The summer before I started my placement year I was both excited to get a taste of the ‘real world’, but also nervous about all the big changes that come with the jump from university life to work life (9am isn’t even considered early at work, that’s enough to make any student feel nervy!). One of the main benefits I got from my placement was becoming accustomed to, and confident in, a professional environment and full-time work and being able to grow and adapt accordingly.
I always considered myself fairly good at time management as I was able to juggle my university work, part-time job and social life successfully, (most of the time!). However, full-time work is much less flexible than university work and I had to adapt to working around a busy schedule rather than setting my own. I found the idea of having to get my university project completed more stressful than I usually would as I had to come up with a new way of working. My main piece of advice would be to consider this before you begin your placement year and have a think about what your working week will look like and how you can successfully work around it. I stayed a commutable distance to the university so when I had a lot to get done, I would use Sundays as a uni work day and head to the university library (a huge benefit of this is how quiet it is on Sundays). I would also take my laptop to work with me a couple of days a week and instead of sitting in traffic in rush hour after leaving work, I would head to a nearby Costa and get a couple of hours of work done and then leave when the roads were clearer. Once I made it part of my new routine it didn’t feel like a mammoth task, more like a small extension to my working week.
Another big change is a new pressure to make a good impression. University life can often lead to us becoming sloppy with maintaining any sort of professional appearance, (turning up in a pyjama top, late because the queue for a Frappuccino was longer than you thought, doesn’t scream ‘professional’). It’s worth having a think about how you want people to view you at work and how you can achieve this. You can give off a good impression through dressing appropriately, good timekeeping, your attitude to work, your actions etc… It’s a good idea to do some research (maybe get into contact with previous placement students or your recruitment contact at the company) prior to your first day to ensure you have a good understanding on dress-code and the general company culture to help you prepare. Remember, you may want to work for this company after university so looking at your placement as a prolonged job interview can help when assessing the kind of impression you want to make.
When you’re settled into your placement, (this happens much quicker than you would think), it can be easy to forget that a primary reason you are there is for you to learn. I know that sounds silly but it’s easy to forget because you become part of a professional team and are likely one of the only placement students there. Although this is great because you’re getting valuable experience, don’t be afraid to be curious about the wider business and ask questions or ask for opportunities in different areas that interest you. You may not always get the answer you are looking for, but you don’t want to look back and think you didn’t squeeze as much knowledge and experience out of the year as possible – plus the worst that can happen is you don’t get the answer you were looking for but you showed you are interested and engaged which reflects well on you. On my placement, I asked to be part of a project the region were just beginning and ended up running part of it myself! It was the best learning experience of my whole year and it is my go-to success story when speaking in interviews which I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t asked for it so it’s always worth asking!
When I look back on my placement year it was the best part of my degree, and the stage I grew the post as a person. Grab every opportunity with both hands and enter this year with confidence, (they liked you enough to hire you so you’re going in on a high already!). Although it may feel like a strange time to be entering the working world, whatever happens it will be a valuable learning experience so enjoy and good luck!
Written by Libby Jones, 2020 Aston Graduate