To placement, or not to placement? Insights that can help you answer the question
Placements. Internships. Years in industry. They’re a chance to gain some invaluable experience and learn new skills that, in the future, could propel your career forward. That’s what your Mum, Dad and lecturers will tell you. Of course they are spot on, but there is a lot more to it than that.
I’m currently on placement here at Notch Communications, as part of my Biomedical Sciences degree at the University of Manchester. Since my time on placement is coming to a close, I thought I’d give a little insight into what I’ve learnt along the way – from surviving the applications process to getting used to the big wide world of work.
1. Please, don’t panic!
I’ve been there. Your genius friend has managed to get a prestigious lab placement in the USA with a cracking pay and it is only the beginning of October. You, on the other hand, have no idea what you’re doing. You’re still getting to grips with your lectures, you have deadlines due and you’re working on your CV all whilst being bamboozled by the numerous emails featuring placement opportunities. It can all get a bit much. My top tip? Don’t rush. It is very easy to succumb to the pressure and try to get a placement as soon as possible. The application process is competitive but don’t panic and apply for simply anything you come across. One quality application to the right company is far better than sending lots of rushed applications to companies that, with hindsight, you’re actually not that interested in. Do your research, read up about the company and work out if you’d actually enjoy the placement on offer. Don’t worry about being left placement less. Plenty of students find placements a couple of days before summer starts or even self-arrange!
2. Consider the little things
The skills and experience you gain from a year in industry will stick with you for the rest of your career, but work isn’t the be all and end all. You should think about what else you’ll get up to over the 9 months (or more!) you’re on placement. You’ll be leaving behind the familiarity of university life, perhaps moving to a new city or country and living with people you don’t know. All of this is extremely exciting with so many new opportunities being thrown your way. It can also be a little daunting, and that’s ok – just make sure you’ve considered the other aspects before diving into the unknown! I initially wanted to go anywhere abroad – Australia, USA or as far away as possible! Alas, it didn’t work out for me, but with hindsight I’m so glad I’ve stayed in Manchester. I think I’ve adapted to my placement with such ease because my life outside work is great too. I’ve been able to live with my fab university chums (I don’t have to miss them and watch them graduate without me!) and with the free evenings that come as a result of the 9-5 life I’ve been able to throw myself into the university societies that are still on my door step – kickboxing and women’s rugby league! If I’d ventured further afield I know my placement experience could have been very, very different. I’m more than happy with how things turned out for me and I don’t think the work/play balance could be much better.
3. You make your own luck
Don’t get me wrong, I fully appreciate some people are more privileged than others – we all know that well connected person who got work experience with their dad’s best mate. However, you can make your own luck sometimes. Like running to catch the bus versus watching it drive slowly past, you have the power to make the best out of every situation. This can be applied to the application process and during your time on placement. Do your research on the company, read their blogs, check out their social media and read up on their clients – information is power! Ask friends and family to do dummy interviews with you, and take advantage of all the great resources university has on offer to make sure you are as prepared as you can be. If you’ve done all you can, you won’t need luck! Equally, whilst on placement you wont be babied. You’ll be welcomed into the team, and shown the ropes initially, but it’s not like school anymore. Want to get involved in that exciting project? Ask! Think your idea should be considered for the new creative piece? Say! Opportunities will not always fall into your lap so you have to be prepared to make them for yourself. If you go that extra mile, sooner or later your hard work will pay off.
4. Authenticity and honesty are key
The big wide world of work can be an intimidating place. The phrase ‘office politics’ exists for a reason, and interactions with clients and customers can be testing at times too. In the era of fake-news and fake people, the most endearing quality you can possess in this day and age is to be yourself. Don’t try to conform to the norm to impress your new boss or work colleagues. If you have a different idea, don’t be afraid to speak up! Voicing new ideas, and sticking by them will gain you greater respect in the work place than by simply being a yes man. You’ll also reap the rewards if your ideas are a success. Honesty can go a long way too. If you pretend you understand everything when you don’t, will you learn anything? No. A placement is an opportunity to be exposed to new things and learn new skills – you’re not expected to have them already! If you don’t understand something, be inquisitive, be honest and say. If you’re struggling, or finding something too easy, even if you’re running late for work – it’s always best to be honest.
So, there you have it. Mum and Dad are right – placements are a wonderful opportunity to gain experience in an industry that interests you. They also offer so much more: the opportunity to make new friends, see new places, try new things and realise your own potential (cliché).
Are you in the process of applying for a placement? Are you already in the midst of one? Let me know at @EllenAtNotch