Author: Rachel Murray.
The fact that Surrey offered a professional placement year was one of the main reasons I put the university down as my first choice.
I remembered how long it took my brother to find a job after he graduated and figured the same could well happen to me, but at least with the placement year I’d have more work experiences under my belt!
I applied for my first role back in the October of my second year and it was a PR placement for L’Oreal. Being an English Literature student, I was convinced I was limited to PR and Marketing roles and quickly made my peace with this. L’Oreal was quite extensive, involving not only a CV and cover letter, but three extra application questions and a video answering some more questions. After not hearing back for two weeks, it was safe to say I wouldn’t be getting the first placement I applied for. Needless to say, there were plenty of second year students I know who actually did get the first placement they applied for, so don’t be too discouraged!
After L’Oreal, I pushed through, applying to similar companies such as New Look, Urban Outfitters and Primark, all PR/Marketing relating roles. Then came the two big ones: Disney and Warner Bros. These two brands I adore, and I remember spending a long time on both applications. When I heard back from neither of them, I was heartbroken and believed that they were they placements I was meant to get. This was December time, and by then people around me were starting to get to interview or assessment day stages and I hadn’t even gotten a reply after I sent my CV. I’m sure I’m not the only one that got quite disheartened at this stage in my placement search, believing there was something wrong with me and that I wasn’t meant to get a placement.
Fast-forward to Easter break where I applied to five placements in a matter of four weeks. At this point I had applied to around 20 placements since October with still no interviews. There were plenty of times where I had come to terms with not getting a placement and had rationalised that (surprisingly) it wasn’t the end of the world! Then, on my first day back at university after Easter, I finally got my first interview. Well, actually I got two replies asking for interviews in one day! I was equally ecstatic and terrified, my first interview being only a day away.
The main advice I could give for preparing for an interview is to know your cover letter/application answers off by heart like you were revising for an exam. The second is know the company just as well. You could try and second guess what the interviewer will ask you as much as you want (and there’s lots of helpful resources on Surrey Pathfinder with potential questions), but overall, you want to come across genuine. After all, they want to hire you the person, not you the robot who has memorised perfect answers to each of their questions.
I remember when I got that reply just under a week after my interview that I got the placement. I definitely cried. Applying to all those placements and having that uncertainly suddenly felt worth it, like this was the way it was meant to happen. Rather than settling for PR and Marketing, I managed to find a blog writing role, something I could seriously see myself doing when I graduate.
Surrey Pathfinder is an amazing resource for finding placements and will no doubt be the first place you’ll be encouraged to start you search. Just remember to broaden from there. I regularly checked Indeed.com and LinkedIn for new placement opportunities that weren’t advertised on Pathfinder, finding the placement I have now through Indeed.
Speaking from experience, I know how difficult and even demoralising searching for a placement can be and how easy it can seem to give up and convince yourself you’ve done all you can. The best tip I could give people either still looking for a placement or will begin looking as they enter their second year this October is to have determination. Every time you send off an application, start another. When I looked back at the cover letter I wrote for Disney compared to the one I wrote for my secured placement, it was clear how much I had improved simply by practicing. Yes, the university is here to help you and have careers advisers at MySurrey Hive for CV/Cover Letter checks and more, but at the end of the day its up to you and how badly you want to grab this opportunity for doing a professional placement that the university has given you.
I wish the best of luck to everyone hoping to find a placement!