Opinions

Students’ Greed is Good?

[one_fourth last=”no”]“…as a Placement Officer you have to look at the bigger picture and recognise that your responsibilities lie not just with your students.”-Placement Officer[/one_fourth]As a Placement Officer, you look forward to your students informing you that they have secured their placement. These are the precious moments where you know that you’ve done a good job and can move onto the next student who requires your assistance. Or at least that is what you hope.

Multiple Interview Opportunities

After offering congratulations and finding out all the relevant details of the placement, my next line of questioning relates to any outstanding applications that the student has made. For the vast majority, this is simply a question of tying up loose ends. If an employer contacts them for an interview, politely decline explaining that they have now secured a placement elsewhere and so are no longer available. This leaves things on good terms for the future, particularly if the student wants to pursue opportunities with that organisation later on in their career.

Where my stomach turns, is when a student says they have interviews coming up in the next couple of weeks with Company B and Company C, despite already having signed a contract with Company A. This is a scenario that is thankfully uncommon, but is one that presents a dilemma for a Placement Officer.

The Bigger Picture

On the one hand, you want your students to find the right placement for them. For the next 12 months they will be undertaking the first steps in their professional career and the experience should be one in which they can flourish. However, as a Placement Officer you have to look at the bigger picture and recognise that your responsibilities lie not just with your students.

If an employer has a negative experience from one of my students, it does not reflect well on the University. We build relationships over the long term with placement providers to ensure that our students have a wide range of opportunities available to them. If one of our students performs a u-turn after signing a contract, it could easily sour the relationship with the employer. At a time when universities across the country are branching out into placements ahead of the 2012 tuition fees, these are employers that we can dearly afford to lose.

Worth The Risk?

For the student, it is also a question of professionalism.

Were the roles to be reversed and a company continued to interview until they found a better candidate, the student would rightly be outraged at having their placement taken away from them.

I am sympathetic towards students who find themselves in this situation. In a perfect world, having spent long hours making applications you obviously would want to see all of your options before making a decision. However, once you have accepted a placement offer and signed that contract, it is time to step back from the recruitment process. At this early point in their career, is it worth the risk of getting blacklisted by recruiters for the sake of touting for a better offer? I would say not.

 

Comment below what you think about attending interviews after one has been offered a placement. Is it being competitive or ethical?

7 Comments

  • Interesting article.

    Don’t you have a set of guidelines or rules in the form of a policy that students must sign to overcome this when they join you on the placement degree? Rationalising the importance of professionalism with them from day one – so they understand appropriate etiquette and placement procedure?

    Surely if a good relationship with the student exists, this allows them to have trust and respect for our views ensuring they understand and appreciate the university’s stance on the matter? I have never had a student disagree when it’s laid out to them before they start their search.

    When a student does have an offer and multiple other interviews close by, is it not our responsibility to speak to the company and reason with them, encouraging them to allow the student to go out to the remaining interviews within the week (for arguments sake), to keep their options open until they can make an informed decision? (Before they manage to sign their contract) Most employers would understand (and from my experience do), and if they don’t, then the student has to make a decision – but the company is forcing their hand, not us as an institution, if they choose to keep going out to interview they could risk having the offer withdrawn, if they turn the offer down, again it is their decision to do so.

    I know it perhaps sounds draconian to have rules, yet as you mention students are representing us as institutions, they are not doing a gap year, they are completing an official programme – and following our guidelines is necessary to ensure the reputation of the university remains intact, and they understand appropriate ways to conduct themselves professionally. I want all of my students to get the placement that is right for them, but I am sure if we didn’t make it clear what our expectations were, they’d keep looking until the cows came home….!

    • Hi Emily

      Thanks very much for your reply.

      You are correct to point out that students agree to the guidelines that our service sets out at the start of the placement process. They sign a form to agree that they will abide by these rules and for the vast majority there is never a problem.

      My article set out an example that is the exception rather than the rule. However, every year that I have been doing this job there have been a small handful of students who try to play the system. It is almost as if having been made an offer, the student starts to think of themselves as a commodity and want to see which employer will be the highest bidder. I am somewhat sympathetic towards this, purely for the fact that if Employer A is offering a higher salary than Employer B, human nature will draw you towards greater reward. However, as you have pointed out, this could violate the university guidelines that they have agreed to, and be a breach of contract.

      Thankfully most of the students I work with recognise their responsibilities, both to themselves and the university. My inspiration to write the article came about after hearing that some my students had been reinforcing the guidelines. An individual had written on a class message board that they had accepted a placement, but then went on to say that they were going to further interviews. This triggered a negative response from classmates who not only contacted the Placement Office to advise of the situation, but made it clear in no uncertain terms that they were unhappy that this sort of behaviour could impact upon their opportunities to secure a placement.

      I’m pleased to say this matter was resolved shortly afterwards.

  • Interesting discussion!

    I’ve graduated now, but whilst looking for a placement a couple of years ago, I think I had a different view.
    I have to admit, when you are at university, money is more often than not the most attractive and persuasive argument you agree to! If I thought I could pull in a higher bidder, I would’ve given it a shot.

    Would I have been wrong? And why is it unfair to other students? If they are good enough they could’ve beat me to the job? If not, tough luck!

    • Thanks for joining the conversation Faizan.

      In the context of job hunting, it is clearly not wrong to examine your options and seek out the best package. However, what makes looking for sandwich placements different from applying for graduate jobs is something that Emily has alluded to below. Most students take a placement year as part of their undergraduate course and as such are ambassadors for their university, rather than just acting for themselves. Because the experience is built into the course and can offer accreditation, it is in the student’s best interests to act with professionalism at all times, including the recruitment process. As a last resort, behaviour that is deemed unacceptable can be subject to sanctions within the School, so there are boundaries which should be respected.

      Why is it unfair to other students? If you accept a placement that you have no intention of seeing through, you take away that opportunity from other students, including potentially your friends. The reason why my students were upset with their classmate was not primarily because of what is written in the university guidelines. It was because a number of them had also applied to Company A or had interviews with Company B or C and therefore were put out that the unethical behaviour of one person could impair on their ability to secure a placement that they really wanted.

      There is a time and a place to be hard-nosed in business, but I don’t think demonstrating a dog eat dog mentality in the infancy of your career is the way to get ahead. A sandwich placement can be your gateway to riches through graduate schemes, so for the sake of an extra £1k is it really worth pissing off friends, recruiters and the careers/placement staff who pointed you towards the opportunities in the first place?

  • I think that if the student has signed a contract and accepted an offer that the only reason they should be thinking of going to an interview is to gain information about the company and practising their interview skills for the future. At co-op/sandwich placement point they should mostly be looking at the opportunity to gain experience and knowledge etc. The only point at which I’d say otherwise is if the amount of money is significantly different to the point that the lower one would be very difficult to live off of.

  • Great article (will link to it in my blog for second years preparing for placement, if you don’t mind!). We just had a session on the etiquette of offers, as well as how to handle contracts and what information our team needs about the placements students find. I can see Emily’s point about having a policy and/or guidelines. We do – as I’m sure you do too – and we spell it out very specifically in a face-to-face session…but some students still don’t quite get it. However, I suspect it’s not just because they’re greedy or haven’t bothered to read the guidelines (though that does also happen) but because of three reasons which have a positive intent behind them.
    1) FEAR! of missing out on a great opportunity or of making the wrong choice by taking the first offer. Many are not confident about career decisions, as it’s very new to them.
    2) LEARNING! about as broad as possible a range of selection processes – they really do just want to see what it’s like.
    3) POLITENESS! some are genuinely worried about how it looks for future opportunities if they turn down an invitation.
    Of course, we support students in preparing their correspondence with employers, but they can be so worried about saying the wrong thing that they daren’t say anything at all.
    But I absolutely disagree that it’s our responsibility to contact employers and advocate on behalf of the students. Our whole approach to their developing professionalism is that they have to do things for themselves. In my opinion, we shouldn’t “stick our oar in” because that erodes the students’ reputation as independent professionals. They apply as an individual and are selected (or not) on merit, and should be trusted to do their own negotiation. Help and support in deciding what to say and how to say it is appropriate, but doing it for them crosses the line.

  • I understand the problem although I don’t think it needs to pose a huge dilemma. My thoughts on the issure are as follows:
    1. Set the context in place in advance and inform students of the code of practice to safeguard all parties.
    2. Publish this and ensure it’s accessible information.
    2. Inform students that once a placement is signed it renders all other pending placement options null and void.
    This will make the problem will go away if in addition you set up a system whereby all placement applications are recorded / logged so once an offer is signed & accepted by a student immediate notification is sent to any other businesses the student may have applied to. This procees will trigger an immediate deletion of such students details from the list of applicants awaiting placement interviews & free up the space for other student applicants pending.
    I hope this helps.