One of the great things about studying at Edinburgh Napier is the encouragement given and resources available for those who wish to spend their third year on a work placement. Instead of spending another year living on toast and tea and spending far too much time in the campus library, the Work Based Learning module allows students to get some real world work experience while earning a decent salary. Although I have worked previously, I decided to join those looking for a placement as it’s a great opportunity to work in an environment relevant to my studies and update my skillset.
I’ve been asked by several students for advice on how to secure a placement, which is really quite flattering, so I thought I’d share my thoughts and tips on placement hunting here and hope you also find them useful!
Planning your CV
This may seem like an obvious point, but it’s quite surprising how many people neglect or don’t even have a CV. It’s therefore really important that you 1) have one and 2) keep it accurate and up to date.
Your CV should begin with a strong personal statement – don’t be shy in selling yourself! Despite the fantastic grades and relevant experience for the job, if you don’t make yourself stand out on paper you run the risk of being overlooked. It’s commonplace for people to have tailored CVs depending on the job being applied for (I have two or three) and completely acceptable to list the qualifications and work experience, paid or voluntary, you think is relevant to the role you’re applying for. Although the more information you can include the better, keep it concise – a good CV will never be more than two pages long.
You may occasionally be called upon to submit your CV with a cover letter. I have a template which I amend accordingly, making the submission process a quicker and stress free. There are lots of great examples out there, so if you’re stuck for inspiration you’ll find a suitable example fairly quickly.
Finding a placement to apply for
This step can be pretty daunting, but if you plan well it is a fairly easy process! I started by getting into the habit of checking the placement noticeboard outside the school office regularly, noting any positions of interest and submitting an application. Some companies will simply ask you to submit your CV, while larger companies such as IBM and Microsoft have their own application processes. Sites such as Target Jobs and E-Placement Scotland are great places to start, although if you’re interested in working for a particular company it’s always worthwhile checking their recruitment site for placement opportunities. Some application processes are pretty lengthy, so be prepared for things like numeracy tests and being asked for information that can’t be copied and pasted from your CV.
The big day
So you’ve submitted your CV or worked your way through a company’s (usually lengthy) application process and they want to interview you – hurray! If you’ve gotten to the interview or assessment centre stage, this means that they really like you and you deserve a big pat on the back. for getting this far. However, this is where the hard work really starts, so don’t relax just yet. As mentioned before, every organisation has their own way of doing things but preparation in the main areas is key to your success.
Research, research research
Knowledge is power and the key to your success. Don’t just have a quick shufty at the company’s website and hope the interviewer doesn’t ask you any awkward questions – read up on its history, familiarise yourself with its structure and read up on current projects and successes. The more you can demonstrate your knowledge of the company, the more impressed they will be that you have taken the time to do so. Sometimes you will be given a rough idea of what’s expected of you, on the day so use that information to your advantage when you prepare.
Be prepared for the unknown
The biggest problem for anyone in an interview is nerves – I’ve had interviews where I’ve fluffed even the most basic questions because I’ve been so jittery. Instead of letting your nerves get the better of you, harness that raw adrenaline running through your body and make it work for you. Be confident and proud of your successes, but don’t forget to be modest while playing to your strengths. Most interviews these days are competency based, so familiarise yourself with the STAR technique – Situation, Task, Action, Result. Again there are lots of examples online, so find a resource you like and practice. If you have some answers already lined up, you’ll find that you will be able to answer the interviewer’s questions much easier.
You may be required to attend a technical interview or prepare a short presentation on a subject given to you, so once again research is key. What the interviewer is looking for is how competent you are in communicating your answers – it’s okay if you can’t answer a question, just be honest and admit that you don’t know the answer! If you are asked to do a presentation, remember that the interviewer is looking for your ability to communicate the finer points of your presentation matter, not your actual presentation skills. Again though, practice makes perfect and will soothe those frazzled nerves. I find it useful to try and preempt any questions that might be asked at the presentation and ensure that I have at least a basic understanding of anything I’m not immediately familiar with.
Questions are good
If in doubt, ask! It’s better to ask questions, no matter how daft you might think they are, rather than staying silent and kicking yourself on the way home for your lack of courage. There’s no harm in writing down a list of questions you may have – interviews are hard work and it’s really easy to forget that vital question you wanted to ask! One great tip I was given a while back was at the end of an interview, ask the interviewer if there’s anything about your application they may have a question on – it’s equally common for an interviewer to forget what they wanted to ask and it helps to clear up any small niggles.
As part of my own self development, I always ask when to expect a decision and follow that up with a request for feedback. Some interviewers are happy to give you their thoughts on the day, but more often than not you’ll receive your feedback a week or so afterwards. Whatever the outcome, it’s always good to know where you performed well and where you could use some improvement as every company has its own procedure, so there’s always something new to be learned.