Powering through placement: The Navigator how-to

Placements are a key part of work training. And yes, they can be one of the most challenging things that a student can do, but they’re also the most rewarding and invigorating aspect of learning at university. They’re our chance to put academic learning to practice and actually ‘do’ some work.

Placements can be pretty worthwhile and valuable to future ‘you’, and if you take advantage of the opportunity when it arises (whether it be as part of your coursework or you stumble across an ad online) you can learn how to articulate the skills you’re aiming to develop.

We spoke to Renée Smith from the Careers Service to get some top tips on how to get the most out of your placement experience.

An overview of placements…

Placements vary depending on the program you’re enrolled in and the type of company you work for. But one thing can be agreed upon: placements are a planned period of temporary work that students can undertake to give them experience of working in the outside world. Some placements might last from a couple of weeks to a few months, and can be paid or unpaid.

Essentially, a placement means different things to different people. But in essence, it’s any form of work that you do before you officially kick start your career after university. The most important thing to remember is that all placements can give you experience, it’s just a matter of how much you learn is up to you. But don’t worry, below we’ve put together some advice to help you make the most of placement!

What are the benefits of placement?

There are obvious advantages of placement such as improving your CV, gaining valuable references, and the possibility of ongoing employment at the end of the placement.

Some students might be considering whether they’ve chosen the ‘right’ degree for them. Being able to apply theory to practice, such as in a real-life working context, may make you appreciate the relevance of your degree or help you with long-term career decisions.

Whether it’s a week or a month, placement can help you to make decisions about your future. You discover what you like and dislike about the work, where your strengths and weaknesses lie, and what possibilities there are for long-term career development in that field. Taking time to reflect on what you have seen and done during your placement, and how you have developed as a result, is an important part of learning through your placement.

It also gives you time to learn organisational, management and personal skills and to develop an awareness of the workplace culture. This gives you a chance to scope it out; see if the industry is ‘right’ for you.

The understanding gained during professional placement can also be important in future project work and study in other uni courses, and help improve your final results. So, next time you have a group assignment, you can put those management and delegation skills you picked up from placement to work!

What are the best ways to impress employers through placement?

When you organise a placement, it’s good to make sure that it’s in an area that you’re interested in, while recognising that it’s a professional environment too.

Uni of Newcastle Careers Consultant, Renée Smith, said once you walk in the door of your placement, you’re not a student, you’re an employee. “So, all that professional etiquette is important to making sure that you’re approachable; that you’re willing and open to do tasks; that you’re going to ask questions; that when a task is provided to you, you get in and do it to the best of your ability,” she said.

Being proactive and getting involved in what’s going on in the organisation is important while on a placement. Think about what you have done before that you can apply to the placement as well. You’re (hopefully) learning heaps of great skills in your degree, so think about how can you can apply them to your workplace experience.

“Be a professional and really put your best foot forward when you’re out on a placement,” Renee said. “If you present a good image, then it can often lead to ongoing work either there or through networking. So why not try to do your best to get a job?”

What skills do you need to succeed in placement?

“Aside from professionalism, [I] think it’s not necessarily what skills you need to be successful in placement, it’s recognising the skills you’re gaining out of placement and recognising what you’re doing,” Renée said.

“For example, you’re going to be communicating with people and you’re going to be communicating with them on a professional level, as well as on a personal level. Knowing where those barriers lie when you’re out on placement are essential.”

Reflection is also a key part of placement. For example, reflecting on the certain tasks you did, such as attending meetings or taking calls, it’s important to recognise that you are using communication skills to do that task; recognise that you built those relationships through using your interpersonal skills.

Renée said there are a lot of skills that you gain on a placement through everyday tasks that you may have been doing somewhere else, which are beneficial to getting a job after placement. You’ve been scheduling your assignments and doing time management for your entire degree so far. So, take that into the workplace as well and organise and prioritise your workload.

“It’s a matter of recognising the level of responsibility that you had in those roles and being able to then ‘sell’ to an employer after you have completed your placement. Think of it as a networking opportunity too.”

What are some of the things that students may struggle with while out on placement?

The level of struggle between each student varies, of course. It depends on how much you enjoy working in your chosen industry and the relationship with your co-workers and employer.

Likewise, Renee said the one thing that students sometimes struggle with is the relationship of being on a placement. “What relationship do they have with the other workers who are out there? Are they still the student that is learning? Are they the colleague who knows things about what they’re doing? Or, are they somewhere in between?”

The thing to do here, is to go into placement being aware of your level of knowledge about the industry, and go in with a willingness to expand and build on that.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions you don’t know the answers to. This is all a learning experience, after all. As long as you go in with enthusiasm, some goals to learn and network, and a positive attitude, you’ll leave the placement with tangible accomplishments in no time!

IMAGE: Alvin Mahmudov

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