A good work placement can set you apart from other graduates who haven’t had the benefit of a year-in-industry, but you can’t expect just to stumble onto a good work placement.
Here are five tips to help you pick the right opportunity and then shine once you start.
1. Be picky
Don’t just apply for every placement scheme you find. Decide what you want from a placement and target the ones that offer what you’re looking for. Writing individually tailored cover letters will make you stand out from the crowd and will help you secure the place you want.
Next, do as much research as possible so you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into. Aim for a position which offers you the chance to do real work, not just administration. Think about how the tasks you’ll be carrying out will look on your CV. Which would you rather have? A year’s experience photocopying at an FTSE 100 company, or working at a smaller firm but getting hands-on experience of the kind of role you’ll be applying for when you graduate?
Asking students who have already been on a placement about the experiences they have had is an excellent way of getting a real picture of how a scheme will benefit you.
2. Present yourself well
It used to be a new haircut and some smart clothes were all that were needed to impress a prospective employer, but these days you also need to worry about your online persona.
Employers will track down your social media accounts to help them decide if taking you on would be a good idea so you need to make sure you’re not making the wrong impression. Limiting access to your profiles is advisable, especially if there are things on there that don’t present you in the best light.
It’s also a good idea to learn about the job interview process, especially if you have no experience of them. Researching the sorts of question you are likely to be asked and preparing some answers is an excellent way to ensure you’re not overwhelmed by what can be a daunting experience.
3. Be prepared for a culture shock
The most obvious difference between student and working life is that in the latter you have to be in the office by 9am Monday to Friday but that’s one of the easier things to adapt to. It’s the more subtle differences that are harder to get to grips with.
Take deadlines, for example. You have them at university and you’ll have them on your placement. But when you’re given an essay, you can expect around three months’ notice of its due date. In the office, you’ll sometimes be given a task that needs to be completed by close of business the next day.
Learning to manage your time and prioritise tasks will be one of the most challenging parts of your placement and mastering it will ensure you get given more rewarding duties to carry out as your manager will know you can be trusted.
4. Remember you’re still learning
It might not be the same as university, but a work placement is very much a learning experience, so take everything you can from it. If you’ve done your homework, you should find yourself carrying out a range of tasks giving you experience of a variety of roles.
Not only will this look great on your CV, but it can also broaden your horizons in terms of the kinds of places you can work at and positions you can apply for once you graduate. A good placement is the best way of researching your future career.
5. Take your business skills back to uni
Don’t think you have to wait until after graduation to benefit from your placement – your new-found time management skills can be used to help streamline your studies. You’ll find that when you’re used to getting up early most mornings, you won’t be able to sleep until noon even if you want to. Take the regimented ways you learned at your placement and apply them to the rest of your time at university.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember, though, is that your placement is what you make of it. Put yourself out there, let people know you’re willing to help out in whatever way you can. Don’t blend into the wallpaper.
Guest post by Will Stevens from 123-reg.co.uk. The domain name provider was nominated in the Best Employment Experience as nominated in the student or intern category of the 2013 National Council of Work Experience awards.