Our latest blog post hears Manchester Met Marketing Management student Charlotte Howard’s account of her time on placement as a Talent Intern with Shop Direct Group.
Don’t forget to check regularly for new placement opportunities on CareerHub!
Where are you currently on placement, and what is your placement role?
I’m currently on placement at Shop Direct (based at the HQ in Liverpool) which is the UK’s second largest pureplay digital retailer, who own the companies Very, Very Exclusive & Littlewoods. My placement role is titled ‘Talent Intern’ and I sit within the People Team where all development and internal communication happens for the business as well as recruitment, employee relations & reward.
When you started searching for placements did you have a specific type of role in mind? What types of roles did you apply for?
I was focused on getting a placement in marketing as this is what my degree is related to however, as time went on during my search, I kept an open mind and read through many job descriptions and realised that I shouldn’t limit myself to marketing alone as there are so many fantastic opportunities in marketing as well as in other sectors and industries. I applied for roles in marketing, digital marketing, HR, sales & supply chain.
Why did you choose the sandwich placement route for your course, rather than the three-year option?
I thought it was the better choice for me in the long term – students who have been on a placement are really sought after by employers because they have that extra work experience & maturity in terms of working in an office environment and increased commercial awareness.
I was slightly sceptical and thought that I wanted a degree that finished in 3 years so I could just go and start earning money & getting my career started straight away. However, I soon realised there is no point rushing into a decision or job that I could regret later so this way I am getting a true insight into how a huge company operates and exposure to many departments within the business which I wouldn’t have even knew existed without working here. Due to how flexible and encouraging my manager is I’ve had opportunities to work in other departments & get a really good insight into the wider business!
Approximately how many placement applications did you make in total?
It was around 15 in total, I secured my placement quite early on so didn’t have to apply to as many.
What type of selection processes did you go through for your applications? For example, psychometric tests, telephone or video interviews? What was your experience of them? Any tips for students currently searching?
I experienced quite a few different types of selection processes & each internship can be selected differently. For example, at Shop Direct I went through an assessment day and 1 to 1 interview with my manager but other interns on placement here only had 1 interview or 1 assessment day. For Kelloggs, it was a telephone interview, assessment day & second interview. For Gazprom it was an assessment day & individual interview on the day. L’Oreal was a telephone interview & assessment day. Other selection processes included psychometric tests & numeracy tests as well as online competency questions before an interview. They are all quite varied so you must be prepared! Make sure you do your research of the company, look further than the company website – find articles or interesting facts about the company.
What type of companies did you have assessment days and/or interviews with? What was your experience of these?
I had my assessment days with companies in the retail, digital, hospitality & energy industry.
I had a confusing experience with one particular employer during my placement search, however on the whole most companies (especially Shop Direct) are very efficient and I really enjoyed their assessment day – they made it fun! It was really good meeting other students looking for a placement too & share experiences!
You’ll soon distinguish if the company will be a good one to work for with how organised their recruitment process is as well as how good their assessment days are.
What are your top tips for impressing at an interview or assessment day?
- Dress smart – make sure you look the part & have a huge smile on your face.
- When you arrive at the interview/assessment day – show that you’re interacting with the other candidates before they call you in – they want to employ someone who can interact well & take an interest in others!
Know your stuff – research the company, find out a few interesting facts
- Prepare a rough guide of questions & answers for each interview or assessment day you get invited to. For example, look at typical questions employers ask and have some examples ready in your head so you come across confident and you don’t have to stress as much in your interviews. Typical questions are; competency questions – e.g. “give me an example of a time you were under pressure and had to deliver great results” or “give me an example of a time you were leading a team and met several problems in the project you were working on, how you overcame them?” Etc!! Don’t get too hung up on your set answers though because you may have a nervous moment & forget everything. So prepare, but don’t go mad!
- Have some questions ready for the end of your interview e.g. “What do you think is the best thing about working here? Or “Is there opportunity for career development further down the line?”
- Follow the company on social media, keep up to date with what the company is up to
Look at the company values, see how you can incorporate these in your interview e.g. “I really like your company value….. I reflect this in my job….. and demonstrate it when…..”
Tell us about your typical working day.
I arrive at 08:30, check my emails and work through those first. I will be given projects to be getting on with by my manager as well as attending a meeting or having a quick catch up with somebody I am working on a project with. There is a subsidised Costa here so I will have coffee break (J) & a quick chat with my colleagues as well as have some lunch with the other interns & my team. I will meet with external people from other businesses we are working with as well as organise internal events & plan careers fair days & assessment days – which is quite strange considering I was on the other side a few months ago!
What have been the highlights of your placement year so far?
Probably being part of the annual conference which was held at the BT Convention Centre on the Albert Dock in Liverpool. Calling it a conference is quite misleading because it was an event to celebrate what we’d achieved that year as well as showcase our strategy for the golden quarter leading up to Christmas. There was also a fashion show and I was back stage dressing the models which was fab! Another highlight was being part of the V by Very clothing line launch – the whole office had a buzz about it & we were all given 50% off all V by Very items for 48 hours! We also have balcony briefs where one of the directors talks about strategy, figures & what the company is currently up to. The whole office gathers for them, it’s great. The launch of The Cube is definitely a highlight for me – it’s our new wellbeing space complete with a gym, quiet comfy rooms & a juice bar. Click the link for pics! https://www.shopdirect.com/shop-direct-opens-state-of-the-art-training-conferencing-and-wellbeing-facility-at-liverpool-headquarters/
And what have been the biggest challenges?
Sometimes you are thrown in at the deep end and having never worked in an office environment before it can be daunting but I have the best team ever and they are so supportive & help me whenever I need it! Sometimes it can be hard organising something because you don’t know the right people to ask or how processes work but you soon settle in & it feels like you’ve been working here for ages!
Are there specific skills that you feel you have developed during your placement year so far? If so, what are they?
I think I’ve massively developed my professionalism & the way I approach a task is a lot more logical & strategic. I have always been confident but I feel so comfortable talking to a huge range of different people & have conquered my fear of speaking on the phone!!! I think my commercial awareness has increased and I feel a lot more prepared for the future & applying for roles when I graduate, Shop Direct is a fantastic company & really cares about everybody who works here. I’m really happy to have chosen them to do my placement.
Do you feel you will approach your final year differently because of the experience you have gained, and skills you have developed throughout your placement year? If so, how?
I will definitely approach final year differently. I have been given access to so many learning tools & have been collecting information as I go along so I am armed for my dissertation! I have been on different training courses too including presenting, excel & writing skills so these will all definitely help me when I return back to university. It’s also inspired me to work really hard and to help me further my career and be as successful as some people I’ve met here at Shop Direct!
What would be your top tips for a student to maximise their chances of securing a placement?
- Definitely spend time with the placement office and go through your CV & applications with them, as well as this ask your seminar tutors for help – most of them (especially in marketing) have worked in many agencies & companies previous to working at uni and they certainly know their stuff so ask them for advice with your applications too.
- Practice psychometric & maths tests over & over again – I HATED them & really struggled to the point it made me cry! Not all employers use these types of test in the application process but make sure you practice as much as you can online, there’s lots of free ones available.
- Believe in yourself! I was quite successful during the application process and got invited to a few assessment days & interviews which definitely helped with my confidence towards getting a placement secured but I know others weren’t as lucky and lost hope quite quickly – so don’t give up and keep searching!!!
And finally, if you could sum up your placement experience in one sentence, what would it be?
Challenging, exciting and inspiring. I really, really recommend you apply!