Last year I undertook a placement year in London, as part of my Business with Public Relations degree. The year in industry was completely optional, but I already knew when first applying for the course that I wanted to carry out a placement year. Where that would be, I had no idea.
Before and during my degree, I understood how important experience was for a CV and when it came to getting a job after university. The more I have worked and learnt, I even think that sometimes experience matters more than a degree. Dependent of the industry and job of course. I mean, I wouldn't really trust a doctor that only had a year's experience over a doctor with a medical degree to perform open heart surgery, would you?
Over on my blog, I have a lot of posts regarding internships, work experience and my placement. I documented my entire placement experience every month, interviewed 12 other students on placements and went through the placement application process from start to finish with tips and advice which you can find here.
In this post, I'm going to be detailing the reasons why you should undertake a placement year and the benefits of doing one. I would fully recommend it as it was the best year of my life and I never imagined that I would be chosen to carry out a placement doing the PR for brands such as Gucci, Calvin Klein, Burberry and Hugo Boss among many others.
As I said above, experience is extremely important in the business world, and especially when it comes to public relations. I would always recommend trying to gain as much experience as you can while at university, even if that's only five days here and there or two days per week while you go to university or during your holidays and summers.
A placement year is the best way to gain an insight into the working world as you're treated like another employee in the business and you are there to do the same hours and work like everyone else. This may be your first time in a proper office job and you will learn so much. It will also allow you to see what you don't like, how to structure your life around a full-time job and how the working world differs to university life.
Having a year in industry will make you more employable due to already having experience in a working environment. Experience is extremely important when it comes to interviewing for jobs and showing that you were able to secure a placement during university will let an employer see that you really want a career in the area that you've studied.
Being fresh out of university and being able to say to an employer, 'I've done this, this and this and used these systems and was able to secure x amount of coverage for this brand,' will stand to you in a huge way. Plus you are very likely to be able to secure a job with your placement provider or competitor as you'll be much more employable than someone that doesn't have any experience.
As disheartening as it may sound, this world really is all about who you know rather than what you know. If I was to apply for a job to a company I've already interned with and a company that I have no connections with whatsoever, more than likely I would receive an interview for the former over the latter - even if I was qualified for both. It helps a lot when they already know you.
University is a comfort blanket. Education as a whole is a comfort blanket. Living in halls or student accommodation, having class a few hours per week and partying weeknights and at the weekend. Eating Pot Noodles on the regular, sleeping until 2pm and staying awake until 4am. No stress until two days before your deadline and being broke along with the rest of your mates. So what happens when you find yourself in a full-time job, not living with your friends and thrown straight into the world of being an adult instead of a student?
Carrying out a placement year is a great way to challenge yourself as it's something you're not used to and it will give you an introduction to what life will be like after graduation. Plus you will also have the reassurance that you will be returning to university again afterwards to carry out your final year.
A lot of the placement students that I interviewed said that their placement year made them realise that they don't want to go straight into work once they graduate. They realised that they will have the rest of their lives to work, they're still young and they want to see the world and have a lot more life experience before they commit to embarking on the career ladder.
A placement year is what it is. It's for one year. You'll be able to come back to the final year for one last go at university life and know what's in store for you afterwards. Challenge yourself for 12 months and you'll come out wiser, more mature and more experienced because of it.
You'll know what you want to do long-term
Your placement year will hopefully be in a position that you would hope to have after university, in an industry that interests you and related to your degree. As well as a placement year showing you what you want to do after university, it may also show you what you don't want to do after university.
If you are a little unsure about what it is you want to do after university; a placement or even some work experience will be the best way for you to find out and decide whether the career path you are pursuing is for you. You might realise that while working in PR, you think you may prefer Marketing more. Or maybe the Sales department is more of your vibe. Being in a business environment will allow you to see all the different departments that make a business run - if you aren't in an agency, that is.
I was lucky that I had a PR job in-house but that was also quite like an agency in itself as there were 18 brands that we were working on. Being in-house allowed us to liaise with the Marketing department, Sales department, Visual Merchandising department and Forecasting department among others. It allowed me to see an entire campaign come to life from start to finish and how each area contributes to the running of a campaign.
I also worked with a lot of other interns and was able to get an insight into what it was they were doing and compare my own job to theirs. I was able to ask questions and determine for myself whether I thought I might be better suited to what they were doing than my own job. Which wasn't the case, as I loved my PR job and PR team more than anything and wouldn't have wanted to work in any other department.
The opportunity to live somewhere new
When it came to applying for placement positions, I was very open to the possibility of relocating and living somewhere new. I had lived in Liverpool for two years and felt it was the right time to try somewhere new as I felt like I had seen and done most things that Liverpool had to offer. I had no specific place in mind that I wanted to move to; it would be determined by the job that I was successful for, so I applied everywhere.
I'm a huge believer in 'what's meant for you won't pass you' and so I knew whatever job I was chosen for, would be the right one for me. That job just so happened to be in London. Moving to London wasn't the easiest task in the world, and I can tell you that finding somewhere to live has to be the most stressful thing ever but you'll always find somewhere that is just right.
I was so excited to move to London for a year, and at the time I was only 20 years of age so never actually expected to be living in London so young. It was the best year of my life and also made me realise how much I loved Liverpool and has given me a huge appreciation for the city that I now call home.
Living in London, I knew that I only had 13 months and so I had to make the most of it as it was going to be over so quick. I made a London Bucket List to ensure I ticked off as many things as possible, and I'm glad to say that I did just about everything. I would definitely advise moving somewhere new for a placement year as it's only for 12 months and you'll be able to return to your university city/town the year after. It will also make you realise just how amazing your university town is and help you make the most of it when you return for the final year.
This article was written by Orlagh Shanks, a PR student in Liverpool who spent a year working as the Luxury PR and Influencer Marketing Assistant at Coty in London. To find out more, visit her PR and student blog at www.orlaghclaire.com
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