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How to Secure a Work Placement Year at University

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A placement year is an excellent way to gain valuable work experience and skills. Many students use it as a chance to experience a different culture by living and working abroad for a year, in countries such as the UK or the US.

These year-long work placements are usually completed in your third year at university and are sometimes referred to as industrial placements.

Work placement years are a valuable asset to your CV and can also help develop your social and professional networks. Some students are even offered a full-time graduate job after completing their work placement.

However, finding and securing a work placement can be difficult. Applications for placement years can often be as lengthy as graduate scheme applications and sometimes even more competitive. 

To succeed you have to be completely on top of your application. Here are several steps you can take to heighten your chances of securing a work placement year:

Start preparing early

Start preparing early

If you’re sure you want to do a work placement year at university, it’s important to start planning early.

But what does this mean? It means attending careers fairs, doing research on companies, understanding what firms are looking for and making sure you’re on track to get the required grades.

Take advantage of any company insight days your university offers and use these days to build connections in the industry. Adding these contacts on LinkedIn or getting their email addresses will give you the option to contact them when applying for roles. 

Additionally, getting involved with societies or working at a part-time job will enable you to build valuable skills, helping you stand out to employers.

Understand what you want from your placement

Understand what you want from your placement

A placement year might be an essential part of your university course. Alternatively, you might want to do one to maximize your chances of getting work after graduation.

Either way, outlining your motivations for wanting a work placement will put you in a better position to get the right role for you.

Many people worry about missing out and apply for placement roles they aren’t sure they want. Doing this may mean that you end up in a year-long placement you don’t like, or the employer will sense that you’re not passionate about the role and not offer you a job.

Try to match your placement to what you want your career to look like after graduation. If you’re unsure what you want to do once you graduate, try applying for placements in an area you find interesting. You’ll still pick up plenty of transferrable skills.

Consider small firms

Consider small firms

Don’t rule out smaller, less well-known firms. Experience is experience, and smaller firms may be able to give you much more responsibility in projects. 

Your work is also more likely to make a larger difference in a smaller firm than in a large one, due to a smaller number of staff members. 

Perfect your resume

Perfect your resume

Unless you’ve applied for a part time job, chances are you haven’t really needed to use your resume very often. You might not even have one.

Whether you have a resume or not, it’s best to start from scratch when applying for your work placement year. A quick Google will provide you with numerous resume templates and most word documents will also have templates for you to use.

If you need help starting your resume, here’s how to write a resume with no work experience and further tips on writing a CV that’ll get you interviews. 

Once you’ve written a draft resume, book a session with your university careers center. They will tell you how to improve your resume and how to match it to the jobs you’re applying to.

Do your research

Do your research

Research companies before applying for placements. This will help you gauge what you’ll be doing in the role, what the company’s looking for from applicants and whether the role is right for you.

Aligning your interests, ethics and career aspirations with the role is essential. Understanding the company’s values and taking notes will also help you out at the interview stage, as you will have done most of your preparation in advance.

Placement year applications can be incredibly competitive, so you’ll need to ensure that your application is tailored to the individual role and company that you’re applying to.

Also, don’t miss the application deadline. That’s a surefire way to not get the job.

Prepare for the application

Prepare for the application

Find out what the application involves before applying. This may differ from firm to firm, but companies usually outline the application steps on their website.

For large corporate firms the recruitment process usually involves several steps:

Step 1: An initial application

You will be asked to submit your CV to and answer a few questions about why you want the job and what you can bring to the role.

Step 2: Online assessment

You’ll then be told to complete several online assessments. These will most likely be psychometric tests, testing your aptitude, personality and skills. 

They may include numerical, verbal and logical tests or might test how you’d respond to situations that may arise in the job.

There are many practice psychometric tests online so make sure you prepare for these in advance.

Step 3: Telephone interview

This will usually be quite a brief interview and you’ll be asked about your motivations for wanting the role and about your work experience. You may be asked a couple of competency-based questions. You can often prepare for these in advance.

Step 4: Video interview

The next step is usually a video interview. Here, you will record yourself answering several competency-based questions in a certain time limit. It’s worth practicing these before the interview, as video interviews can be quite daunting if you haven’t done them before. 

Step 5: The assessment center and final interview

You will then be invited to the office for an assessment center day. This is a day where you will complete a series of activities with the other finalists and the company will mark you based on how well you work with others.

On this day you will usually complete several interviews. These interviews will be more detailed than the other interviews, asking technical questions about the role as well as personal questions about you and your suitability for the role.

Here’s how to stand out to employers in the recruitment process. 

Keep going

Keep going

The most important thing to do to secure a work placement is to persevere. No-one has ever said finding a work placement is easy, so just keep going and you’ll get there eventually.

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Written by Chloe Lane
A Content Writer for TopUniversities.com, Chloe has a bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of Reading and grew up in Leicestershire, UK. 

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