A (different kind of) guide to getting a business placement

I recently secured a placement in Management Consulting, which is why I finally decided to sit down and write about my experience of applying for a placement. In this past semester, in which I juggled with numerous applications, uni work and two part-time roles, I discovered some techniques that have worked very well for me, and I want to share with you. Hopefully this will give you some guidance on how to stay focused during the placement hunt.

It is quite a long post, but I have tried to only talk about things that have definitely helped me be successful and to exclude any general advice you typically find on career platforms.

The reason I decided to write about my placement hunt is because the things I discovered are useful to succeed are not typically found in Careers leaflets, nor do you usually hear them from career advisers. Of course, getting the support from Careers is invaluable help, but keeping your motivation up after numerous rejections will always be a personal experience that requires more …personal measures.

Below are my tips for getting a placement:

  1. Apply for a role that you REALLY want.

If you can fake your motivation to get a role and can confidently show enthusiasm in an interview for a job that you don’t really want more than any other, you have my respect. But I can’t. If something about that role description doesn’t appeal to me (be it work tasks, salary or location) I will simply not be able to be convincing at the interview stage. So I prefer to not apply for it in the first place.

I really recommend you to spend some time looking through the company website before applying, to get the “feel” of the company and the culture. Without noticing – if this is the role for you – you’ll start to visualize yourself in that role and the answer to that often encountered “Why do you want to work for us?” question will start to form in your mind.

Doing some initial research will also take off some of the pressure if you’re be invited for an interview later on, when you’ll potentially only have a couple of days to research the company and impress the interviewer.

  1. Be organized

Time management becomes crucial when applying for a placement. A couple of things to mention here:

a) Create your own spreadsheet.

Your Careers Department will advertise many placements throughout the year, but it is up to you to keep on top of all the deadlines, communication with the company etc.

For my spreadsheet, I created a “To apply” and an “Applied” tab, in which I would include the roles I would discover on different online platforms. I would always record any invitations to video interviews or assessment centres. I would also use different colours to show the stages I reached in each application.

b) Don’t apply for your favourites first.

This one might sound counterintuitive, but it does make sense if you think there are a lot of little tricks to learn during your placement hunt. Your fifth or sixth application is likely to be better and more focused than your first.

That being said, do make sure you’re not leaving it until the last minute. Some companies will not hesitate to close applications early if they have a large amount of applications and fill the numbers.

c) Save all your applications.

Never edit on the application page. It only happened once to me to lose my work on a (considerably long) application. After that, I always edited in Word first, then copy and pasted the content onto the page. By having a dedicated folder with all your applications, you can always come back and re-read what you’ve written in the form, before any interviews.

Also, you’ll discover that many companies will ask you to describe times when you showed particular skills (known as competency based questions). Writing a good example and saving it will save you time next time you apply for a role. However, DON’T copy and paste other sections …they’ll know it 🙂

  1. Keep your research relevant

A frequent mistake when it comes to research is that many students when invited for an interview will go on the company website and take out EVERY single piece of information they can find. Number of offices, name of the CEO, profits in the previous year etc.

Now, while it is useful to have a broad understanding of the market position of the company, you need to remember that …well …the interviewer isn’t interested in how many employees there are in the UK or in how many locations they operate worldwide. He/she already knows these things. Unless you are a logistics expert, regurgitating numbers will not make you look good in an interview. What really matters is how your knowledge of the company links with your strengths and how well you interpret the information on the company website to your advantage.

For example, after a couple of applications, I realised I wasn’t putting myself in a good position by trying to learn things I am actually not that interested in. Instead, because I am passionate about Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability, I would always research the societal actions of the company. I would read through sustainability reports and try to hunt down all the information I could find on the things that interest me in a company. As a result, I could confidently talk about why I want to work for the X or Y Company, while simultaneously mentioning my passions and skills 🙂 .  Double win.

  1. Reflect. Reflect. Reflect.

This one should have actually come as a first tip. Before starting any applications, you should really spend some time reflecting on what your strengths are, what you have gained out of your experience to date. Many of us go through part-time work or volunteering roles without realising what skills we gained through them. I have done a lot of work on this, creating mind maps with my skills/roles and a lot of reflection around what I learnt from each of them.

My professional mentor (who is also my manager in the place where I work at the moment) has also helped me a lot to reflect on my experiences. In preparation for competency based questions, I found it useful to ask myself “When have things gone wrong?” in my past work experience and how I acted to tackle that. There are some skills that you will frequently need to demonstrate in interviews. From my experience, these are:

  • Teamwork
  • Working under pressure
  • Problem solving
  • Customer service (for some roles)

I found it also quite useful to make lists of the skills I identified in myself and create a pool of work/uni examples for each. Every time before an interview or assessment centre, I would read them out and practice talking about them.

  1. Go beyond your degree title

Having done a lot of work around project management/delivering change, I would always talk about these in an interview. Remember that your degree does not necessarily impose your placement role – I’m doing an HR degree and did an HR internship after my first year, but have secured a placement in Management Consulting (because this is what I decided I want to do). Going back to point 4., if your skills and experience make you a better match for a slightly different role, go and apply for that!  Make sure you check with your careers department that the placement you want to apply for would be accepted by the uni, however.

Everyone is different and that can be more than a cliche. It can be your way to your dream placement  🙂

And finally….

  1. Don’t compromise your values

If I got a pound for every person that told me I will need to apply for roles I do not want, in order to get a placement, I would no longer need a placement salary for next  year 🙂

As I mentioned before, the social responsibility aspects of companies are quite important for me, so I didn’t want to work for certain types of organisations i.e. tobacco companies etc.

Well, after a semester of applying for over 40 roles, having numerous interviews and invitations to assessment centres, I can say I managed not to compromise on that aspect. Yes, you will often get demotivated because, in general, for every progression to the next selection stage, you will get around three rejections. It is therefore important to keep yourself motivated at all times. Visualise yourself in the role you want, get a professional mentor and keep him/her updated on your progress- do whatever feels right to stay on track 🙂 Stay open however, your ideal placement might be one you initially thought irrelevant.

I really hope the above will help you!

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