Work experience

Maximise your work placement

experience_sign_190Last week one of the RateMyPlacement bloggers, Chris, summarised what he thought were the ‘Top 10 Components of A Perfect Placement‘, based on student and employer feedback. With experience as a placement student himself and through his encounters with hundreds of graduate recruiters, Chris is in a strong position to recommend how employers can best support student placements.

Here in the Placement Learning Unit we thought it would be good to flip that on its head and consider how students themselves can optimise their placement experience. So, with thanks to Chris for the original idea, here goes ‘10 Components’, take two….

  • Pre-start communication
    Have you communicated with your placement provider and fellow students/interns? Take this opportunity to network as much as you can before you start, it will help neutralise any anxiety about the first day. Is there a Facebook group you can join (or start, if you’re feeling brave) to get to know each other? Make sure you’ve checked all your accommodation and logistical arrangements – travel, dress, food?
  • Comprehensive induction
    This may be your first experience of a professional environment and hopefully your employer will provide a thorough induction programme to ease you in. Some dos and don’ts are universal, but companies also have their own distinct culture. If there’s no formal induction, then try to find someone at Warwick (or through your other networks) who’s worked at the same company. They may be willing to share their insights. If your placement is in a country you’re unfamiliar with, research any cultural and working practices beforehand.
  • Have a clear plan of action (and line management)
    Ideally, your employer should have a clear plan for your placement. Find time to talk through your expectations with your line manager early on in the placement. Mentoring can be a feature of more structured, formal internships but if a mentor isn’t allocated to you, then suggest it to your line manager or placement supervisor. If this draws a blank, then approach someone on an informal basis – perhaps a recent graduate. You’ll probably have come clear goals or objectives you’d like to achieve on placement. Perhaps there are specific skills you’d like to acquire or develop; use the tools in our work experience zone to help you identify skills or knowledge gaps.
  • Throw yourself in at the deep end, build responsibility
    Take the initiative and contribute. There’s a difference between work shadowing and work placements – yes, you will need to spend time reading, researching and familiarising yourself with the work environment, but ultimately you are there to gain practical experience. If a project hasn’t been assigned to you, ask for one!
  • Gain a wide range of experiences
    A placement is all about getting experience – try to get exposure to as many different aspects of the business/company as possible. Don’t get to the end of your placement wishing you’d asked for more opportunities. You will draw on this experience in future job applications, so make sure you have plenty of evidence to strengthen your case.
  • You should give and receive feedback
    Ask for regular feedback and keep your line manager informed. Thank them for opportunities and don’t be afraid to ask for more. Why not say, “I seem to be managing my work quite easily, could I perhaps have something more challenging?” As long as you are polite and professional, an employer will rend to respond positively. Just don’t feel too disappointed if they can’t always accommodate your requests.
  • Create opportunities and activities out of work
    A placement is not just about the work. You should look for opportunities to get involved outside of the office: charity projects, sports clubs or social committees. Networking isn’t confined to the workplace and the benefits can reach far beyond your immediate placement.
  • Exit interview (and feedback)
    Engineer the opportunity (if it isn’t offered) to give and receive comprehensive feedback at the end of the placement. Some employers may even give you an exit interview. Bear in mind that work placements/internships are often used as a pipeline for graduate programmes and you want to be remembered for the right reasons.
  • Keep the employer warm
    If you wish to be considered for graduate opportunities, make sure you invest in a continued relationship after your placement. Don’t bombard them with emails, but keep them updated and stay in touch. In you really want to demonstrate your commitment, why not suggest they employ you as Brand Manager on campus, to promote their organisation on campus?
  • Plan your next steps
    When you return from your placement (usually post summer vacation), come and speak to one of our job search advisers. They can help you translate your learning and development into ‘application friendly’ content. You may be having doubts about your career path, following your placement experience and if this is the case, we’d suggest talking things through with a careers consultant to help you find a new direction.

What now?

Ok, I know we said 10, but there’s always room for another! If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed by all the information out there, then book a place on our ‘Making the most of your work experience‘ sessions on 22/26/28 June. There will be plenty of hints, tips and useful advice to get you started, so log in to myAdvantage and book now.

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