Placements: A One Year Delay or a Head Start? – By Polly Jackson, LLB with Business Placement Student
“Do a placement.” That is a phrase that was drummed into me even before I started my degree at the University of Brighton in 2012. As a Law student, I had always been concerned that doing a placement year in a field outside of Law might hold me back and delay my further educational path, which is already a lengthy and difficult process. I could not have been more wrong. With competition for Graduate Schemes becoming more ferocious year upon year, I now recognise how the benefits of a placement year outweigh the immediate continuation of study in every way. Allow me to elaborate.
Throughout my first and second years at University, much emphasis was placed upon myself and my peers with regards to finding the dreaded “work experience”; that all-encompassing phrase that inevitably reminds us of that horror-story of a week in a supermarket at the age of 14, stacking shelves for free in order to “increase our chances of employability”. Even more sickly phrases like “get yourself out there” were also repeated all too often, although, admittedly, I had never truly understood what that really meant.
I carefully considered my options over the summer between my first and second years and although I was originally sceptical about the concept of taking a year out of study, after reviewing the percentage of Placement Students who complete University with First Class Classification in comparison to those who do not, I decided that I would have a go at applying.
I was confronted with a jungle. The Big-Brand-Businesses were the Lions; the Psychometric, Verbal and Numerical tests were the maze of trees blocking you at every turn; the carefully constructed application questions were the snakes and I was very much a fish out of water, awaiting an inevitable stream of rejection and inadequacy to follow. And it did follow. After applying for over 60 placements, and coming exceptionally close to giving up, I was offered one single interview at Golfbreaks.com, a Global Tour Operator in Windsor who specialise in Golf and Spa Breaks. I was accepted onto my placement following a number of group activities including problem solving, team work and an individual interview along with 20 other students. Throughout my application process, my CV must have been updated, edited and on one particularly emotional evening, deleted altogether. This process was key for my progression, and something that I was very pleased to have developed now, as opposed to when I start applying for training contracts and graduate roles.
My role in the organisation is defined as a Consultant Sales Agent and as a Law Student, I reverted to type making my first priority to study for the role, and study hard. For my first two months, I ensured that I studied each of the venues that I was required to sell day and night until I understood each of them and knew every last detail from the charge of the car park to the motorways you needed to take to get there. This was my first mistake, and I learned very quickly that in a business environment that is fast paced and requires a sellers mentality, academics have to be left at the door and replaced with quick-wit and the ability to think on your feet. This kind of skill only comes with experience and is not something that can be taught. It is skills like this that will set me apart from other candidates when it comes to applying for a Training Contracts and Graduate Schemes.
Even working full time is a huge change. No longer did I have the freedom to complain about a 9am lecture, because that was every day now and the quicker you sucked it up the better, because in sales, there is no time for complaining and certainly nobody who is willing to listen.
‘Time management’ also has a whole new meaning when you work full time. It is no longer about organising when you are going to finish an essay or how late you can leave your next assignment; but instead refers to you will be able to cram everything that you want to do into two short days at the weekend. It also refers to prioritising your own work flow, but not in a way that is without repercussions. When you work full time, you are not only answerable to yourself anymore, but to your line manager and even your own team.
There is no question that placements are hard work, but the skills that you learn by taking part cannot be matched by your peers. From learning how to handle rejections to resolving workplace disputes, when you start applying for Training Contracts and Graduate Roles, who is a prospective employer going to place the most faith in? The person who has worked in a business environment for a full year, gaining huge amounts of valuable experience and understanding the differences between academics and business, who can provide not only an outstanding reference but the grades to boot? Or the student who has never been anything else? It is a no-brainer.
On my first day, my supervisor struck me with another motivational phrase; “you get out what you put in.” This, I believe. I have poured my heart and soul into my Placement thus far and have already started reaping the rewards. In three short months, I have already attained the records for the most bookings ever made in a week by anyone from my department and I have also beaten the All-Time Booking Record for the month of October. It is this kind of tangible achievement that will secure you a Graduate Position. It is these kinds of experiences that will make you stand out on a Training Contract Application or at an interview for a Vacation Scheme.
My University hugely encouraged me to take a placement year, and I would thoroughly advise that anyone studying Law who is considering a business placement, it is not a waste of time and it will not delay your career progression; if anything it will give you an inevitable head start.