Today’s post is a perfect example of how a placement year offers much more opportunity than simply work experience. Lynn from the Placements Team picked the brains of MMU student Jenny Goddard, who completed her placement year with Lidl UK. Jenny is now in the final year of her Ba (Hons) Business Management course, and is still benefitting from the boost her placement year has given her in regards to her studies and graduate job search.
What course are you studying at MMU?
I’m a final year Business Management student. I completed a placement with Lidl UK and was based in their Regional Distribution Centre in Runcorn, Cheshire.
What were your key reasons for choosing the sandwich placement route?
As Business Management is a very competitive degree, I wanted to enhance my employability through obtaining a years experience within a multi-national organisation. I wasn’t sure what career path I wanted to pursue upon graduation, so I wanted to utilise the year to help me decide which area of business I would find the most interesting.
When did you actively start your placement search?
My placement search began as soon as I started second year, and I was sending off applications from September – December.
How many placement applications did you make in total?
In total I sent off approximately 15 applications, the majority in the retail sector.
What would be your top tips for maximising your chances of securing a placement?
Be sure to tailor your CV to match what the company is looking for. Find out details about the role and highlight your skills and experience that are most applicable to it. Don’t use a generic cover letter for every company – they will know!
Did you take part in telephone or video interviews? If so what was your experience of them?
I did several telephone interviews and a video interview. In both it is important to get your enthusiasm and personality across. The video interview was difficult as there was no one else on the other end, I had to answer questions that came up on the screen whilst being recorded, which was a very strange experience! The key is to do plenty of preparation beforehand, and have notes in front of you with significant phrases, such as certain competencies, that will prompt you if you forget your answer under the pressure!
How many assessment days and face-to-face interviews did you attend? With what type of companies?
I attended an interview with Enterprise Rent-a-Car which was based on my previous experience and competencies. For Lidl, I attended an assessment day then an individual interview with the Regional Training Consultant and Regional Director. None of them were as scary as I had anticipated, although I did find them all nerve-wracking!
What are your pearls of wisdom for making the best impression at an interview or assessment day?
You don’t get a second chance at a first impression, so make sure it’s a good one. Dress appropriately for the role and remember it is always better to be over-dressed than under dressed. Be pleasant and friendly, the assessors will want to be able to envisage you in their office, so put your personality across and smile! Preparation is key, so plan answers to questions based on key competencies, and use STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) to ensure your answers are thorough. Pre-prepare questions for after the interview, they will more than likely ask if you have any and it’s a good way to portray your interest for working for the company.
You did your placement year with Lidl, what was your job title and what were the key responsibilities/duties of the role?
My job title was Undergraduate Placement Student, as I did not have a specific role. The year was split between 4 different departments, and I was given responsibilities according to which member of the department I was spending time with, and what projects were happening within the department. My responsibilities varied from running a shift in-store to finding sites to build new stores!
What were the highlights of your placement year?
The level of exposure I gained from my time in Store, Property, Administration and Supply Chain was brilliant in helping me determine what career path to pursue. I thoroughly enjoyed spending two weeks in Head Office in Wimbledon, in the Training and Development Department, and being involved in the launch of a nation-wide development initiative for Store Managers.
What were the main challenges?
As I was based in Runcorn, I had to move away from home and university up to Cheshire. As there were only two placement students per region, there wasn’t a great social scene, but that was a very small price to pay for the year!
Which 3 skills do you feel you developed the most by undertaking your placement year?
- Assertiveness – I learnt that those in management positions had more of an assertive persona, and gained respect from subordinates and colleagues through displaying these characteristics, therefore worked on being more assertive in certain situations.
- Time management – Meetings, deadlines and 6am starts enhanced my time management skills considerably! Especially managing hobbies and seeing my friends and family around full-time work.
- Leadership – I had the opportunity to lead a team of people in store whilst running shifts in store, which was a great experience.
In your opinion, has doing a placement year had an impact on your final year studies and, if so, how?
Upon returning to university, I found my whole mentality towards my studies had changed. The placement enabled me to chose modules based on theory that I had experience putting into practice. My attitude towards work had completely changed, as working full time encouraged me to fully utilise my free time, I very rarely stay in bed past 8am anymore! My organisation and time management has improved considerably, which helps me effectively juggle my extra curricular activities around lectures and tutorials.
How has the process of applying for placements improved your graduate job search?
It enhanced my CV writing skills, and improved my performance in the online psychometric tests. However, my search for a graduate scheme was minimal, as I had two interviews for positions at Lidl, and secured a job in HR at their Regional Distribution Centre in Belvedere, London.
If you could sum up your placement experience in one sentence, what would it be?
A fantastic experience that has given me the drive and motivation for a successful career in the retail sector.
If you are a current second year MMU Business School student wanting to follow in Jenny’s footsteps and secure a placement to improve your employability and benefit your final year studies, be sure to contact the Business School Placement Team on 0161 247 3711, firstname.lastname@example.org or drop in to our desk in the Employability Hub to learn how we can support you every step of the way!