Placements: Why Bother?
By Rachel Fisher, our Special Features Editor
This is the first instalment of articles geared towards giving advice on all topics surrounding placements, including advice on how to get them, what to expect whilst you are on placement, and, if you have already carried out a placement, how to follow them up. This first article aims to encourage you to endeavour to get a placement, by outlining the copious benefits that can be reaped from a little effort and hard work on your part.
This list is not exhaustive, but highlights the key opportunities that a placement, or even just the application to internships, can give a student.
Placements are generally available during both the holidays and as a year out from study. This can be particularly useful if you’re running out of funds, despite living on pot noodles and Tesco own brand products. Pay can vary from placement to placement, company to company, especially depending on your field of study. Fortunately, the schools of the Engineering and Physical Sciences are more often than not given paid placements in order to encourage the best talents in the field to work for companies; as can be shown in figure 1 there are many students already taking up placement opportunities throughout the schools of the EPS college. The school of Civil engineering boasts contacts with over 50 companies and senior academics, which is encouraging for any student looking for a placement and network with members of the industry. Generally you can expect to be on minimum wage, or have your expenses paid which is great because traveling for work can be particularly expensive. Even if you are working for free, consider it as an investment, because no matter what you earn financially you will reap a plethora of experience.
Figure 1: Percentage of students from each EPS School Carrying Out Placements (data provided by the Careers Network at University of Birmingham)
Not only is a placement a chance to earn money, but you will be learning at the same time, not just about your specific subject area, but you’ll also be gaining experience that can only be gained in the workplace. This may seem basic, but learning skills such as taking meeting minutes, writing reports, writing formally to any party concerned with the work, and, not forgetting, how to make a good cup of tea, are priceless. I’ve personally gained experience in areas that are more personal to me; for example gaining confidence in the work that I produce as it has been recognised by people from the industry, who have both practical and academic experience. There will be more on my experiences and those of others in different industries in a future article to demonstrate that, if you’ve got a good placement making tea, it shouldn’t be your entire job role. It is, however, a good opportunity to build the foundations for a good relationship with your colleagues. Tea is often an icebreaker topic which can ease an introduction to co-workers, and it is often this very British subject, where many people can find common ground. Don’t worry if you’re not British though, you will learn many things about the strange fascination with Tea!
3. Improving Your CV
Not only will experience stand you in good stead for both future placements and a graduate job with the same company, but will also look really impressive on your CV. This is a factor that can really make you stand out from the crowd, as many students don’t bother with placements; however, this does vary between subject areas. Companies hiring for either placements or graduate jobs recognise the importance of practical experience and the dedication shown by giving up some of your luxuriously long summers as a student. It is for these reasons that they will more than likely hire a graduate who has undertaken placements with the company previously over those who have not. This can have many benefits, including less pressure in your final year and having a greater awareness of how a specific company operate and how you fit into their team, ensuring that the transition into full time employment is a lot more comfortable. So go ahead, get your foot in the door!
4. Supporting Academic Study
The experience gained will not only set you on course for writing an exemplary CV, but it will also help support your academic study. Engaging in activities carried out in industry will cement some of the things you learnt in previous years at university, giving you a more thorough understanding of the subject area and its application in industry. During your placement you will also learn new things both theoretically and about their practical applications. It is more likely than not that these topics will at some point come to light in future academic study, giving you a firm foundation already in place to work up from throughout your study in that module.
5. Practising Application and Interview Processes
Don’t be disheartened if on your first attempt at applications you are unsuccessful. Sometimes this is not any reflection on your own ability; companies may feel for example that, if you have just finished first year, you have not got a strong enough academic grounding to really gain all the benefits from a placement. Bear in mind, however, that no experience is a bad experience! The process of applications, not only CVs and cover letters, but also telephone interviews, psychometric tests and assessment centres, is an experience all of its own which is best learned in practice. If you don’t succeed, try and try again!
If this all sounds good to you, and you’d like a slice of the placement pie but you're not sure where to start, make sure to read the next article in this series, Placements: How to Get One. If conversely you feel that significant information has been omitted or you have a burning desire for more information, e-mail me on firstname.lastname@example.org.