Industrial or ‘sandwich’ placements are extended periods of work experience that typically take place during a penultimate year of undergraduate study. The benefits are well-documented and include the opportunity to develop and convincingly demonstrate your employability skills to employers. University of Warwick Chemistry undergraduate Manpreet Kaur reflects on her experience of the application process and offers her advice for students considering placement opportunities.
“I desperately wanted a placement. Unfortunately I wasn’t successful which may have just been my first experience of missing out on something really big that I wanted in life (welcome to the real world Manpreet). I remember that whenever I spoke to my friends about a fear of an interview or the rejections knocking down my confidence, they always said that if nothing else this would be an experience for me. My personal tutor also said the same thing. So what lessons did I learn? What mistakes did I make and what did I do right?
“Surely I will end up with something”
There were so many opportunities at the start of the academic year that I had a list of companies and I thought I should certainly manage to get one. I think a better mind-set which would have motivated me to submit an effective application was to believe that “this was my only chance”. It’s hard but it’ll save you time in the long run (as was suggested to me by a careers consultant).
Pick out something specific about the company that you like
I always tailored my cover letters but in hindsight I feel as though my arguments were not so strong. Read the website and the job description and ask yourself: do I want to work for them? If so, why? When you overdo something, eventually you just stop caring and this is what happened to me by the Spring term. I personally still recommend persevering and applying to as many as you can but don’t let the quantity beat the quality.
Speak to the careers team
I visited careers late in the application process but they are so helpful. I learnt that you need to do an analysis of the job description and establish what skills are required. Some employers provide a list but others will have those requirements hidden in the job description.
Prepare for an interview!
I certainly had many interview invitations at many places and others over the phone as well. But I have always been winging life so I thought I should do the same with interview preparation. There was a time when an interviewer asked me when I had experience of working on my own and I said ‘in the kitchen’ (please do laugh; I am quite proud of that one). With hindsight I should have anticipated some of the interview questions and carefully considered the examples I could and should have used.
Forget your age and level of knowledge
I struggled seeing myself as a potential employee and the only thing I knew I wanted was to be in the lab. But remember that employers expect an all-rounded employee and even though you may be dying inside, recruiters want to see someone who can fit in with the company ethos and culture. Whilst no one is perfect, you can always show that you are eager to learn and develop your skill-set.
Try to sell what you don’t have
This applies to passion. Some people may be very passionate about certain companies or certain jobs. I really wasn’t. I just wanted a placement to see what it’s like to work in the chemical industry (as opposed to research). Although employers want to see genuine passion for the company and the job, I personally struggled to feel passionate about something without trying it. I developed my passion for Bhangra after attending a few classes, I enjoyed my careers rep role once I became the careers rep for chemistry and then it just clicked and I really enjoyed it. If you are someone similar, fake it…before you become it.
Speak to people
I am so glad I did this! I spoke to other bloggers, friends, my personal tutor, the careers team and family as well. It was awful receiving those rejections and it felt like I was all alone in this, but they all made me feel so much better. It is competitive and we all have different personalities that may demand less or more preparation when it comes to recruitment stuff.
I believe myself to be somewhat socially awkward so I really need to be prepared. I must know what I want to say, otherwise I can easily come across as odd or too quiet! I was also reassured by my personal tutor who said that demand exceeds supply so other applicants wouldn’t have been successful. Not just me.
We always hear about the things people achieve but I hope I have normalised failure for you. Reflecting on my failure and understanding what I could have done differently will help me to succeed next time.”