Placement: what if I don’t get one

Placement: what if I don’t get one

Hopes of earning ‘big bucks’, gaining experience and living the adult life for a year, it all landed like a lead balloon. Thanks, Covid-19, just one of the many things we can blame you for.

How it begins

We all have great aspirations for placement year. The beginning of second year starts with a reality check. Everyone leaves the first lecture with three main messages; get a move on with searching, creating a CV and a dreaded LinkedIn profile. This usually goes one of two ways, leaving feeling highly motivated or highly stressed. For many it seems like ages away, nothing to be concerned about now. Speaking from experience, start searching for placement opportunities or internships as soon as possible. It’s amazing how early adverts for placements are released and you are definitely at an advantage if you are organised and apply early, this will half your competition as many have not yet contemplated applying.

Spoiler alert, second year is a huge step up from first year. Assignments become so much more difficult but you also must spend a long time preparing for interviews and even more time planning what outfit you’re going to wear to said interviews. Despite the huge weight on your shoulders that you will feel, you always assume that you will be successful in finding a placement in the end. We’ve been led to believe that yes, it’s a difficult process but it will work itself out. Don’t be fooled, it is solely down to the effort you put in.

Going through the motions

Applying to your first placement can be nerve wracking but soon it becomes a regular occurrence. You quickly learn the tricks of the trade, especially altering your drafted cover letter to suit each job opportunity. Reading and having evidence to support each one of the applicant requirements is a necessity and almost always the questions you will be asked in the interview are based on them. The excitement and relief you feel when you receive your first email to invite you to interview is great. In my case, it was the first proper interview I had ever done, I was so nervous. Usually I thrive on nerves and a bit of stress, not this time. Oops. It didn’t go well but it was so important that I learnt from my mistakes and moved on. I knew I wasn’t expecting an email back from that organisation. As the interview process continued, I improved greatly. One thing I don’t think anyone prepares you for are the tasks that some company’s set for you. Treat it like a uni assignment, give it your best shot and act like you’ve got the job and this is your first project. Don’t be disheartened if you put your all into a task and you don’t get the job. I should also add, don’t be afraid to ask the careers services in university for some help. This is one thing I wish I had done more of. That said, I started to get the hang of things and was confident that after a few more interviews I would be successful. Until panic set in, but in this case, it was both students and businesses panicking.

Then Covid-19 changes your plans

In March, you still feel as if you have a bit of time left to find a placement for September. But this time, March wasn’t just an ordinary month. Instead, the world went belly up. A virus that can sweep through the globe and impact us all so immensely? Surely not in this day and age. Reality soon sets in; businesses are making their staff redundant or putting them on furlough. The chances of getting a placement now seem very slim. I still had high hopes for myself and my friends, some of whom had secured placement opportunities already. However, even those who had secured theirs, a few of them were hit with soul destroying emails to inform them that their placement could no longer go ahead. The purpose of this post is not to dwell on it or think “what if”. Instead I wanted to suggest how best to move on. If we consider the Change Curve model, I definitely went through the first five stages in turn. The day eventually arrives when you finally accept what’s happened. The best way to problem solve in this instance is firstly decide which route you’re going to take for the following academic year. Once you’ve done that, decide how you’re going to go about it and how to make the most out of your decision. My decision was to go straight into final year and after I had made that decision, my main aim was to secure a new part time job as well. I wanted a new challenge and don’t get me wrong, walking into that interview was really difficult. However, I proved to myself that I had gained so much experience by going through all the previous placement interviews and this time it was a breeze. Now I am gaining so many new experiences in my work place that I never would have imagined and all of these I will be able to talk about in my graduate interviews. Ah, the joys.

No matter what life throws at you, step up to the challenge. There is not just one direct route to your goal. Figure out a solution and make the most of it. Despite not initially wishing to move straight into final year, I am really enjoying it. Although I do miss the social side, but that’s a topic for another day.

Lydia Killen is a final year BSc Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on Instagram and Twitter

Coronavirus crisis; how brands are successfully addressing it

Coronavirus crisis; how brands are successfully addressing it

I know we’re all sick of hearing about Covid-19; I won’t bore you with statistics or point out your wrongdoings. Instead I wanted to share my fascination with the way in which brands, big and small, have reacted to the global crisis. Not only is it worth taking note of their crisis management but also their crisis communication and marketing. Sparks of creativity and brilliance were keeping us sane as organisations developed impactful ways to demonstrate how much they cared. They’ve been addressing customer concerns, trying to unearth solutions and attempting to create solidarity whilst promoting a physical separation. Others just graced us with humour during some of the dimmest days.  

Many would argue that brands were faced with a sink or swim dilemma. The options were to think on their feet; either physically changing the product or the service they provide, remaining relevant through crisis marketing or suffer irretrievable losses.

  1. Addressing customer concerns

By early March it became apparent that this virus was here to stay. Every day we were faced with unprecedented decisions taken by the government, impacting on every aspect of our lives and rapidly heightening our stress levels. Companies were keen to express empathy, acknowledging the impact Covid was having on so many. Stockpiling became a daily ritual for those fortunate enough to do so. Toilet paper became a hot commodity; I’m still unsure why. Panic buying led to stretched supply chains and the resultant shortages meant brands were faced with backlash from the self-same panic buying consumers. Cottonelle, one of the leading toilet paper brands, developed a campaign encouraging consumers to “stock up on generosity” and #shareasquare.     

2. Finding solutions

Companies quickly responded to the urgent requirement for medical equipment and Personal Protection Equipment (PPE). The demand was for hand sanitiser, ventilators, scrubs and masks. Large brands, such as Smiths Group, LVMH and Brewdog, were in a strong position to pivot their manufacturing in order to develop prototypes or products. Smiths Group worked with the VentilatorChallengeUK Consortium securing a contract to produce 10,000 ventilators for the UK. Additionally, world renowned company LVMH converted their perfume factories to produce hand sanitiser. LVMH are famed for their high-end luxury products, however, we all learnt very quickly what the real luxury in life was; our health.

Closer to home, we experienced similar adaptations. Groups were popping up everywhere producing thousands of scrubs and other PPE. In fact, I do recall chuckling at the sight of doctors or consultants working in princess-themed scrubs made from children’s bedsheets. With regards to businesses adapting to the new normal and providing a new service, I am sure the majority of us jumped at the opportunity to pick up a takeaway from our local restaurant. For many restaurants this was a completely new experience and hiccups in services were inevitable. But let’s face it, at this point we had the time to wait for our dinner. Restaurants such as Shu in Belfast created an online menu of recipes and ingredients which customers could choose from, collect and cook at home. This ensured that they still managed to stay afloat in uncertain times and continue to provide a product and service to their loyal customers.

3. Sense of solidarity

Brands and organisations took responsibility for spreading awareness and encouraging people to observe social distancing. Brands wanted to demonstrate their understanding of our wish to remain united despite the physical barrier between us all. Coca Cola placed a billboard in Times Square which read “Staying apart is the best way to stay united”. Nike also jumped on the bandwagon, generating a catchy slogan “play for the world, play inside”. Portraying the world as a smaller place with a shared identity, and striving to engender a kindred spirit, became a common theme. The most touching one for me was the St Patrick’s Day Guinness advert. Despite gatherings and celebrations being slightly different this year, Guinness found a way to intensify our sense of camaraderie, yanking on the strings of our national identity.

4. Humour

Humour effectively executed can reap excellent rewards for brands. It creates emotional arousal and promotes the release of anxiety or worry through amusement. Through efficacious humour, organisations can take important rules and regulations set by higher powers, make light of them but also inform their customers. When brands allow us to see their ‘funny side’ we open up more to them and, on occasion, their marketing ploys can become the most memorable to us. In keeping with Covid-19 guidelines, KFC removed the “finger lickin’” part of their famous slogan “it’s finger linkin’ good”, much to my amusement. Another which caught my eye was Connswater Shopping Centre’s sign, making light of the fact they were insisting on customers wearing a face covering.  

We will never forget the year 2020, each of us for slightly different reasons. Despite the difficult times we’ve faced, I know I’d be speaking on behalf of so many when I say it’s been a hugely insightful time. Particularly for me as I begin my career in communication and public relations. I have been inspired by so many organisations, watching as they harness their creativity in every aspect of business life. Learn from them, take chances, be bold, and prosper.

Lydia Killen is a final year BSc Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on Instagram and Twitter