The nine letter word that instils instant fear and dread in university students.
The “if we don’t talk about it, it doesn’t exist” topic.
It’s scary isn’t it? One minute you’re catching up with friends, preparing for fresher’s week and celebrating the return of the student loan; the next you’re being forced to ~god forbid~ start thinking about your future and what you actually want to do with your life.
You’ll start having placement students, members of companies and placement co-ordinators making appearances in lectures, and start receiving emails in your university email account that you only ever really use to activate your UniDays discount.
Well, don’t worry – here are some do’s and don’ts to help prepare you for one of the scariest things about second year (second to the fact that this year actually counts towards your degree classification).
Take it from a current placement student who has learned some of these the hard way. And no, I did not follow all of these, which is precisely why I am advising you to.
Give yourself a head start and the best chance you can. The last thing you need when you have assignments to write and exams to revise for is to worry about actually starting to write a CV and figure out what a cover letter even is.
Feel as though you have to go on a traditional placement. You have options, consider them. Yes, you can go on placement, but you can also take part in programmes such as Study USA or Intern China, or go straight into final year. Everyone is different and wants different things. It’s your degree, your choice and a year of your life at the end of the day. Placement isn’t for everyone, and you know what? That’s totally fine.
Stop rolling your eyes. Yes it’s one of those “duh” points, but it has to be said. After writing around 20 cover letters and application forms, you might discover a shortcut of “I’ll just write the same thing and change the company name and job title”; well, that’s all well and good until you submit a cover letter stating how much you would love to be a marketing intern at one of the leading car retailers to a milk company looking for a web developer.
Which leads to my second point.
Make every application/cover letter the same.
Companies can see right through you and know exactly when you’re using generic applications. Every application should be tailored to suit the company and job you’re applying for. State why to want to work there, and why you would be ~perfect~ for that role. The more specific and relevant your application is, the more likely the reader is to consider you.
Take it from someone who did the whole “copy and paste” approach, and got rejections for not being ‘enthusiastic’ or ‘passionate’ enough about the job or business.
What’s best for you. Friends are such a big part of our lives, and it’s nearly impossible not to be influenced by them; but don’t feel pressured to do something just because they are. Don’t apply for a job you don’t want just because “all of my friends have”, don’t choose jobs based in a certain country because you want to be near them, don’t decide not to do a placement even though you want to just because your best friend hasn’t and you want to “graduate together”.
I mean, “if your friends jumped off a cliff” and all that.
Be afraid to be different. Oh, you think writing 30 cover letters, applications and CVs is boring? Try reading 100s of them. Make the employer interested. This is your chance to show your potential and why you deserve the job. Yes, of course that’s what the interview is for- but what if you don’t get that far? Give the employer no choice but to want to meet and learn more about you and what you can bring to the company.
Do you know what a psychometric test is? Yeah, one of those “what shape’s next and mathsy sort of test things”. Well, whenever you’re about to complete one, you might get a ‘guide’ which includes what sort of questions will be asked, how much time you have and practise questions. READ IT. I was one of those “I’d rather get it over and done with” so skipped the guide and practise questions. Well, joke was on me when, approximately 12 minutes later I was sitting at the computer trying not to cry and swearing I would boycott a certain brand for life because of the emotional trauma they had caused me. I mean, who cares how many yen 500 US dollars is worth? Well, for some unknown reason, that company does.
If you haven’t got a placement sorted yet but some or all of your friends have, it can be tempting to start applying for every single placement opportunity you get told about. It’s important that you only apply to jobs you actually want. Would you rather wait a few weeks or months and get your ideal job, or be the first one to get a placement but end up not even liking the sound of it? It can be frustrating getting nothing but rejections or ignored for months, but it’s worth waiting for that one real “YES” moment. I found myself relieved to get some rejections because I didn’t even really want a job or what it was, but I mightn’t have been as lucky and ended up having to take one and spend a year doing something I hated and wasn’t suited for.
And now for my final gem of advice:
Enjoy second year.
There’s nothing you appreciate more than 9 hour weeks and being able to go for LUNCH DATES than working 8 hours a day and having to pack lunches like you’re back in school. Second year was such an amazing year for me, and yes, it’s hard work and a step up from first year; but it’s still a great time to socialise, learn, think about what you actually want, and go out on a weeknight?? Imagine.
Well there you go folks, that’s a wrap. Hopefully you learned something reading this, and if you didn’t – US $500 will get you around 56,698 Japanese yen. Ha – now you have learned something *pats self on back*.
Niamh Murray is a 3rd year BSc in Communication, Advertising & Marketing student at Ulster University, currently on a placement year at The Irish News. She can be found on Instagram: @_neeev, Facebook: Niamh Ni Mhuirí and LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/niamh-murray-4a013a150/