Placement life: Here’s what I really learnt

Todays’ goal is to complete, or at least finally start, my ‘Placement year: review and reflection log’ so I can start my sandwich year University assignment which has an ever looming deadline of about 24 days and counting.

The log was supposed to be added to from day one and aims to make you employable as hell for when you’re inevitably thrown into the cut throat graduate job market.

Of course, in between a) travelling up and down the country for numerous 21st birthday bashes b) reading copious amounts of books I would never had the time to at University and c) really not wanting to spend my evenings writing about life in the office I had finally just been able to leave – I still haven’t taken a stab at it. Pretty lazy and pretty stupid I know, but in my defence I don’t know many people who did.

I’d like to add though that if you’re reading this and just about to embark on a placement year – START IT FROM DAY ONE! (I got the very same advice from a guy at an assessment centre and evidently didn’t take it; but that doesn’t mean I can’t give out the same advice now I’m a lil’ older and wiser right?)

In any case, in the name of procrastination and a good blog post, it got me thinking about my ‘placement journey’ and the lessons I’ve taken from tentively venturing into the world of post University life.

Here’s what I learnt.

1. Applying for placements is soul destroying. It fucking sucks. You will feel shit. You will have to apply to a million before you get an interview and be telephone/first round interviewed a million times also before you pass one. Oh, and then fail there a few times too before finally, someone see’s your potential and stops you having to do your third year early without all your friends.

2. Things do not have to go the way you imagined to be amazing for you. If you are as lucky as me 95% of the time you will love your placement even if it is not what you imagined. I had imagined, or rather wanted, a well-structured Placement Scheme for a huge firm in the capital which would lead me to a graduate scheme in said huge firm in said capital.  What I got was a role in a small-medium size company; in a little East Midlands city with only one club; in a smallish Marketing department that after a month or two of me being there got even smaller – down to three and 1/5 infact:

The Three Marketeers et Faye Fridays.


3. Working for a small company is often a more enriching experience. My friend said this to me at the start of my second year but I dismissed her continuing to apply to the likes of Unilever and IBM. But working for a small team/company turned out to be one of the blessings of my placement. Working in a small team means there is nowhere to hide. The brutal truth becomes either give the task to ‘The Placement Student’ or do not have it done at all which is excellent news for you.

4. The power of a good brew. I wasn’t a big tea drinker before I started placement; the team said they would crack me and they did. The power of a good brew in the office is immeasurable.

5. If you’re going for a career in it, you better fucking love it. As part of my placement I work with many agencies and thanks to my manager being awesome (and the agencies also!) I have been given the opportunity to visit a few. This May I visited LIDA, a digital and direct marketing agency in the heart of Soho. The company work in creative pairs and during a whistle stop tour of their office I was introduced to a guy who told me he often spends more time with his creative other half than his marital one. This is true of business men and woman all over the world and during all those hours you’ll put in, whether it’s marketing, sales, lion taming or bloody ant collecting you choose; they’ll be times you just want to leave, so make a mental note to ensure you’re genuinely passionate about what you do. It’s the only thing that will keep you sane.

Here comes the big one:

6. Being happy while you’re young is more important than racing towards the last lap of your career.

This is the most powerful realisation I have had during my placement journey and it is probably what I deem to be the most important. It is this oh so deep and meaningful realisation that has been the catalyst for a decision slowly but surely forming in the back of my mind. If I’m not boring you yet, read on for the rational behind it.

When I was applying for placements I was fucking miserable. It was my second year of University and I should have been enjoying myself at every given second not stressing, moaning and whining over finding a placement. But in my defence it felt like the be all and end all of my future.

When I got a placement it took a while for the blinkers to fade; I was gearing myself up to hit the ground running in my third year, apply for fiercely competitive Graduate Schemes and tough out the application process alongside finishing my degree and ‘enjoying’ the final throws of my student life.

But the thought began to sicken me. More importantly the thought of the above working sickens me too.

Taking a glimpse at post University life made me in no way, shape or form want to rush towards that much discussed first graduate job. I began to realise that (having predictably conducted endless Google searches) there are other ways to come by the fulfilling and successful career I so crave.

I’m beginning to understand that a career path is not as straight, and does not need to be as straight, as you think it should be at the start. (I feel as though I’ve also read this somewhere; Sheryl Sandberg, I’m looking at you). I’ve also been reading a lot of blogs lately about how to be a happy yet, and I quote, self-confessed career women (Hannah Gale, that would be you) and it is all off this, plus things I have seen during my placement and my deep desire to see the world, that has got me ready to embrace a few side steps; a few twists and turns, twists and turns that come in the shape of a gap year.

Because what I have learnt is while, yes, a gap year may mean I cannot go on that career defining Grad Scheme that has you sipping cocktails with CEO’s, it doesn’t have to mean I won’t one day be that CEO every grad scheme student wants to schmooze with at an after work cocktail party…

Have you been on a placement year, or are you just about to start one? I’d love to hear your stories.

Char x