How to get the most from your work placement
Oonagh Birchall, Work Placement Officer with Dublin Institute of Technology, talks about how you should plan for your work placement and how you can maximise what you get out of it.
How soon should students start considering work placements and what first steps would you advise?
We would advise students to begin thinking about their work placement from first year. During first year inductions I meet the classes with the Careers Adviser and encourage them to seek part time work in their chosen field. We begin preparing students for work placement five months before the placement is due to begin, working on CVs, interview skills etc. Students should begin applying for placements at least three months prior to starting, even earlier for placements abroad.
What expectations should students have as to what they can achieve from a work placement and how can they be realistic as to what to expect?
This would depend on their previous experience in the industry. The more industry experience a student has before the placement, the better quality placement experience they can achieve. Regardless, a student will need to prove themselves with any new employer and so they must put in the groundwork in order to progress. It may be possible to get to supervisor level during a placement and there may also be an opportunity for shadowing managers. However, this is not always possible and should be discussed during the interview. All practical experience is valuable, but we encourage our students to always strive to be a valuable and active team member.
What misconceptions do students commonly have about international work placements?
A placement abroad has to be funded by the student, so they must check that this is a viable option for their own personal circumstances. Erasmus funding is available to help with the costs of a placement, but only within the EU. Managerial experience is not always possible, even during a six month placement. Returning students often mention that they had less time for training and induction than they had anticipated. However, it must be noted that many employers will require the students to hit the ground running.
What are some of the most common complaints/feedback from employers in terms of dealing with work placement students?
The feedback from employers is on the whole very favourable. However, sometimes students have an unrealistic idea of what they can achieve during placement and when they realise this cannot be achieved during the timeframe their attitude to the placement can change. Students completing placements abroad can face some challenges which can be difficult for us to resolve from a distance. However, a placement, whether at home or abroad, is a learning experience both in a personal and professional way.
What are some of the key elements that are very important on the CV of a work placement candidate?
They must make sure that their contact details are up to date! They should give details of their current course, past employment history, interests and achievements and also give two referees. Making sure that there are NO spelling or grammar mistakes and that the layout is clear and consistent. The CV should be no longer than two pages.
What advice would you have for someone who is having difficulties on their placement?
If a student is having difficulty on a placement, firstly they must speak to their allocated industry mentor and try to resolve the problem themselves. It is important to check the placement agreement form, which should have been completed and signed off prior to the placement commencing. They should also make contact with their college mentor/placement officer for advice at this stage. If the situation has not been resolved the college mentor or Placement Officer will arrange a visit to speak to all parties.
What advice would you have for a student who doesn't get the placement they want or has left it too late to get one that is relevant to their degree?
Keep an open mind! They should always have at least five viable options for placements. Many students don't get their dream placement but the placement they do get could be exactly the one they needed. There are always options, but the most important thing is to make contact with your Placement Office to discuss the opportunities. We can't help if we don't know!
How can students capitalise on their placement in terms of subsequent networking etc?
One of the most important benefits of a placement is the opportunity to network. As part of the careers element of our module, students must create a LinkedIn profile. Many students are offered graduate positions as a result of the contacts they make, or the experience they gained during a placement. Students should add any new contacts they make during the placement to LinkedIn. Please remember to be polite and professional at all times; treat the placement like a prolonged interview.
You only get out of the placement what you put into it, so put yourself forward for extra responsibilities, volunteer new ideas and don’t be afraid to make your voice heard. Employers want to hear from you, they want your contribution. So don’t hide away in the corner for six months. Try your best That’s all anyone can ask of you and it will be noticed.
For further information, download AHECS guide to 'Work Placement, A best Practice Guide for Students' here