If your placement search hasn’t quite panned out as you hoped yet, don’t worry!
Our latest blog post follows Economics student Jess Vasey on her journey through her own placement search, and is a brilliant example of how the skills you have built up so far in your degree may take you in a direction you haven’t anticipated yet!
Where are you currently on placement, and what is your placement role?
I am on placement at MEC Manchester and I work in the Analytics and Insight Department as a Media Trainee.
This involves providing insights into data to help other teams with pitch work for new and existing clients so they understand their audience better and can generate ideas that are proved to be successful.
My role also involves measuring the performance of previous and running campaigns.
It also involves streamlining any reports and making them more efficient. We try to make day to day jobs as quick and automated as possible.
When you started searching for placements did you have a specific type of role in mind?
When I first started searching for placements I was determined to achieve an economic consultant role. However, as there were only a few specific employers offering this role very early on in the academic year and this is a hard placement to achieve, once I was rejected I started looking into fields that would help me one day achieve an economic consultancy role and found that I would need experience in data analysis.
Even if the job is not the one you really wanted, finding a placement that will build skills for that role in future is extremely useful.
I study Economics and have ended up working in a media agency which I never thought would have happened at the beginning of the year.
You are studying Economics; what skills that you have developed through your course do you feel you have used most on placement?
In my department the quantitative skills I have learnt from Econometrics have helped me a great deal in the A&I team. Every new starter has to complete what is known as a ‘100 Day Challenge’ in which a project is set by your manager and you have to bring something new and unknown or just something that will help the A&I team and can be used in future.
My 100 Day Challenge was to investigate and develop methods which will enable MEC to quantify the effects on media KPI’s of large impact events. I used my forecasting skills from Econometrics to complete this project, which everyone in the team was pleased with.
Using data and reliable sources to back up ideas and answers to problems/queries is essential in this industry – just as much as it is in an academic essay. And lastly, thinking scenarios and problems through logically has helped a great deal.
Approximately how many placement applications did you make in total?
I applied for so many, whatever you do don’t get disheartened finding a placement is hard work!! Don’t stress yourself out too much if you don’t get the first one you applied for. I’d say in total I applied for 50 (maybe more) and I had 6 interviews in total.
What type of selection processes did you go through?
I had to do a lot of online tests including maths tests, multiple choice tests for certain scenarios etc.
For the company I currently work with it was a group interview in which we were put in teams to come up with an idea for a new media campaign and how we would handle it.
The other interviews I had were face to face with around 2 or 3 people in a room.
Any tips for students currently searching?
My tip for interviews is – especially for face to face interviews – don’t feel you need to rush out an answer immediately. Give yourself a minute to think and prepare a well-structured answer (this is easier said than done). However, employers don’t mind if you take your time, if you need to, ask them to repeat the question. They are not trying to trick you, they want you to answer the best you can.
My tip for group interviews is don’t speak over people or be too pushy but try and make yourself stand out. If they ask a question to the room don’t sit there quietly and wait for someone else to answer, put your ideas across and act interested.
I also had a few video interviews, these were not like Skype where someone else was on the other end it was just you looking into a camera and it recorded so the employer could look at another time. The video interviews were the hardest.
MMU have meetings that you can go to in order to help you prepare for video interviews [speak to the Placements Team on 0161 247 3711 or go to the Employability Hub to ask about Video Interview practice – they can send you a link to a practice one!] Do go to them!! They are really useful and as I said in my opinion video interviews are the hardest.
What are your top tips for impressing at an interview or assessment day?
Do dress appropriately, this is obviously a major tip. Sometimes it doesn’t have to be extremely formal but you have to fit in with the company.
Arrive ten minutes early. You don’t want to be late or seem rushed when you meet them.
Also, come prepared! If they have asked you to bring a presentation don’t forget handouts etc.
If you’re in a group interview it is an easy way to demonstrate you can work well with other people. Don’t speak over people but don’t be afraid to contribute. You want to stand out but not take the limelight. Show that you can work well as a team by maybe saying a point that backs up someone else’s idea.
In some cases, if you have gone the extra mile and researched a lot about the company or are interested in something they do or you like a previous project tell them either on the CV or at the interview. Tell/show them what you would bring to the company and how you could help them.
Also, an employer is looking to see if you fit in the company. Are you approachable, friendly, would they want to sit next to you at the staff party? Make sure you make conversation but obviously don’t let it take over the interview or don’t be too informal.
What advice do you have for students who find out they have not been successful when interviewing for a placement?
- Take and read the feedback! If they don’t give you feedback always ask for this as it is extremely useful for your next interview.
- I always made a list at the end of every interview of everything I did wrong and what I would do next time to improve it. It is surprisingly very easy to leave an interview and completely forget what you have just been saying for the past hour. Don’t leave it a few weeks as by then you won’t be able to remember anything!
- Don’t be so hard on yourself. Lots of people apply and normally only 1 or 2 people receive the job. I think personally I took it to heart too much and it’s something if I were to do again I would change. Don’t get disheartened it is unlikely you will get the first job you go for an interview for. Just take the feedback on board and keep trying! Going to lots of interviews is good experience anyway…
Ask for interview advice from the Placement Team based in the Employability Hub or from current placement students.
How did you stay motivated throughout your placement search?
Be organised- start looking early. Give yourself enough time to tailor each CV and cover letter to that company.
Look for jobs that interest you or companies you have heard good things about so you are more likely to want the job.
If you get declined have a few days off, treat yourself, maybe ring your mum and have her tell you how great you are.
Lastly, think of the benefits! Sometimes when you want to give up think of all the great things you will achieve from a placement year to motivate you.
And if all that fails think of the money.
What have been the highlights of your placement year so far?
The company I work for are amazing!
We have great staff parties and benefits and the people I work with are fun and all really friendly.
We also have a BVU day (Best Version of Yourself) in which you and a group of colleagues go and do something great for the day, whether it’s helping the homeless, painting a school, cleaning a park in Manchester. Something to give back to the community.
Also my job inspires people to ‘thrive’ and we are encouraged to learn new things not only for work purposes but to learn new things that make us happier whether its sky diving, becoming a yoga teacher, climbing a mountain etc. They care about you here.
And what have been the biggest challenges?
Biggest challenge for myself is learning about an industry that I have never worked in or even had any interest in before.
I study Economics, however, my placement is in a media agency.
Whilst it gives me skills I need for Economics and I can blend Economics into my day to day job this industry was completely new to me when I started and I have had to learn a lot about media to be able to do my role in the Analytics and Insight team.
Are there specific skills that you feel you have developed during your placement year so far? If so, what are they?
I have learnt many skills in Excel that I haven’t been taught in my course. I have also learnt to adapt to other statistical software and I have taken an exam in Google Analytics which I can add to my CV.
These skills will make my quantitative course much easier in my final year.
I have also learnt skills in communication, for example, in meetings, presentations, dealing directly with clients and handling any problems. This is something that is not taught at University and will help in future jobs.
How do you think your placement will influence your approach to your final year? Do you think you will approach it differently than if you hadn’t opted to do a placement?
I definitely think I will be a lot more focussed in my final year. I will also be more organised and plan my time better. Working 9-5 puts you in a routine and even on weekends you have a similar routine so I think in third year I will do a lot less napping!
I have also found sources, tools, software etc. that I never knew about in second year. Lots of these I can apply to my course and can help in my dissertation.
Lastly, I think a placement year is a good break from academia and by the end of placement you a ready to go back to complete your final year.
What would be your top tips for a student to maximise their chances of securing a placement?
Research the company before going to an interview and even before creating the CV and Cover Letter for the job!
It is obvious when someone knows nothing about their company and under pressure it can be easy to say the wrong thing.
Don’t rush a CV or Cover Letter, get someone from the Placement Team to read over it and give you some tips. The people in the Placement Team really are a good help so book a meeting with them [by popping to the Placements Desk in the Employability Hub or calling 0161 247 3711]. There are also sessions you can attend to help with video interviews, assessment days etc. so look into them [check the Careers workshop list here: https://mycareerhub.mmu.ac.uk/students/events/search?query=&eventType=700&campus=%5D.
Lastly, keep trying and don’t give up or get disheartened! You might have to write lots of CV’s and lots of cover letters and attend lots of interviews but you will eventually get a placement! It is all a learning curve.
And finally, if you could sum up your placement experience in one sentence, what would it be?
Not only useful for the future but a lot of fun!