Preparing for a work placement

Being a second-year Business Management student on a four-year sandwich course, I'm all too familiar with the daunting feeling surrounding securing a work placement. 

However, I'm here to put those feelings to rest and provide you with six tips to prepare you for the placement application process. Hopefully, this article will put you in a strong position for your upcoming applications.

Excel in first year

Yes, I know. Probably not what you want to hear, but getting a strong first year grade is vital to securing a placement. But this doesn't mean countless hours in the library whilst your friends are out drinking - it just means that you should take those initial assessments seriously, revise hard before your exams, and take notice of the feedback from your lecturers. This is incredibly important as many employers require students to have achieved at least a 2:1 in first year, otherwise they won't consider your application.

Get some valuable work experience

Some of you will have already had a part-time job, and this kind of experience is key in the application process. Not only will employers skim through your CV to check for work experience, they'll also expect strong answers in the interview process, which are often linked to work. If you haven’t got this kind of experience, answering these questions may prove to be tricky.

On the plus side, finding work isn’t that hard. Many employers provide summer internships and insight schemes for students in all year groups. Even a casual job over summer will help provide employers with examples of the skills they're looking for.

For me, being on the Pearson Student Advisory board has been a brilliant opportunity to gain experience that will boost my CV.

Make use of the university careers department

I cannot stress how important this next tip is. Your university careers department will provide you with all the resources you need to improve your chances of securing a placement. Whether it's careers fairs, CV masterclasses, or practice interviews, the careers department really is something you need to take full advantage of in first and second year.

Getting involved with the careers department will help build those much-needed contacts through employer meet-and-greet events, which offer important insider knowledge that'll help you in the application process. Furthermore, your careers department will be a key resource when searching for placements, as many will be advertised on the careers website and at careers fairs.

If you’re unsure where you want to apply, a quick meeting with the careers team will provide a much clearer idea of what you want to look for.

Get involved with extra curricular activities

You may think that this contradicts my previous point about excelling in first year, but believe it or not, employers aren’t only bothered about your academic profile. 

Involvement in extracurricular activities and sport will help your application stand out. Taking part in these activities shows you’re not a social hermit and gives the employer an idea of what you’re like and how you’re going to fit within the organisation.

Moreover, involvement in societies and sports clubs during your first year puts you in a position to show leadership skills by applying for roles within the club the following year. Employers are always intrigued to hear about your involvement and contributions to extra-curricular activities.

Note down examples of skills you’ve developed at university and in the workplace

When it comes to writing your CV, it can be difficult to provide specific examples of when you’ve shown those buzzword skills that employers are looking for. 

Leadership, team work, communication, time management and commercial awareness are all skills that employers are looking to hear examples of. Writing down when you’ve shown evidence of these skills, and how they’ve developed, will make writing your CV and answering interview questions a lot easier.

Start the application process sooner rather than later and note down your answers to application questions

The application process is daunting and very long-winded, but it’s important that you apply before everyone else. Your first applications should act as practice to get you into the swing of the process.

Leave ones you’re really excited about until you’ve applied to a couple of placements. You’ll find that the application process isn’t quick; tailoring your CV and cover letter to each individual job and answering strength-based questions takes time, so it’s important to save your answers to a question bank for when they pop up again.

Although these tips won’t guarantee you success in the placement hunt, they will provide you with a solid foundation. They'll also put you in an excellent position to start the application process, preventing you from rushing and creating a poor CV and application.

So, don’t worry too much about your placement year when you first arrive at university. Make sure to enjoy your first year, and, most importantly, socialise. Don’t forget to keep it in the back of your mind, though. Then when it does come round to the application period, be sure to apply these tips and reflect on what you've learnt, then you should be on your way to securing your dream placement.

Portrait of Ben Churchill

Ben Churchill

Business and Management, University of Liverpool