19 October 2023

Placement & Internship Application Tips From Industry Experts

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Hear what five experts said when we asked them for their top advice to students…

Be open-minded in your career-planning

Giorgia McDonald, Careers Coach

Giorgia has extensive experience in the early talent and recruitment sector, working currently as an Undergraduate Careers Coach at Warwick Business School (University of Warwick).

Her day-to-day role involves providing career coaching, professional development training and delivering employability skill workshops to students navigating the world of work.

“You might have dreamed of doing a specific job upon graduation. You might even have envisaged who you would be doing this job for.

Having a dream means having something to work towards long after you finish walking the halls of your university campus. It offers the chance to explore a career path instead of just a destination.

But if your ‘dream job’ isn’t obtainable right now, consider broadening your options to help you get there. These are the questions you should be asking yourself to make sure you can adapt to the changing world of recruitment at this time.”

Questions to ask yourself

  • Could I search for positions in my field of interest in different/smaller firms?
  • Why not consider a company that I have never heard of before?
  • Could I search for other positions within the firm I’m interested in?
  • Why not consider working in a different city to still get that all important experience?

Once you ask yourself these questions, you may even find that you enjoy your alternative career and change your destination completely.

Structure your application answers

Helen Sherwood, Early Professionals Manager

Helen is a scheme lead for IBM’s flagship, award winning pre-university and university placement schemes.

Her role involves supporting placement students’ career development, ensuring they leave IBM fully informed, having maximised every opportunity and developed their employability.

“The opening paragraph of your application or cover letter should be like a book cover. It should have an interesting hook that gets the reader to want to turn the page.

Know what is unique about you that would be specifically relevant to the company you are applying to, or the role.

So if you are studying analytics, but are passionate about recycling, then look at the company’s policy on environmental issues and use that as a hook.”

STAR model technique – answering questions

When filling out an application form, read the question carefully. If the question says ‘tell me about a time when you came up with an alternative way of…’ ask yourself, why is this being asked? What will it tell the employer about me?

The STAR technique is a great way to structure any answer.

Situation – what is the situation? 

Task – What was the task or challenge you faced?

Action – What actions did you take to complete the task?

Result – What is the ultimate result of your actions?

Example STAR question & answer: 

Describe a situation in which you overcame a challenge. 

Situation: As part of my role as the Vice-President of Warwick University’s Business Society, I was responsible for organising termly networking events for all members.

Task: A day before the event, I was informed that the hall booked was no longer available for use, meaning I had less than 24 hours to source a new venue, and update all attendees.

Action: I spoke via telephone to the Head of Campus Events. I calmly explained the situation and informed them that a new venue was required. I then visited some venues to determine a suitable replacement. Following this, I sent emails to all attendees and social media announcements, to inform students about the venue change. I also took the time to telephone local businesses attending, in advance, to ensure they had the most up-to-date information.

Result: My clear communication skills and sound ability to relay information meant I was able to deliver new venue details to attendees. The event was a huge success with 230+ attendees.

3 additional application tips

  • Never EVER lie. Don’t even embellish. If you lack some skills, highlight these as things you seek to improve. You will have plenty of other positive skills that will show an employer your potential.
  • Do your homework about the company – both before you complete the application form (to give yourself the best chance of getting interviewed), and then prior to any interview or assessment centre. Check out what the company is doing – a great conversation starter for your first day.
  • Spell check! Do not assume that the application form is auto-corrected, as many employers ensure this is switched off. If spelling is not your strongest attribute, be sure to use online tools such as Grammarly, or just Word’s spell-checker to ensure your answers are well-written.

Tailor your CV and cover letter

Laura Bielby, Faculty Placement Manager

Laura works in the Durham University Careers & Enterprise Centre as the Social Sciences & Health Placement Manager. She has 7+ years of experience in the Undergraduate Talent market.

Laura is responsible for all aspects of placement support and provision for her students, with a focus on year-long placements both within the UK and internationally.

“Now more than ever it is important to take the time to make tailored applications. That means changing your CV and covering letter for each role you are applying for.

Make sure it evidences the skills and experience as outlined in the job description, and it relates to the specific employer and job you are applying for. I always say to students in my appointments; remember, it isn’t what your employer can do for you, but what you can do for your employer!

By highlighting how YOU specifically are suitable for a role, you’ll be able to represent who you are as an applicant and what you bring to the table. And that’s why it’s never good to copy CV examples from the internet. Employers can see this and you won’t come across as authentic.”

Instead, read this handy little blog to help you Write the Perfect Student CV.

Tips for making your CV work for you (and your employer)

You’ll have lots of things you’ll want to include on your CV. But only include the most relevant skills for that role. For example, experience using VLOOKUPS and Pivot Tables is great for an accounting CV, but might not be the most suitable when applying to be a fashion designer.

Use examples and statistics to support what you say. For example, ‘I used Adobe Photoshop to design new social media templates that increased Facebook impressions by 46%’ is better than ‘I improved the social media strategy.’

Engage in extra-curricular activities

Kitty Lantos, Senior Account Manager

Kitty works for RateMyPlacement’s sister company, On-Campus Promotions. Her role involves attracting early talent and recruiting undergraduate students as Brand Ambassadors.

Kitty manages the recruitment of Brand Ambassadors for a variety of Top 100 Employers, such as HSBC, so has excellent knowledge on what it takes to be a great candidate.

“When looking for stand-out candidates, students who actively engage in extracurricular activities are pushed to the top of the list.

Your experience might not directly match the role, but having a position of responsibility means you’ll probably have soft skills that are transferrable to new environments.

Having part-time work experience also demonstrates your employability. You may have had an interview for a supermarket job, undergone some training, or have a list of tasks that your employer trusts you with.

Shout about what you gained from your job and how it’s prepared you for other roles.”

Society engagements

Society connections are key in demonstrating how you have taken on extra responsibility on top of your workload at university. Whatever role you play in your society, you are part of a wider team and that is something you will also experience in a placement or internship role.

Think about the following when speaking on your experiences:

  • Have you collaborated with other exec members? What role did you take on?
  • How have you contributed to the growth and development of the society?
  • What initiatives have you been a part of e.g. event planning, fundraising, marketing?

Also, your society might have been involved in a competition or even won awards. Make sure you include these on your CV, as it will help your application stand out even more. Showing how your contribution led to recognition is a great way of showing passion and drive.

Ace your assessment centre

Ruby Thompson, People Director

Ruby works in HR at RMP Enterprise, managing and nurturing a team of 50+ employees, across all components of the business.

As part of her role, Ruby manages the entire application process for placement student and intern roles, conducts telephone and in-person interviews and coordinates assessment centres.

“Eliminate your inner saboteur and ignore your imposter syndrome… you have been chosen to get to this stage. Let that give you the confidence you need walking into that assessment centre.

Confidence is a fantastic vehicle for you to demonstrate your skills. But, it won’t get you the job on it’s own. At this stage, you need to be able to talk the talk AND walk the walk.

Depending on the employer, this may be the first chance you get to speak to an actual human being. Doing your research to establish how you communicate with them is incredibly important. There will be huge differences between a corporate environment and that of an SME or a charity.”

The group task

Most employers will incorporate a group task to assess your teamwork skills. If a leadership role isn’t your natural position, don’t worry! Whatever role you play, ask people in your team what their opinion is and really listen to their answer, and offer your own opinion in return.

Be the scribe, be the timekeeper, be the challenger…

There is so much opportunity to add value in a group situation. Importantly, in that moment the other candidates are not your competition, they are your team. Treat them as such so that you’re being authentic in how you treat others.

Most firms are now only conducting assessment centres online. Read this blog to discover how to prepare for your virtual assessment centre.

With these exclusive insights from 5 industry experts, you can now build, tailor and successfully deliver your placement and internship applications.

Good luck!