Maria's placement year - applying for a placement

by Maria Clark

Hi, I’m Maria, a third-year English Literature and Creative Writing student. I’m currently completing my placement year in Utrecht, the Netherlands. After going through the placement process last year, I’m here to give you all my tips and advice! You can follow my placement adventure on @words_of_the_wanderer_ on Instagram.

I’m currently in my third year of an English Literature and Creative Writing degree, and I chose to do a placement year. This means that for this academic year, I’m working a 9-5 job in the Netherlands.

But how did I get here? When students first start to consider a placement year, they get worried about how exactly to find a placement. If that’s you, don’t worry. I’m here to talk you through the different parts of the process.

Maria and her friends

My best friends and I

1. Start to consider the type of job you might like to try

Your placement year aims to strengthen skills that are related to your degree scheme but to also develop your interests and give you an insight into a particular industry. When you start your placement module, you’ll be encouraged to consider different industries or job roles that might be suitable for you. There are many different questions you can ask yourself for this. For example – what are your interests? Hobbies? What are your strengths? Weaknesses?

For example, as a Creative Writing student, I wanted a placement that would allow me to enhance my writing skills in a professional context. This is why I’m working as an Online Content Intern with Eurail, in the Netherlands (more on that later). However, one of my best friends studies Business Administration and was researching job roles that would allow her to pursue her interest in the consultancy sector of her industry.

There’s no right or wrong answer with the type of job you choose. Some degrees offer more structured placement years, where the placement is already provided for you, but others, like mine, give you complete freedom to decide what you want to do.

2. Start building up your application

Even if you're only just starting to think about your placement year, starting to prepare for job applications is essential. This includes updating and improving your CV and cover letter, creating a LinkedIn account, and doing any activities that would develop your skills for the placement. However, you don't need to worry about doing this right away. All of this is covered in the Placement Module offered by Lancaster, where you'll receive step-by-step guidance on how to create the perfect application.

Having a basic application foundation will really help when you start your search for a placement year. Yes, you have to tailor your application for each company, but having the building blocks ready will really save you time and effort.

3. Research placements

If you're starting to get an idea about the sort of placement you'd like, start browsing for what’s actually out there. You'll be given a list of different career websites where you can search for upcoming placements, and it's always good to have a look at what was offered for the previous year, to see what kind of jobs are available and when they were first offered. This means that you can be prepared for when they start to open for the next year's intake. Add these websites to your Favourites in your browser, so you've got them ready. Trust me, it will make the process a lot easier.

Identify potential placements

The second year has begun and you need to start applying for placements. At first, it might seem a little frightening, but the important thing is to start as early as you can, to give yourself time to manoeuvre.

You should already have a basic application ready, as well as an idea of the placements you like and when they might be offered. Depending on the industry you're looking at, placements start to appear at different times. Big business companies, for example, which offer specific placement year schemes, tend to offer from the September of your second year, with a start date of the following year. With your career websites saved in your browser, make sure to check them regularly to see which placements are available, and then apply for them as quickly and professionally as you can.

However, some industries may take a little more time. For example, I was initially considering a placement year in the publishing industry, but these placements are far more limited and tend to only be offered from the March-April of your second year. In this instance, it's important not to panic! If you're interested in a placement that hasn't been offered yet, but your friends on other courses might already be making applications, there's no need to stress. Remember, you usually have until August before the start of your placement year to find your job, so there's plenty of time.

4. Applying for placements

So, you’ve found a few placements that you really like the sound of, and want to apply for them. Go for it!

It’s time to tailor your application, brush off that CV and send in your application. I’d recommend making an Excel spreadsheet of the placements you applied for and the date, so you can keep track of your progress. This helps you to remember whether you have been accepted or rejected from certain placements and whether you need to follow up on others.

5. Interviews

If a company is interested in your application, chances are you’ll have to continue the application process to an interview stage. This will vary depending on the type of job and industry.

Some placements will ask you to just complete one interview – which could be a telephone, virtual, or in-person interview. Others will have a more rigorous application process, which may include several interviews, a task and psychometric testing.

For example, one placement I applied for required me to do a written application task related to the company materials, to show my capability as a writer. Then, this was followed by both a telephone interview and a video interview (due to COVID-19). On the other hand, with my current placement, I only had to do one video interview before I was offered the job.

Again, all of this may seem scary, but you are supported by your Placement Team at all times. In both your first and second year, you’ll take a look at the different types of interviews and testing you might have to do, and how to prepare for them. When the time comes, you can also book mock interviews and testing with the Careers Service.

Utrecht city centre

6. Accepting or rejecting a placement

If you’ve been offered a position for your placement year, congratulations! It’s an incredible achievement, and you really must celebrate. Now, you can breathe a sigh of relief and start to focus on the rest of your second year properly.

If you’ve been offered multiple job offers, make sure to think carefully about what each will offer you. What can you see yourself doing, day in, day out? What’s really important for you to develop? Which team did you like best during the interview process?

I had two placement offers for my placement year. One of them was based in England, with much better pay and corporate benefits. The other was based abroad, in the Netherlands, but was a job role I absolutely loved.

If I was looking at the money, I would have chosen the first placement. However, that wasn’t important to me. What was far more exciting was doing a job I loved and working for a company I really wanted to work for. On top of that, being able to move abroad, which has always been a massive goal of mine!

Take the time to think over any offers you have, and the benefits you will get from working in this role. Remember, it’s a year of your life, and could really have an impact on your career direction. If I have one piece of advice, it’s to choose a placement where you can really thrive. And by this, I mean a placement that allows you to work with a skill or hobby that you love, and somewhere you will feel happy and fulfilled.

An award screen on Duolingo

I learnt Dutch in preparation for moving abroad

7. Letting the process run

If you’ve decided upon a placement, it’s time to set it in motion. This means discussing the placement with your Careers Adviser, signing a contract, and doing various other administrative procedures. You might also want to start thinking about your living situation for the following year. Where is your placement based? Where will you live? If you need to find a new apartment or organise visas, it’s always good to start these processes early.

8. Start the placement

It’s the end of August, and everything’s sorted. You’ve got your new work shoes, your new notebook, and you’re about to start a new job. Nervous? Excited? It’s perfectly normal to be both.

Now, it’s time to start your placement year. This is a time that will inspire, challenge and constantly excite you. Are you ready?