Many sandwich degree students can secure a placement through their universities dedicated placement office. However even with the universities support there is much onus on the student to actively secure a good quality placement and to stand out from crowd.
The value of the Placements year
The placement year is a very valuable experience, particularly if the student hasn’t had much experience of work before. At university even having a part time job can help students understand their studies better. Secondly it gives the student an indication about what they may like to do after graduation. However, importantly it helps the student secure a better job after graduation. Obviously the value of the placement depends very much on the quality of the placement. Whilst many students find their placement year a positive experience, their may be a small minority who feel they had an unconstructive placement.
Although a universities placement office can provide invaluable advice, support and a number of contacts, students have a better chance of securing a good quality placement if they were to be proactive in independently seeking a placement. One way they can do this is to attend recruitment or Job fairs.
When attending Job fairs, students should ensure they take with them an ample number of CV’s and covering letters. One advantage of job fairs is that students may have the opportunity to apply for those companies which are advertising more than one job. This is aided by organisations which have one application form for a number of job roles.
As the majority of placements take place in the third year of study, its best to visit job fairs in the second year. If a student wants to practice their interpersonal skills, then they could attend in the first year but the employers may see them as a time waster.
C. V’s and Covering letters
The content of the majority of students CV’s is often very similar. This makes it very difficult for an applicant to guarantee their CV stands out ahead of the competition. To help, applicants should thoroughly proof read their C. V to ensure there are no spelling or grammatical mistakes. Many managers complain they receive a number of applications with obvious mistakes and therefore instantly reject them.
Students should use two pages when writing their C. V and never have half pages. Often it is helpful if applicants use tables to display qualifications and other important information. It should be neat and use a formal business tone. Business students shouldn’t use any pictures or colour and most importantly never lie. It’s good to include a small section on career objectives and work experience linked with relevant skills gained.
A good cover letter is also essential to go with a C. V (particularly at recruitment fairs). Students can create two main types of cover letter and C. V’s:
1. A general cover letter and C. V aimed at a range of job roles and companies.
2. A targeted cover letter for a particular company and/or job role.
The latter is often more desirable when viewed by employers, but not always possible.
Targeting a cover letter and C. V
If a student attends a job fair taking place at their university, the organisers (whether the university placements office or Job shop) will certainly know what companies will be attending. It is prudent for students to find out not only what companies will be attending, but also what job roles are going to be promoted and by which companies. The organiser’s may even have job descriptions for specific job roles. With this information, students can target their covering letter and C. V’s towards those specific jobs which they wish to apply.
If the job fair is being organised outside the university, the organisers will certainly advertise which companies are attending. If they don’t or a student needs to know more information, then they should contact the organisers.
The problem with large job fairs is that many organisations won’t have any specific job to offer, but are generally promoting their company and/or their graduate or placement scheme. That makes it difficult for students to target their covering letter and C. V, but not impossible. If they know the organisations which are attending they can (to an extent) research them and tailor and target their covering letter and C. V accordingly.
Researching the organisations is also very important for making a good impression when speaking to their representatives. Students will create a more positive impression if they are knowledgeable about an organisation and the sector in which they operate.
Students should also consider at Job fairs (particularly large ones), what type of job they want (. e. g. Human Resources, Marketing, Finance, Sales etc) - and target their C. V and covering letter accordingly. Students should note however that in most jobs there is always a large overlap between these areas of work.
Salary range of a placement student
A placement student’s salary is usually lower than that of graduate salaries for the type of work undertaken. Currently the average typical salary in the UK is around £12,000 to £13,500 and in London and the South East students could expect to earn around £14,000 to £17,000. However a minority student may secure jobs with significantly higher salaries (up to around £22,000).
Negotiating salary with the employer
Students applying for a job should be cautious when attempting to negotiate their salary. It’s probable that an alternative candidate with very similar skills and attributes would be happy to work in that job role for lower pay. Many companies (particularly larger ones) are likely to have set pay scales, and would be unable to increase the salary being offered. The only time it would be appropriate to negotiate a salary, is if a student was offered two jobs, and needed to turn one down. Then they could go to the less appealing of the two companies and inform them that unless they were prepared to raise the salary they would have to take the job with the other company. However even in such a case, it’s unlikely that the company would be prepared to raise the salary.
Negotiating a salary after securing a placement.
It’s probable that an organisation will have a pay scale, and any pay rise is likely to be rewarded as a result of a good appraisal. An appraisal gives a student a good opportunity to speak to their manager and justify why they should be given a pay rise. The problem that a placement student may face is that normally appraisals occur once every six months (sometime less), and a typically a work placement lasts for less than 12 months, and during the first few months of that a student will be settling in. This means it’s unlikely that a student will be given enough time to prove that they are actually worthy of a pay rise, as salary reviews often happen annually.
Students shouldn’t use salary as the main criteria for choosing a job. Students should take into consideration what a company can offer them in terms of personal development and opportunities. A placement year is about gaining experience and developing skills, not about the pay, although it can help to pay those debts already accumulated.
Typical Business Placement job role and responsibilities
Business students in particular can expect to apply for a wide array of jobs, as many job roles will almost certainly involve at least one area of a business discipline. The majority of business students often take up an administrative role within a wider context of a specialist area such as sales, marketing, personnel, or finance. Even if a placement involves working in a team focused towards a particular business discipline such as marketing, a student may be required to be flexible and do a certain amount of finance and budget work, as different areas of work are not mutually exclusive. This is most probably to the student’s advantage.
As many placement students, have had very little previous experience of work, they cannot expect to be a manager straight away. That’s not to exclude the possibility of them being given a very important task and responsibilities, but it is unlikely that they could expect to be given subordinates to manage. However a placement student can expect to help support managers in the day to day running of a department. Broadly speaking their responsibilities may include helping to manage and monitor budgets, arranging and attending meetings, liasing with external stakeholders, helping to compile reports, writing letters and assisting within presentations. Because students are on a placement a good employer may give them an insight into more senior manager’s roles, and invite them to observe some more important aspects of business management.
Students may however be required to do some monotonous tasks such as booking travel/conference ticket, filing and handling stationary orders etc. However they will find that most jobs will involve some element of tedious work. Student should not however be employed simply to make the tea or do the photocopying etc.
The types of organisations which offers the best quality placements.
It’s often advisable for students to apply to larger firms who run placement schemes. Larger firms are likely to offer a much wider range of experiences, and job opportunities, particularly if they are already experienced in running a placement scheme. Larger organisations are also more likely to provide better support and have certain quality assurances procedures in place for any problems students may encounter. For example if a student has a problem with their manager, they may be able to gain advice for the organisations Human Resources department, who may intervene, if required.
Larger organisations in addition are likely to provide higher quality training opportunities, as many smaller companies often haven’t got the resources. This is not to completely dismiss the value of working in a smaller organisation, who may give the student greater responsibilities and more unique insight into business management.
It’s worth remembering that what suites and interests one student may not necessarily interest another, it depends on what individual wishes to gain from their placement. Most business students are likely to secure a clerical or admin based job roles. If they want to work in a highly competitive environment, then a sales or marketing job would be most suitable. However if they are good with numbers, and are not very extrovert then a student may prefer a finance or accounting job role. In short it’s what interests the student.
Students seeking a placement should attempt to avoid any job which employs them to be a general “dog’s body, " as this would not be much benefit to them.
What criteria placement Students should use to choose a placement.
Students should keep in mind the following things:
1. The training and development opportunities they will offer them. For example, are they willing to send the student on training courses, even if they are only going to be there for a year (many companies will).
2. Are they going to give the student key important tasks which are going to significantly test them?
3. Will the job role allow the student to build upon their skills and abilities? Will it give them ample opportunity to learn new skills?
4. Will they give the student more responsibility and allow them to widen the scope of their job role as their performance improves?
5. Are they willing to treat the student not just as a “normal" employee but to recognise that the placement is a learning experience and therefore encourage the student to learn wider than the scope of their job role would usually allow them.
6. Is the employer going to recognise that the student may still have study commitments and allow them adequate time to complete them and are they willing to aid in the students studies? For example support them with dissertation research and make company information available to them, where possible?
7. Although often some tedious tasks are unavoidable and part of normal work, will the student’s main job role be based around fulfilling more stimulating responsibilities?
8. Is the job role something which interests the student?
9. Are there likely to be any opportunities for the student to gain full time employment from the company upon graduation? Will it get the student “a foot in the door?"
Often it is very difficult to answer the above questions properly before the student starts the job. If a student is interested in a job and believes he/she stands a good chance of securing the role, then they should carry out research to check that the job is what it appears to be. There is little value in a student taking a year away from university only to work in an organisation that wants someone to make the tea and work the photocopier.
Disclaimer: This article represents the views of the author only and not necessarily those expressed by The University of Greenwich, professional bodies, organisations or any Government Departments. The author would like to remind readers to always seek professional advice before acting upon the information in this article, which they use at their own risk and judgement.
Peter Jones is an undergraduate student from The University of Greenwich who has completed an eleven month placement within a central Government Department and has actively helped to recruit other placement students. After completing his placement, he quickly gained promotion to another central Government Department before returning to university to complete his studies. This article was inspired from an interview on http://www.business-students.com, a website dedicated to Business Students and offering than a platform to meet each other and discuss their course related and business issues.