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Get the Most out of Your Placement

by Rob Cross on March 24th, 2010

Sitting in the Corner

On Thursday this week an email arrived in my inbox with a spreadsheet attached. In that spreadsheet was a list of all the Graduates and all the placement students in our company. As a Graduate Programme manager I make sure that I know everyone of these people. However, on Thursday as I scanned through this new list I saw a name that hadn’t been there before.

‘That’s interesting,’ I thought to myself as I checked out who this person was on the directory. Under their name it said that they were a Placement Student. Instantly I picked up the phone to find out more. It turned out that this was true, Mark was a placement student who’d been working in the company for the last 8 months. He’d been brought in through one of the ‘alternate routes’ rather than through the central system, which sometimes happens. And it was only now that the standard reports were showing that he ‘existed’.

“So are you planning to apply for a job with our company once you Graduate?” I asked Mark after he told me his story.

“Probably,” he replied.

“But I haven’t really enjoyed my time here,” he continued. “I don’t really know anyone and all I’ve been doing is sitting in the corner and analysing spreadsheets for the entire time.”

‘Wow,’ I thought, ‘poor guy.’

After setting him up to talk to some other people so he could find something more interesting to do, I wondered why he wasn’t doing more to get the most out of his placement.

Get the most out of your Placement

Generally I see that there are 3 reasons people do a placement:

  1. Their course requires them to
  2. They want to get the experience to build their CV
  3. They want to land a job with that company once they Graduate

Regardless of the reason you’re doing a placement, it is essential that you use the opportunity to the best of your advantage. And, unlike what Mark was doing (i.e. sitting quietly in the corner) this means doing 3 key things:

1. Know what you’re seeking to achieve

Whenever you start any new job or project, always think about what you want to get out of it! This doesn’t mean being purely self motivated, but on a placement you have a great opportunity to develop new skills and new contacts. So if you start with clear goals in mind, you can be more focused on achieving them. For example, if you want to get experience in a specific area of work, then make sure you tell your manager this, as they will usually help you achieve it.

With Mark, he had a goal of trying to get a job after Graduation, but I had to ask him to find that out. If he had made his goal explicit, like other placement students, he would have hunted me down and told me what he was trying to achieve, and then I could help him.

So morale of this part of the story is that if people don’t know specifically what you want to achieve during your placement, they can’t help you – you have to have goals, and you have to make these goals known!

2. Build Your Contacts

One of the things I find is really common in organisations is that most managers are happy to spend time talking to new people. And more importantly, they’re happy to talk about themselves to new people – managers love talking about themselves!

With this in mind, against the goals of what you want to achieve, make sure you build your contacts. This doesn’t mean you have to be a ‘networking freak’ who cold calls every manager in the business, but I would encourage you to pick out certain managers and schedule some time to buy them a coffee. When you do this, make sure you start the conversation asking them about their current role, their experience and then, any tips they have for being successful. Then talk about yourself and what you’re trying to achieve. Every manager I know (including me!!) loves this because it makes them feel important as they impart their worldy wisdom to help someone, which gives you the perfect opportunity to build your contacts.

As with my statement above, after they’ve talked about themselves, make sure you tell them what you’re trying to achieve. If they don’t know this, they can’t help you!

Even 30minutes of some-one’s time can open up a range of opportunities for you, if you’re prepared to ask. So do not sit in the corner, get out and make the time to talk to people. This is how you’ll get known and how you’ll find out about new opportunities.

3. Use your Initiative to Get Involved

When you start your first professional job, knowing where the boundaries are can sometimes be tough. For many Students and Graduates, the fear of getting it wrong too often prevents them from really showing what they’re capable of. This to me is a flawed approach. With any Student or Graduate, what I want to see is them using their initiative and getting involved in things. If you just sit there doing only what you’ve been asked (as with Mark and his data analysis), you’re not really adding a huge amount of value to your boss or your company. So…seek to get involved.

How do you get involved?

One way is to use your initiative to look for simple things that aren’t working and fix them – I call this positive dissatisfaction and positive impact! Over my years of working I’m yet to see an organisation where every-thing’s perfect. This therefore gives you plenty of opportunity to do other value adding things to show what you’re capable of. And, a good place to start with this is to find out what’s keeping your boss awake at night.

As you look for things to get involved with or to fix, be sure to start small and build up. I’ve seen too many people take on too much too quickly and fail to deliver. So be sure to start with ‘quick wins’, or ‘low hanging fruit’ as they say, and build up to bigger things from there.

It’s amazing how often fixing the simple things will help you get noticed…so don’t ever be afraid to show your initiative and get involved!

A Last Thought…

Regardless of the reason you’re doing a placement, it is essential that you make the most of your opportunity. However, to do this you have to drive it – you have to make it happen. Within every organisation I’ve seen there are always people or managers who will help you, but as the saying goes – you have to help yourself! If you sit there in the corner like Mark waiting form someone to find and help you, it’s unlikely to happen. But…if you know what you want to achieve, if you get out and make contacts, and, if you show people what you’re capable of, then you will get the most out of your placement!

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