27 July 2021

The Student Placement Survival Guide

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Placements are a lot like potted plants. Give them time, care and attention, and they will grow into something spectacular.

We’ve put together this survival guide to help you on placements and make sure your experience is as fruitful as a particularly fruitful tomato plant.

How do I prepare for a student placement?

In all honesty, there isn’t a set way to do this.

Outside of all the admin and contract signing, the best way to prepare is to adopt a positive mind-frame.

A positive mind-frame means you’ll work better and get the most out of your placement.

Be excited! You’re about to embark on the beginning of your potential career.

Do your research

You would’ve done some research before applying for the placement, but it’s always an excellent idea to do some more.

This is the only time Insta-stalking is allowed!

It’s much better to walk into a new work environment knowing a little more about the company you’ll be working for.

Researching shows you have an interest in the company. It might also give you an insight into what you’ll be doing when you’re there.

Looking up their core values and company culture is a great place to start. Also, check out their “meet the staff” pages – that’s always fun.

Know your rights!

Did you know that placement students get the same working rights as those in full-time employment?

On top of that, you’ll also have rights as a placement student, so you might want to check them before your first day.

Have a look at our very own:guide to work experience rights.

Citizens Advice Bureau also has some great, no-nonsense information.

Think about the long term

Yes, your placement will help you gain valuable experience – but where do you want this to take you?

Before you start, think about what you want to get out of your time there:

  • Want to make loads of contacts?
  • Have a better sense of the industry?
  • Attain professional goals?

You’ll likely have 1-2-1s or goal-setting meetings with your manager. These meetings will help to focus your aspirations and are a fantastic opportunity to ask questions.

If you don’t have a long-term plan yet, that’s okay. Your future goals will become a lot clearer as you settle into your placement.

Expect to be given responsibilities, and lots of them

Be prepared to start getting stuck in from day one.

It sounds scary, but you’ll get the support you need to get the job done.

Online might be king, but stationary will forever be queen

Don’t you hate it when you can’t find that one biro you stashed at the bottom of your bag?

Invest in a notepad, a pencil case, and pens. LOADS OF PENS. You’re going to be absorbing a lot of information and probably won’t have the luxury of typing notes into your phone.

Also, any notes you take will totally come in handy when it comes to your last year at uni and, who knows, your future career.

If at first, you don’t succeed, try again

It’s as simple as that. Remember, you’re there to learn. It’s okay to get things wrong sometimes. 

If you feel that something hasn’t gone right, don’t pretend it didn’t happen – discuss it with your line manager or a more experienced colleague.

Just try not to break anything.

Ask questions

NEVER be afraid to ask questions. 

Anything you don’t understand, anything you need – ask.

It’ll help in the short and long-run.

Get to know your colleagues, and let them get to know you

You’re going to be around them for a year. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself.

If you get an invite to a team lunch, attend!

After work drinks, attend!

Work-related fun activities, you already know – attend!

Colleagues aren’t just temporary acquaintances. Think of them as contacts. One day they could help secure you a job.

It also helps to be kind, so smile and be friendly.

Sleep better, work better

“I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” Sure, Jan.

Honestly, a good sleeping pattern makes a huge difference in productivity and mental wellbeing.

It’s natural to want to impress and go above and beyond, but that should never be at your own expense. You’ll burn out quickly.

Learn to switch off at the end of the day. If you’re working in an office, try not to take your work home with you.

When you’re working from home, close that laptop and put it away. Cook something, watch Netflix, relax!

Find out who your mental health contacts are

Around 820,000 people suffered from work-related stress, depression, or anxiety in 2019/20. 

That’s a lot of people.

Find out who your mental health contacts at work are. If you find that you are struggling at any point, know that you aren’t alone and there are people to help.

If you’re working remotely or from home, a designated space and routine will be your best friend.

It’s tempting to live that ‘working from my bed’ fantasy, but ultimately – it’ll begin to affect both your work and your sleep.

Pick an area in your home that inspires you and work from there. If not – the dining table is always a good shout, or a sturdy desk and chair set up.

Wake up at a specific time, make yourself breakfast, grab a coffee and get ready for the day. 

You’ll be much more productive.

How can I impress on my placement?

Overall, you want to be a yes person while knowing your limits.

Don’t be afraid to really get stuck in, trying out areas in which you might not necessarily be involved.

Above all, remember you’re watering the roots of a career that’ll ultimately blossom.