A Year In The Real World

Here it goes, first blog and I don’t really know where to go with it but I’ll start by saying I’m currently writing this to avoid thinking about the dreaded dissertation! Week 4 and I still don’t know what I’m going to write 10,000 words on, surely I can’t be the only one?

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Rewind to March 2018, a second year student competing with hundreds of others for an opportunity to take a year away from studying and get a taste of what it’s like to work in ‘the real world’. At this stage in the year many students have already secured their placements but me being me I put it off until almost the last minute. May quickly came around and I finally bagged myself a few interviews, only to be rejected! At this stage I was talking myself into forgetting about doing a placement year and moving straight into final year, sure it would mean graduating a year sooner than expected and being done with Uni, that doesn’t sound too bad? (or so I tried to convince myself)

The summer had well and truly started and I still didn’t know where I was going to be come September, meanwhile others in my class had already started their jobs, I spent the next 3 weeks checking my emails about 30 times a day hoping Conor would send a job ad that I liked the look of. To spare you all reading another paragraph of invaluable information about my hunt for placement, my lucky day came and after a successful interview I was offered a 12 month post with Tourism Northern Ireland, yay! So don’t panic, even if you think you have left it too late you still have a chance to get a good placement.

Day one, the 17th of September and as you can imagine I was as nervous as I had ever been, I was a student with no experience, how am I going to know what to do? What if they expect too much of me? What if they don’t like me? What if I don’t like them? How am I going to get up at 6am every morning for the next year and travel 45 miles to Belfast!?

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First things first, if you are planning on taking a placement year I would HIGHLY recommend applying to Tourism NI, I couldn’t have asked for a better organisation to spend a year with. I joined the Social and Digital Marketing team and although I am studying a mainly PR focused degree I wanted something a little more marketing related, so this was perfect for me. Therefore if you can take anything from this, don’t limit yourself to what you apply for, if it’s not exactly what your degree title is and you think you could do it and meet the job requirements then go for it!

The team I worked in covered so much including looking after the Discover Northern Ireland website, consumer facing social media channels, digital partnerships and influencer marketing, data feeds, email marketing and visitor information along with all the general day to day admin. I think it’s fair to say that I got an excellent all round experience of all things digital marketing.

I had a lot of great experiences working with TNI but the highlight of the year has to be getting the opportunity to be involved ‘A Major’ (excuse the pun) sporting event in Northern Ireland. Unless you were living under a rock you will be well aware that The 148th Open was held at Royal Portrush in July and I got to spend a few days working in the TNI Marquee at the event – Not even our lovely Northern Irish weather could put a dampener on this!

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I have 3 top tips for anyone who decides to do a placement.

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  1. Network, Network, Network! You will come into contact with many people and other businesses throughout your time on placement so build as many relationships as you can with these people as you never know when these connections could be useful in the future.
  2. Don’t be scared to ask questions! We all like to pretend we know everything and don’t need any help, but the most important thing is if you are unsure about something no one is going to punish you for asking a question. After all a simple question is so much easier than putting extra pressure on yourself and trying to figure it out alone (This is something I wish I got into my head a lot sooner than I did).
  3. . Enjoy your year, take every opportunity and make a good impression.

Finally, after contemplating not taking a placement year I can now say I am so glad I did and I had the best year with Tourism NI. I would encourage everyone to take advantage of the opportunity of doing a placement year as you will gain invaluable experience and meet some great people along the way. If you’re lucky enough to get into TNI, I hope your experience is as successful as mine was!

Back to thinking about the dissertation for me…

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Megan Carton is a final year Bsc Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found at LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/megan-carton-351485182/

Placement Goals at Tourism NI

Placement Goals at Tourism NI

When in second year, you are faced with the opportunity to go into the world of work, for an entire year, via work placement.  Advice from a current final year is, TAKE IT!  It was honestly one of the best years of my life and I cannot commend Tourism NI enough for the way they looked after me.

I applied quite late, in comparison to my classmates, but I still got there!  Not that I am endorsing applying late, but just a note to say, don’t panic if you’re not the first to get sorted!

I used the UU careers portal to find available placements – a good tip would be to tick more than one box when it asks you what area of work you are interested in.  I ticked at least eight, so I wouldn’t limit myself and miss out on any possibilities!

Tourism NI advertised for an Industry Development Events Assistant, which included a pretty salary and I thought, why not?  We didn’t focus on event planning modules in my degree, but it is a very useful skill to have when it comes to PR, therefore, when applying for your own placements, just remember that you don’t have to go for something that relates 100% to your degree – there is a level of flexibility, so be creative!

Unlike some of my classmates, I had a pretty straightforward interview, don’t get me wrong, no interview is easy, but it didn’t involve any psychometric tests, or phone interviews, just one competency-based interview.  I’m always a stress head at interviews, but with a couple of (dozen) herbal calming pills and reems of spider diagram notes.  I must have pulled it out of the bag, as I was offered the job a few hours later!

Tourism NI, by far, excelled my expectations.  They were incredibly welcoming, friendly and supportive of my placement journey.  My team was honestly the BEST team in the organisation, apologies to anyone in TNI reading this, but, #sorrynotsorry.

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When you’re trying to capture a candid photo of your team, but you get a wonky photo of a Mexican wave.

My job was based in the public sector, which taught me a lot about politics, and I’m embarrassed to admit, I had very little to knowledge prior to my role.

I assisted my line manager in various events across NI, which were all delivered with the purpose of developing the industry – hence the name, ‘industry development’, it took a while for the penny to drop for me.  The role involved a multitude of skills and qualities, some of which I already had and others I got the chance to develop throughout my placement journey.  I have summarised the key skills and qualities below, as I believe they apply to any placement, or graduate job.  So hopefully, they will help you when applying!

  1. Be organised; stay organised; don’t not be organised

I put this as number one, because it is the key to success!  It wasn’t my strongest skill, when I first started, but, it is now!  I quickly learned that, in order to stay on top of things, I had to stay organised, so I bought a planner and recorded all impromptu requests, phone calls, tasks and messages, so I could create a ‘to do’ list every day.

  1. Be creative

I find it hard to believe that everyone at the top of the employment ladder, coloured within the lines and never thought outside of the box.  I always have been creative and during my placement, I wasn’t afraid to suggest ideas and new ways of doing things.

  1. Be yourself 

On the first day it’s hard to show your true self, because of the jelly-like feeling caused by immense nerves shooting through your body – or, maybe it’s just me!  Over the first few weeks, my personality started to shine through and I connected with so many employees, business partners and most importantly, my line manager.  I’m normally quite a bubbly and talkative person, however, I cannot do public speaking to save my life!  My placement really helped me come out of my shell.  I even made a guest appearance as Mr.Claus – bare in mind, this was very last minute, involved an impromptu costume and was accompanied by a deep Australian accent, I think! ( I tried my best! )  But I did it!

Out of all the events we delivered over my year’s placement – I lost count after the first 2 months, my favourite was the NI Tourism Awards, in Enniskillen Castle.  It was challenging, as we had high profile guests attending, therefore, even sending out the invitations was stressful!  But it was a huge success and very enjoyable.

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Overall, I have to describe my time at Tourism Northern Ireland as ‘Placement Goals’, I couldn’t of had a better year if I tried; despite the long hours and stressful moments I wouldn’t change it for the world! If your looking for an organisation to gain some first hand experience in the public sector then check them out! I’ve included a link to their website in case your tempted to look at job vacancies https://tourismni.com/.

Finally, I just wanted to say that whatever job you end up in just remember to be yourself and have fun!

Kimberley O’Hare is a final year BSc in Communication, Advertising & Marketing student at Ulster University. She can be found on Twitter @Kimberley_Ohare and LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/kimberley-o-hare-b3225a153/