How to kick-start your career with a placement year

Guest BloggerAdvice, Final Year, First Year, On Placement, Second Year

2019 was a huge year for me. I graduated from Aston University with a BSc in Computer Science, I secured a place on the sought-after BT Graduate Programme in Cyber Security, and I started a new online business – www.vybeskins.com – with my brother. It hasn’t all been plain sailing though, and the learning curve since then has been steep. In hindsight though, my placement year at IBM kick-started all of this by teaching me three fundamental principles that can be applied to any career involvement to increase your chances of success. In this blog post, I want to share these principles with you, so you can learn from my experiences and kick-start your career with an outstanding placement year.

1. Establish a personal brand

Jeff Bezos, Founder and CEO of Amazon, famously says that “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room”. One of my go-to pieces of advice used to be: build a strong network of people with whom you have great working relationships. This is true, but I think we often get networking wrong. When I first started my placement year at IBM, I distinctly remember associating networking with coffee catch ups, small talk and LinkedIn connections. The reality is though, if you want to build the most valuable (and largest) network, you have to become recognised among peers for delivering value in line with your personal brand. At this point, you will no longer need to go ‘networking’, new connections will inadvertently come to you for your expertise and capability.

Establishing a personal brand takes time and consistency, but there are two key elements that will inevitably result in the development of a strong personal brand among peers. Firstly, you need to define your personal brand. The question to answer here is: what do you want to be known for? Try to be as specific as you can with your answers, focus on things that you like doing, and your areas of expertise. Some examples might include project management, being a change agent, or creativity and innovation. This will mean that when your personal brand eventually becomes known, the opportunities that arise will be aligned to your interests and capabilities. The next step is to live your personal brand. This means that for all of your involvements, you need to actively demonstrate your ability to deliver value in line with your personal brand and expertise. At Vybeskins, we recently launched a brand new range of MacBook Skins & Wraps, and our established brand has been pivotal to a successful release. Our customers return to us because they know and trust our ability to deliver great tech skins. Your personal brand can work in exactly the same way so take time to define it, and live by it consistently.

2. Embrace the uncomfortable

Inherently, it’s human nature to avoid uncomfortable situations as a form of protection against perceived negative outcomes. The problem is, when you push yourself beyond your comfort zone, you inadvertently learn at a much faster rate. Let’s take public speaking for example. It might surprise you to know that Mahatma Ghandi was terrified of public speaking, yet somehow, he managed to successfully lead India’s independence movement. Gandhi did this by finding a passion so great that it pushed him past his fears. Although the journey wouldn’t have been easy, this passion forced him to tackle his fear head on and inevitably resulted in him becoming a confident public speaker capable of influencing large audiences. So, what can we learn from this? Embrace the uncomfortable and leverage your passions, goals and ambitions as the driving force beyond your comfort zone.

The solution to making this happen is actually very simple conceptually: say yes to new experiences. The difficult part is finding the inner strength to say yes when that feeling of discomfort takes over, but let me share with you the approach that has worked for me. When I’m faced with a decision like this, I sit down, work through the situation as if I was explaining it to somebody I’d never met before and the ask myself the golden question: If somebody explained this circumstance to me, and asked whether they should put themselves forward, what would I say? If the answer is yes, it’s time to dig deep, take your own advice and go for it. It won’t be easy to overcome the feeling of discomfort, but take it from me – the more you push through and trust this process, the easier it becomes. Eventually, once you’ve repeated this time and time again, you will become surprisingly comfortable with saying yes and ignoring the inner fear.

3. Don’t be afraid to get things wrong

I remember the feeling of being sat at my placement induction event with 100+ other students, learning about the brand we would become a part of for the next year. I was extremely excited and couldn’t wait to get stuck in, but still, as soon as a question was asked to the audience, I remained silent. It wasn’t just me either, everybody remained silent – to the point where the awkwardness got too much and somebody eventually gave in. Why did I say nothing? For same reason that everybody else said nothing: we didn’t want to get it wrong.

This example is somewhat extreme because of the added pressure of a large audience, but it illustrates the point perfectly. Whether it is group calls, team meetings, or an ambiguous piece of work, you are going to be faced with the need to ‘risk’ getting things wrong regularly in the working world. Speaking from experience, this feeling of fear is particularly heightened in your early career because you feel like everybody around you knows more (they’re much more experienced after all). Regardless of whether or not this assumption is actually true, you will eventually learn that the more experienced members of the team get things wrong all the time. Do you look at them and think they are incapable? No. Ironically, you probably see them as much more capable than you because they are actively involved. My piece of advice for this one is to go for it and get things wrong, and get things wrong often, because this isn’t an exam and 9 times out of 10 there’s no right answer anyway.

Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

Liam Frailing is a recent Aston University Alumni (2019), Sales Enablement Professional at BT, and Founder of a rapidly growing online business. Liam has ambitions of a successful career in Cyber & Technology while also benefiting from equity ownership in high-growth startups. In this blog post, Liam provides insight into how you can get the most value from a placement year, whether your goal is to secure a graduate job, start your own business, or some combination of the two! He also discusses some of the experiences he’s been involved with on his journey so far and how the lessons learned could help you to kick-start your career after graduating.