Placements: how to get them

Posted on Tuesday 14th January 2014

By Rachel Fisher, our Special Features Editor

This is the second instalment of a series of articles geared towards giving advice on all topics surrounding placements. Unsure if a placement in industry is for you? Read the first article in the series which discusses the benefits of seeking a placement in industry. If now you’re convinced that a placement will be beneficial for you (it will!), read on to find out how to get one as a student at the University of Birmingham. 

To start with you need to ask yourself some questions. What industry do you want to go into? Is there a particular area you would like to work in? What do you want out of your career? What do you want to achieve in life? What lasting positive impact do you want to leave on this planet? Don’t get too hung up on the answers to these but it helps to have some idea of what is best for you when searching for a job or even a placement as it will help keep your search focussed, after all, you cannot score a goal if you cannot see the goal posts! It also means that you might actually end up in a job you enjoy, well, you can but hope.

Once you have considered all of this you can begin hunting for placements, however, there are a few different ways to go about this.

Through your school

Each school within the college of Engineering and Physical Sciences has a designated member of staff who deal with industrial liaison. These members of staff have many contacts within the relevant industry and will often send e-mails when they are informed of companies who have positions to fill. These may look like spam in your inbox but can sometimes be of great help, so they are definitely worth a read. 

The industrial Liaison staff can also be a very useful source of advice and information for the industry you are interested in, they can also tell you what particular skills that industry generally looks for in applicants. If your particular course offers modules or sandwich years that will include recognition for your experience gained in industry these can be a great opportunity. By doing an assessed module or industry year kills two birds with one stone, not only do you get recognition for your experience but you can also get some marks in the bag by the middle of the first semester. However, this depends on how that component is coordinated.

Each school often runs careers events; these may be careers fairs or talks given by visiting lecturers from industry. Events like these are often publicised through email or notices within your school’s building, they offer a chance to meet people from industry and network with them. If you’re unsure as to the sorts of roles you can be expected to work in within a company this is a really great opportunity to ask “so what do you do on a daily basis?”. Through this you can glean an insight into the industry whilst also showing your interest and enthusiasm which will get you noticed.

I gained my own placement through my school, the School of Civil Engineering (The Best School!). Our Industrial Liaison has been running the RESPECT (I have no idea what this stands for) Scheme. The principle being that the University provides a forum for companies to meet students and vice versa and then students can apply for a summer placement with these companies. Students are then selected for interviews by interested companies. This did mean that I had 6 interviews in one afternoon, but it also meant that I got a placement, so it was most definitely worth it. It also means there is often no requirement to do psychometric tests, or attend assessment centres, which is always a bonus.

If you want to know who to contact the industrial Liaison staff for each school are listed here:

Joining societies either within your school or the wider university will also give you opportunities to attend educational or networking events. You may also be invited to be involved with projects where you will not only be able to learn from experienced members of industry but also building relationships with these people who may offer you a placement in their department.

There are also opportunities for internships for PhD students; an example is those offered in the School of Physics. They have a funded scheme to allow PhD students to undertake fully paid placements before and during their PhD studies for periods of 1-12 months. This is part of the Midlands Physics Alliance Graduate School. You can speak to your Industrial Liaison staff to find out if there are similar opportunities within your School.

Through the University

The University of Birmingham prides itself on the employability of its graduates, with 92% of its Graduates in employability or further education in 6 months in 2011 according to the Guardian. Part of this success is due to the brilliant careers advice offered by the Careers Network. Not only do they advertise positions on their website, but they provide guidance on writing CVs, covering letters and applications amongst other things. They also provide personal advice if you book an appointment with a careers advisor, this is particularly useful for writing CVs, they help target your achievements to particular roles. Another great feature of their website is the practice psychometric tests, these can be daunting if you have never completed one before, but not only do you get exposure to the layout of psychometric tests you will also receive an email detailing your performance and providing help on how to improve. Check out the Careers Network website or visit them in the University Centre Building and pick up loads of resources for free.

The Careers Network also organise careers events for each college which are listed and updated on their events web page. The events include a variety of things from fairs to mock interview sessions with companies.

Solo

There should be no need for you to go it alone in the search for careers, however, if you have had no luck with the above or feel there is a particular company you would like to work for there are ways and means of putting yourself out there. 

There are many job sites to be found online however, for placements/internships and graduate jobs, particularly in Engineering and the Physical Sciences, Gradcracker is your best bet as they have more science engineering and technology jobs than any other graduate job site. They advertise graduate positions for many different industries surrounding engineering and physical sciences, including finance, business and technology, amongst others. You can create a profile, browse jobs by discipline and type, get job alerts, find out about companies and lots more. This can be useful to find companies that you have never heard of before and manage your applications, ensuring you are casting your net wide enough. 

You needn’t just rely on these websites you can also do your own research into companies in the industry you are interested in. Many companies’ home pages have a careers section, however this may be hidden in the small print right at the bottom of the page. Look out for internships, if they do not specifically advertise for this try to find a contact in recruitment and send a CV and covering letter for their consideration.

Additionally, by having a LinkedIn Profile you may be approached by companies who are looking for people with your particular skill set and experience. Twitter can also be a really useful tool for keeping up to date with developments with the companies you’re interested in, keeping you well informed, they also Tweet when vacancies become available. These can both be a key tool to network with people in industry that you may already know through friends and family.  As they say it is not only what you know but who you know! 

Hopefully this has given you lots of motivation to get out there and get looking for placements besides, what’s the worst that could happen. It always helps to learn from other people’s experience and with this in mind, the next article will discuss other EPS students’ experiences and network with them, so make sure to read it so you’re not caught out! If you need any more advice get in touch with lecturers in your school, the careers network or at the very least myself, and I will endeavour to point you in the right direction to get you on track to success, e-mail me on rxf000@bham.ac.uk.