My placement hell

The second year of a sandwich degree course is harder than anyone will ever let on to you. Not only do you have to secure a placement year. But second year actually counts towards your final degree (unlike first year), and the difficulty of work also steps up a gear. On top of this you can physically feel final year and adulthood looming above you.

When you attend lectures or workshops run by the careers or placements office, the first week will likely be an introduction. They will tell you why you should do a placement year – although it’s likely why you picked your course. And they will also introduce themselves, telling you how their support will make finding a placement as easy as getting your first Saturday job at the local shop.

The second week will likely be third years that have just come off their placement collaborating everything the placement office said the previous week. However these third years have likely just finished their amazing year at BMW or Disney and the experience they speak of is in the mind-set of the year they have just had – not the application process. They will tell stories of going into the placement office in tears and the staff fixing everything, just like Cinderella’s fairy godmother. They will tell stories of how the staff supported them and basically got them their placement. They will tell stories of how they couldn’t have possibly have done it without the placements office.

Now these third years are doing one of two things. A) They are telling the truth however they are one of the lucky few (very very few) that secured a placement by early February. B) Whether they have totally forgotten the experience or are romanticising it doesn’t matter – they are bold-faced lying to you.

The application process can be described as; gruelling, heart-breaking, depressing, stressful and the worst time of your life. Typically when you have a conversation with a course mate regarding the topic it will be brief and the word ‘grim’ will be used multiple times.

You will apply to almost every placement in your industry, providing you are proactive. Some people will apply to only three and they will get one of them – these people are despised. These people are also rare: so don’t try to do this, as chances are you won’t be one of them. Most people churn out so many applications they can’t count. You start in November and continue until you do or don’t get offered a placement. This could be as late as June. Personally I think I have clocked about 25 so far.

The first stage of a potentially successful application is a telephone interview. Your first telephone or online interview will feel like you have just won the lottery. You will fall in love with the company and become sure you will get the job. Unless you are one of the fore mentioned people, you probably won’t get it. Now my first interview was a few months ago and the feeling has long worn off. However my flatmate just had his first online interview yesterday and the look on his face when he told me was like he’d one a medal. And the lottery, as well as his high school sweetheart back, all at the same time.

Testing can happen throughout the application process. From experience I have found the first testing is mostly likely to occur after a telephone or online interview. Now of course testing will vary depending on what you are applying for and where. However I wouldn’t rule anything out. Personally I am applying for PR, Communications and Marketing placements. In which the roles would not require me to have any more than very basic maths skills.

Having said that I have had to do numerical testing that I swear was harder than A-Level maths. Now I have always and will always be more of an English subject person than a maths person. Therefore on more than one occasion I have had my application ended due to numerical testing. Verbal testing I love however. Its essentially English comprehension, which I was good at in school.

The final stage will likely be an assessment centre. Now these vary so much on the company. I have done ones in which I genuinely enjoyed and felt I thrived in. However I have also done ones that have lead me to phone my mum crying. I have found they basically consist of a few things; one-one interviews, group presentations, group challenges/task, individual presentations, and testing (for my subject area it is usually written).

What make or breaks the day isn’t necessarily the tasks. It is usually more about the way the day is run and also the assessors. The days often show you what it would be like to work at the company. For example the ones that offer travel reimbursement are likely those who will value interns more. The companies that you didn’t feel you could totally show your strengths at the day or you felt the day was unfair are usually going to value you less as an employee anyway.

While the process is undoubtedly gruelling I know that it will all be worth it when I finally get offered a placement. Despite being hugely cynical about the process I try to say ‘when’ I get a placement rather than ‘if’.

My few pieces of advice. Know that your placements office is there to help. I have found it is best to call them or go in in person. Finally while I would say to apply for as many placements as possible don’t apply for ones that you really wouldn’t want to do. The reason I say this is because I know that I, like most, will accept the first placement I am offered regardless of if the job sounds any good.

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Second year PR & Comms Student at Leeds Beckett University

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