If employability is the focus of your study abroad experience, a placement year can help you achieve your goal.
The benefits of a placement year are boundless, as you will spend a year working hands-on in your field. You’ll gain knowledge in the global industry, build networks across borders and graduate with skills you can apply to your future career.
Degrees in STEM subjects are particularly well suited to a placement year, giving you a chance to apply theory you’ve learnt in the classroom to industry challenges, all while improving knowledge and employability.
If you want to apply for a placement year, you’ll need to:
Opt for a university that offers one
You’ll need to apply to a university that offers this option, since not all universities do.
Some universities require you to select this option in your initial application, or you can request to undertake one in your first year.
Explore the university website to see which options are available to you, or email the school if it’s unclear.
Decide which type of company you want to work for
If you’re studying a specific stream of engineering or have a particular career path in mind, this should be fairly simple.
But, if you’re studying a subject such as chemistry or computer science, there are multiple placements can you choose. From research projects to software development, it’s worth looking into the options available to you to find the perfect fit.
You should also consider what type of work you would like to do. Do you want to be an intern while you learn the ropes? Or a research assistant where you will work alongside academics?
If you’re not sure what will be best for you, try considering:
- What do you want to get out of the placement? Do you want a broad overview of the professional workplace, or career-specific experience you’ll be able to apply after graduation?
- How hard do you want to work? Do you want lots of responsibility to really make a difference, or something less intense while you build your expertise?
- Is money a consideration? Large corporations are likely to have bigger budgets than newly-founded start-ups, so this may influence your decision.
It’s worth taking time to decide what ignites your passion as you will spend a whole year of your life completing it.
Find a placement
Most universities advertise companies they collaborate with to provide placement years. You should be able to find this on the department’s ‘career’ website, or through your student portal.
If there’s a particular company you dream of working for but the university doesn’t list them on their website, there’s no harm in reaching out to them directly.
As long as they are relevant to your course, your university should be happy for you to complete your placement there – but you may have to fill in more forms!
You should start looking as early as December to give yourself plenty of time for your application to be received and reviewed. You may have to wait a few months from your initial application to getting an interview, so don’t leave it too late.
Prepare your application
Each role will have its own nuances, so make sure you tailor your CV and cover letter to each one. You can read Study International’s tips on writing your CV and cover letter to maximise your chances.
Some companies may have online applications while others may require you to apply through email.
By starting the process early, you give yourself plenty of time to tailor each application to the role’s specific criteria. This will help show your passion for the placement and showcase your abilities.
Prepare for the interview
You may be asked to attend an interview after your initial application to assess how well you’d suit the role.
If you’re applying for a large company or a competitive position, this will likely be the case.
Interviews can be daunting, so it’s useful to practice some questions that are likely to come up.
Common questions are:
- Why do you think you should get the role?
- How does this placement fit into your career goals?
- How will your studies enhance the skills you bring to the company?
Your interviewer wants to hear what makes you different from other students applying for the placement, so don’t be afraid to think outside the box.
Maybe not this much out of the box though… Source: Giphy
It’s also important to dress correctly for the interview. You might be wearing a lab coat or overalls on the job, but that doesn’t mean you should dress this way for the meeting.
Wear a smart suit for corporations, or business-casual if you’re applying to a start-up with a more relaxed culture. If in doubt, it’s always best to overdress – it’ll make you feel confident and like you belong.
Accept your offer
Hopefully, you’ll receive numerous placement offers by the end of the academic year and before the placement year begins.
This means you need to decide which position to accept. If you’re having trouble deciding, the following considerations can help:
- Where do you see yourself in five years? This placement is an opportunity to kick-start your career, so if one role or company stands out as your dream job, you should go for this.
- Is money important to you? If so, you can narrow your choices down by salary. Alternatively, if the experience is more important, go for the role that sounds most interesting to you.
- What about location? Do any offers allow you to live in an exciting city or beautiful area? Do you want to be close to your university friends? Do any allow you to travel?
Once you’ve decided on a placement, you need to accept the offer. You should reply to the proposal by whichever means the company lays out, be it a phone call, email or face-to-face meeting.
It’s up to you if you want to negotiate any of the terms like working hours or salary, but be wary that other students could accept the offer if you don’t.
You should also contact any other companies who offered you a placement to politely decline their offer, but ask to keep in touch. Let them know if you’ll be looking for further work experience during university vacations or after graduation. You never know – they could be your next step on the career ladder!