Placements: My Story and Lessons in Optimism


How do you secure a placement year with the highest ranked media buying agency in the Sunday Times ‘Best 100 Companies to Work For 2012’? Jake Walker, BA (Hons) Market Management, admits he’s not sure…despite securing one! Perhaps it was his humility, his confident handshake or just luck of the draw. Read his self-effacing placement musings and top tips here…


Placement student Jake Walker

A few months ago (this would be around April) I attended an interview with MEC Manchester. It was one in a long list of hopefuls; agency, in-house, didn’t matter, I was desperate. Employers I’d never even heard of at this point had rejected me, but nevertheless I remained hopeful for the Media Trainee position at MEC, a company I thought was out of reach, knowing that my hope of ever working there was but the hope of a fool.

Now I already have agency experience at this point. I already know what’s in store for me through those glass doors and for those of you familiar with the Agency Life unit, it was through this that I managed to secure an internship with Carat Media last year for about six months. To cut a long story short, it was invaluable; it prepared me in knowing what the business did exactly. So why am I parading this in front of you? Surely I was better prepared than anyone?

Well the main purpose of this post is to get a thought off my chest. You see, I didn’t expect to get on at MEC and here’s why:

  •  A reluctance to talk during group tasks (my biggest weakness by far)
  • A blunder in the many-to-one interview where I couldn’t name a single client (despite the fact that we’d just worked on something for the BBC as a test!)
  • My maths test, a subject that’s never been my strong suit, probably went wrong in some areas (I still don’t know the result actually- and that’s the frightening thing!)

From this painful list of what appeared at the time to me to be fatal mistakes, you can probably tell that I’m quite the scatter-brained, taciturn, failure-prone employee that Sir Martin’s best and brightest wouldn’t want to touch with a barge pole.

Now not only were there only three vacancies available, but there were well-over ten potentials in that room with me, people studying other subjects; Economics, Accountancy etc.: people with skills I’ll probably never pick up. There were social butterflies, people who took charge easily and people who made intelligent insights: I was finished.

Now there’s no spoiler of course because you already know I’ve made it, but looking back at my Carat interview, I levied the same judgement upon myself afterwards. It’s not just the social ineptitude, but the fact that I know I’m not the smartest person in the room, probably far from it. I’m not obviously privy to any great insight and whilst I make the right noises and answer questions put to me in interviews as honestly as I can and to the best of my ability, it still stands that I’m just not special. Having said that, I never expected to get Carat either, because I’d been rejected by agencies far smaller and far less prominent than the big boys –as I saw them- of media.

The team at MECAnd there’s no magic formula for success in this process either, because it all falls down to a decision made by an individual, or a few individuals, whose colliding insights and personalities calculate the verdict on whether or not to invest in you as a living, growing, breathing human asset. There really is no other way to succeed than to keep at it. Learn from your mistakes and keep your morale high, especially when on assessment days, because you just don’t know what the silent guy with the clipboard sat in the shadows is writing about you, what he thinks about the responses you give to his questions, or indeed, why he really chose you over that other guy in the end. Certainly ask later if you get the opportunity, I still haven’t!

Thank you for reading this post and as an addendum to it, I hope that you find these tips useful:

  •  When asked a question, answer as truthfully as possible, even if you don’t know!
  • Go into interviews with a smile, good handshakes and all that (trust me, it isn’t that hard to feint and you do feel at least a little more confident)
  • Don’t worry about psychometric tests; they’re not there to judge, but to ascertain a preferable department.
  • Think about key talking points in interviews/your own research, you might just impress them with in-depth knowledge!
  • Don’t try and take charge during group tasks unless you actually know what you’re doing. They can tell the power-hungry a mile off!

Thanks for reading and good luck!



MEC Manchester usually advertise their opportunities in February so keep checking our vacancy system if you’d like to apply for their placements. 

Carat Media are currently recruiting.  You can view full details of their vacancy and how to apply on our vacancy system.


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