How To Make The Most Of University Work Placements
Classroom learning can only take you so far. If you want to be job-ready after university, real-world work experience is essential. Many universities offer work placements as part of their degree courses, providing an excellent opportunity to acquire industry-specific knowledge and skills.
To make your placement work for you, and to avoid potential pitfalls, here are some essential points to bear in mind.
Finding the Right Placement
Most universities have dedicated systems in place to help students secure work placements. Some use their career service centers or tutor networks to assist students in finding suitable opportunities.
For instance, interior design students at the University for the Creative Arts (UCA) regularly complete placements during their third year. Senior lecturer Michael Thomas notes that UCA has an extensive list of partner companies that they share with their students.
If you are searching for a placement on your own, try to identify the person in charge of work experience inquiries and make direct contact.
Sending out a large volume of random emails to different companies may seem like a good approach, but taking the time to craft a focused application often pays off. For example, second-year computer science student Yatin Vadhia decided to focus all his effort on applying to Google Dublin, rather than pursuing all available internships blindly. The targeted approach paid off, and he is now enjoying his placement with the tech giant.
Making the Most of Your Placement
Once you’ve secured a work placement, it’s down to you to make the most of the experience. Be eager, curious, and ask questions. As an intern, you have a unique opportunity to learn and grow, but at the same time, be mindful that you are the lowest rung on the company ladder. There may be times when you are asked to carry out more administrative roles.
Don’t assume that you know more or better than seasoned professionals having much more experience than you. The key is to listen to instructions carefully, learn from more experienced colleagues, and be proactive in seeking out learning opportunities, which may not be evident in the initial job descriptions.
Engage with your placement manager regularly, and communicate openly and transparently. Ask for clarification when you need it, and be brave enough to admit when you don’t understand something. Socialize with your colleagues, ask questions over coffee breaks and lunch hours.
Work placements are by far one of the best ways to acquire real-world experience and transition between the academic and professional worlds. By being enthusiastic, curious, open-minded, and proactive, you stand to gain a wealth of knowledge, experience and possibly even a foot in the door towards your dream career.
During your work placement, take advantage of networking opportunities as much as possible. Finnigan speaks highly of events that average 20-year-old students wouldn’t normally attend, suggesting that making the most of these opportunities is crucial for success.
If things don’t go according to plan, don’t despair. Even if the experience falls short of your expectations, it’s still valuable experience that will benefit you in the long run.
Keep an eye out for common pitfalls associated with work placements. Campaigns manager Chris Hares from Intern Aware warns that many university placements lack proper planning and thought. To avoid disappointment, attend lectures that cover what to expect and avoid, and seek advice beforehand.
It’s critical to ensure that the company provides adequate training and induction before starting a work placement. This is especially true when dealing with health and safety concerns. Prior to starting, identify your placement manager, and check that the university can provide regular support if issues arise.
If the placement is part of your degree, it may not be paid, but companies should offer flexibility in hours so you can fit it around paid work if necessary. Speak up if it is too tough to manage the placement, and be clear about your expected tasks. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, as you are there to learn and succeed.