Doing a placement? Here’s how to find and get the right role

31 Jan 2019
By Tom S., Student at Sheffield Hallam University

Whether you take a year out to study abroad or get some industry work experience, taking advantage of the opportunities a placement year can offer is something you should definitely do.

But where do you start? Finding and applying for a work placement can be daunting and it’s natural if you don’t know where to start.

Make sure you know exactly what you are looking for and why you are looking for it.

Let’s look at what you’ll have to do to secure a placement, and why it was one of the best decisions I’ve made since starting uni.

Research, research, research

I was just about ready to give up looking for my placement when I came across a great opportunity to work in Spain for the year. Your uni might provide a good platform for searching for placements, but don’t be afraid to look elsewhere. I used the Prospects site to find my placement, and there are many other similar sites out there that have hundreds of opportunities.

Make sure you know exactly what you are looking for and, most importantly, why you are looking for it. Are you looking for hands-on experience in the industry you want to work in post-graduation? Are you looking to develop new skills? Are you looking for a fun and exciting experience and something that will set you apart from the crowd?

The job market is incredibly competitive and if you’re going to do a placement year, do something that will give you an advantage over everybody else who will be applying for your future job.

Make sure it’s right for you

Having said all that, try to look for placements that are a good fit for you and your personality. Securing a placement in the London office of one of the world’s largest financial organisations will put some outstanding experience on your CV, but if you thrive working outdoors you’ll probably be miserable sat behind a desk all year.

Make sure the placements you’re looking at are ones you will enjoy, ones you will look forward to going into work for every day.

Watch: Why you should do a placement year at uni - by YouTuber Lucy

Sort out your CV

So, you’ve found a placement you love, now you’ve got to apply. Presenting yourself well in the application process is incredibly important, and this is why you’ll have to perfect your CV.

Make sure your information is accurate and up-to-date, and most of all make it easy to read. Employers spend on average 6.25 seconds reading CVs, so if yours doesn’t look good, chances are you won’t be getting a call back. Use a clear font and make sure there’s no mistakes or spelling errors – get a friend to read it over and double check it just to be safe.

If you haven’t got one already, get a professional email address - won’t give the best impression to potential employers, who look down on people with email addresses that contain underscores or seem childish.

Also, tailor your CV to the job you’re applying for. At this stage you probably don’t have that much work experience, so it’s good to include anything you do have. But ask yourself, will your application for a placement at a law firm be helped by two paragraphs on the Saturday job you had in your auntie’s hair salon when you were 14? Keep it brief, and show how the experience is relevant to the role you want.

Check your social media

Employers are increasingly using social media to assess their candidates. Many companies will search for you on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram to see what sort of person you are outside of work. If you tweet about how much of a creep your manager is, or post pictures of you with a traffic cone on your head and a bottle of vodka in your hand, your application won’t be helped. People have lost out on job offers and even been sacked because of the seemingly-innocent things they post on social media.

Also, check your spelling. A 2014 survey found that 66% of employers look negatively at people who use poor spelling and grammar online.

Ask for help and enjoy

If you’re struggling to find a placement, don’t be deterred. Go to your university careers team who will be able to help you search properly – don’t forget, you’re paying more than £9,000 a year for these services, so use them to your advantage!

Doing a work placement is one of the best decisions you could make at uni. You’ll gain incredible life experience, improve your confidence by living in another part of the country (or the world!), and increase your employability tenfold.

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Tom is a Geography student at Sheffield Hallam, and is currently on a placement year.