Each year, a number of Ulster University students are given the opportunity to leave the comfort and safety of their cosy, convenience-filled university existence to go out into the big bad world of work as part of their studies to get the much-sought after experience they’ll need for life after education.
I’m currently in my final year of studying Communication Management and Public Relations and as part of my course I was offered the opportunity to be one of those students. I’ll be honest, when I first heard about it I thought ‘no way’, working life is not for me yet and I want to just power through with my studies and get final year done.
But, as the weeks went on I got more information, heard more success stories and invested some time researching the benefits. It became hard to justify not taking the opportunity. After all, research has shown that the average salaries of those who do placement is 8% higher than those who don’t. Money talks. My classmates started applying for jobs, and the inevitable FOMO kicked in.
I’m not going to lie to you, the placement market is tough, it’s competitive, and after a few months of applications and interviews (some better than others) I had secured a placement in the third-sector with a really great charity.
I was delighted, scared, and eager to make a good impression.
Now, it’s time to get to the good stuff. Going on placement is a big undertaking, one that requires thought and research so let me impart some of my insights on the good, the bad, and the ugly life of a placement student.
- Get ready for your CV to shine- As I head into final year I am now starting to think, what next? I am starting to think about my future career and where I want to go when it’s all over. Thankfully, my CV is now bursting with lots of different examples of my skills and experience that I have acquired through my placement. Doing a placement will allow you to put your foot in the door and help you stand out to an employer when applying for jobs in the future.
- Networking- Fortunately, throughout my time in placement I was to be able to meet and chat with lots of different people within the industry. Doing a placement will allow you to make necessary contacts that may be useful to you in the future. It’s a big world out there and getting yourself known is essential to any job in PR/Communications.
- Experience- Probably the best reason to choose to do a placement year. It’s an experience. It will allow you to see first-hand what it’s like to work in your chosen field. For me, before doing my placement I had no clue what I wanted to do in terms of my career, I felt like I was just floating by hoping someday a light bulb would go off and I would know what I want to do. My placement year was an eye opener, it allowed me to see what I’m good at, what I need to improve on and most importantly where I would like to go career wise.
- Trying to find a placement- This was a toughie for me. Once I made the decision to do a placement year I then had to go and get it myself. The university is a great help in terms of advertising jobs and providing interview tips but ultimately, it’s all down to you in the interview.
- Adapting to the change- Doing a placement year allows you to get out into the big bad world and have a serious role in a field you are interested in. At first, this can be overwhelming and a big change compared to university life. You may have to miss out on a few Wednesday night drinking sessions due to having work at 9am or you might end up in this situation…
- Your financial situation- You might be one of the lucky ones that gets a placement that pays fairly well. However, more and more placements are now unpaid or will only pay travel costs. It may be unfeasible for you to afford to leave your current job or you might have to take on a job elsewhere which can be stressful. At the start of my placement I was working six days a week, two jobs isn’t easy!
Ultimately, deciding to do a placement in third year is completely up to you.
Personally, I wouldn’t look back. I think I made the best decision and I loved getting the experience of working full-time. I now feel well prepared to apply for graduate jobs with a lot of experience behind me.
However, it may not be for you and that’s completely fine too. Speak to your lecturers, career’s advisers and even your friends to help you decide.
Don’t stress just do what’s best for you!
(Orlaith Strong is a final year BSc in Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on Twitter: @orlaith_strong and Linkedin: @orlaithstrong)