Profile image of Daria, an English student

March 1, 2022, by Leah Sharpe

My Journey to Securing an Optional Placement Year

By Daria Paterek, English student

Despite being an English undergraduate, I discovered my love for marketing during my first year, when I managed a university society’s social media channels. This experience led me to gain work experience in marketing, which solidified that I wanted to pursue it as a career.

After browsing work experience opportunities on the university website, I discovered that I could do an Optional Placement Year. On paper, arranging it did not sound too hard. In reality, navigating the job market is much tougher than it looks. I have made mistakes along the way, but I am glad to have secured a Social Marketing Placement with Waitrose. It was not easy, and I made mistakes, but I learned so much throughout the process.

The job hunt

I started my job hunt through LinkedIn. It was daunting. I would often see placement listings that had over two hundred applications. It made me realise how truly competitive job hunting is. Also, I was intimidated since I was competing against marketing students; I believed that it put me at a disadvantage.

My job hunting strategy was not very cohesive. At the beginning of my job search, I applied to everything and anything that had ‘marketing placement’ in the job title. As a result, I was sending a lot of lazy CVs and cover letters. I was so preoccupied with securing a marketing placement, that I did not step back and think about what I wanted to achieve from a placement.

After many failed applications and two final round interview rejections, I started expanding my search through platforms such as Indeed, RateMyPlacement, and Reed. Being open to different opportunities and companies is vital. Whenever I received an email inviting me for an interview, I was anxiety-ridden. At the beginning of my search, I dreaded interviews. I was nervous about presenting myself on camera. The way I looked, the way I sounded, my body language. However, the more interviews I did, the more comfortable I felt. I started checking Glassdoor for past interview questions, arranging mock interviews with friends, and seeing interviews as a two-way street.

After numerous job applications, stressful weeks, and too many automated rejection emails, I was able to secure my dream placement. Navigating the job hunting process has been a very educating (albeit stressful) experience that I have learned a lot from.

My advice

Decide what you want

Be specific about what you want from a placement. What skills do you want to learn? What industry and role do you want? What are your salary and benefits expectations? Start by thinking about the things you want from a placement, including (but not limited to) industry, position, company culture, etc.

Take your time

While it is best to start searching for a placement as soon as possible, you have plenty of time to apply. A placement year can commence any time from the July following your penultimate year of study. Some companies only start advertising vacancies in January/February. So, don’t be disheartened if you have not signed a contract by December.

Be open to opportunities

Large companies that offer placements will naturally be competitive. While the chance of success is lower, it is still worth applying! However, be open to working for smaller companies. There are so many opportunities out there. Do not limit yourself.

There is support if you need it

It is normal to struggle with placement hunting. If you need any support, there are many ways to receive it. You can reach out to the Careers Service for help, which I did many times. I received personalised advice about assessment centres and presentations. You can also reach out to the Placements Team, who can direct you to current placement students, and resources. If you want to reach out to a wider group of people then LinkedIn is always an option.

A placement year is an amazing way to gain experience and truly pursue your career ambitions. Despite the hardships that I have experienced along the way, securing a placement was an incredibly rewarding experience.

If you’re keen to explore a specific area of interest, build professional skills and ease the transition into working life, find out more about undertaking an Optional Placement YearAlternatively, check out other work experience options. 

Posted in InterviewsWork experience