through the process.
Networking is about leveraging the people you know, both personally and professionally to improve your chances of finding work. You will find your network will become invaluable as you progress into your career, so having a long-term mindset to building your network will help you later down the line as mutual trust develops. I would start off by setting up a profile with LinkedIn – a business and career orientated social network – where you are able to add your friends, family and people you have worked with previously. LinkedIn is a great tool to find out the latest news and opinions from your industries, the businesses you follow and insight shared by influencers. Your profile mirrors a CV, so you will be able to showcase your employment history, your skills (which your connections can endorse you for) and receive references online. You’ll be able to add your LinkedIn profile URL on to your CV, and often, create an account for your application using LinkedIn. Many students find placement opportunities via LinkedIn (especially international placements), so ensure you allocate time to exploring jobs on there too. In addition to building your network online, keep your eye out for events organised by the Careers + Placements Service where many employers visit campus throughout the year, giving you the opportunity to talk to employers, find out more about the roles available and even some tips for applying!
4. Practice your Interview Technique
The step in the process where many people fall is the interview itself. It’s common for someone to spend hours researching the company, writing their application and tailoring the CV, but they don’t get through the interview stage. The saying “fail to prepare, prepare to fail” comes to mind. The unknown here is the questions that will be asked, but you can practice a few types of questions that could come up: experience verification questions such as “Tell me more about what you learnt in your consumer behaviour module” or “What were your responsibilities in your last position” – these are aimed to evaluate your background. Behavioural questions are designed to measure past behaviours as a predictor for future behaviours, they could include: “Describe a stressful situation at work and how you handled it” or “Did you ever not meet your goals? Why?”. The other type of question you can practice before are competency questions such as “Tell me about a time your communication skills improved a situation” or “Describe a time when you demonstrated teamwork to solve a complex problem” – the purpose of these questions is to align your past behaviors with specific competencies which are required for the position, so looking at the job description and identifying the key skills will help you in answering these type of questions as employers usually isolate specific key competencies that they believe suitable employees should possess.
A good technique that I use in interviews is the CAR (context, action, result) technique, some people use the STAR method, but CAR is much more simplistic and helps me stay focused on the question at hand:
- Context: Describe the situation and the task you were faced with, with whom and when.
- Action: How did you approach and complete the task? What action did you take? Remember to include your individual contribution when talking about a group scenario.
- Result: What results did you achieve? What conclusions did you reach? What did you learn from the experience?
5. Stay strong, stay focused.
Placement is extremely stressful and from time to time you will experience rejection, which is what unfortunately comes with applying for jobs so be resilient and don’t be disheartened when you don’t get a placement you wanted – try to be critical and identify where you think you went well/didn’t go so well and use this to improve your next application. Stay focused on your applications – this is your chance to join the company you have dreamed of working for, it is important to put time and effort into applications, and you will want to do this if the role is right for you. Do something to stand yourself out from the crowd, at RateMyPlacement.co.uk, one student landed the role by sending a box of Quality Streets to the office with each of their ‘qualities’ written on. Whilst this is not always appropriate, you should work out a way to get noticed so it’s your application that recruiters take a second look at.