Some of the UEA team recently attended a graduate fair at our local; Brunel University, ‘Day out on a jolly’...or so we thought!! It was a hard days graft let me tell you and even I was sick of the sound of my own voice by the end of it! The idea was to identify exciting graduates as well as of course a little bit of self promotion (it would have been rude not to)! Seeing such a wealth of companies fighting for the attention of freshly graduated, bright eyed students, whether through big banners, TV screens or sweetie giveaways (yes we were one of them) just reiterated how valuable it is to be a graduate in this day and age.
Whilst I do not promote the notion that a first class degree is the only route to a successful career, it’s certainly likely to help. On the other side of the coin, is it enough on its own? Talking to countless students, from first years through to postgraduates, I couldn’t help but wonder if they were being misled. I advised every individual I spoke to, that getting work experience was priceless...be this paid, unpaid, a result of begging...they should do whatever they could do to gain industry experience...and if this meant a few hours of their time once a week for absolutely no monetary reward than they should do it! I was shocked by how many of them looked at me as if I had suddenly begun speaking in a foreign language! Surely I couldn’t have been the first person to explain the importance of work experience before graduating?!
Industry experience provides invaluable insight into the actual job you will be doing on a day to day basis, as well as opportunities to network with potential employers or even future clients. It also provides transferable skills that show you are able to achieve successful working relationships, whilst displaying your commitment and work ethic to potential employers.
As a case study example we interviewed our very own Shannen Martin, who after coming to us in search of temporary work before returning to her third year...managed to secure herself a placement year, the first individual in the history of UEA!
How did you end up at UEA?
I wanted experience within a HR environment originally so was considering temporary work. I looked on the UEA Website and saw that they specialised in office based work which included HR so I contacted Claire via email with a CV attachment and within a few hours I was contacted by Liz. I started as a temp doing general admin duties and I seemed to really fit and love the environment. It became obvious that HR wasn’t something I wanted anymore, I wanted the fast-pace environment of recruitment and so I asked Liz if she would consider me for a placement and here I am!
How did the process work?
It was so last minute (literally a week before I was meant to go back to Brunel for my final year) and Liz and Charlie decided they could make a place for me in the office so now I have my own little desk and I am training to be a Resourcer whilst doing some general admin duties too. I was proactive in my approach, I asked if I would be considered for a placement year even though I know that UEA usually didn’t do this and it was a bit of a risk for the company, but it definitely is true what they say: “if you don’t ask, you don’t get”.
What do you see as the benefits of a placement?
Doing a placement will not only strengthen my CV but it has given me a strong possibility of coming back full-time once I have finished my final year at University, and after my placement year I have been offered to work part-time around my studies too, it just enhances my experience and keeps my “foot in the door” so-to-speak. It gives you a year to see whether the industry you have chosen is really what you would like to pursue after University, it is a great insight into the role you want as well and see the progression available. The ability to work as part of a team is essential in any job, and this is something a placement will teach you. A placement year offers a totally different set of skills and challenges than what you will have been used to at school and university.
What is your advice to other students considering a placement?
Do it! Don’t be disheartened when you are turned down by companies, I spent 10 months being told I didn’t have enough experience for a placement even though I had the right degree and grades. You don’t need to work in big corporate companies to look good at all, try local businesses. Be proactive and research who can offer you what – email and call local businesses to see if they would consider someone for a year placement. It takes a lot of work and preparation but I would definitely recommend it.
There are several places you can visit such as the Guardian online for tips for gaining work experience. We also love vinspired, an independent charity for helping young people get into voluntary work.