If you’re reading this right now, chances are you're in the same boat that I was at the beginning of this year - weighing up the pros and cons of applying for an engineering placement.
Perhaps you're still considering your options...
Or maybe you've decided to go for it but are unsure just what the process will entail...
Having been there myself, here's my advice on the key things you should keep in mind as you start your application.
1. Be sure you really want it
An important first question to ask is: what do you want to achieve from gaining a placement?
Do you want to show that you can hold down a job for a year? Or are you enthusiastic to develop and establish your own skills by getting some hands-on experience?
There are numerous advantages to taking part in a placement scheme. You'll gain experience in a field you're interested in and see first-hand what a role in the engineering industry truly involves.
Alternatively, a year's work experience might bring you to the conclusion that this isn't the sort of occupation you want to pursue in the future.
Or, it might align with everything you see in a dream job.
What's right for you will in some part depend on the role or discipline you're hoping to move into in the future.
For some careers, there may be less benefit in taking a year out to get real-world experience - with the better route being completion of your university course and obtaining a graduate role.
In my own situation, I decided to study Mechanical Engineering because I knew I could explore numerous disciplines and then specialise in a field I felt most suited to my own taste.
Following the completion of my first year I realised the challenges of the course - and wanted nothing more than to finish my degree and graduate!
When my second year came around, it was even more difficult than the first. But it was also far more enjoyable and interesting - and a reminder of why I'd chosen to study engineering in the first place.
Having decided that taking on a placement was something I definitely wanted to do, now came the hard part - finding and securing one.
2. Cast your net wide for opportunities
You'll find placement roles advertised across a vast variety of websites, but if you’re aiming for the engineering industry or STEM roles, then I'd definitely recommend checking out Gradcracker.
Keep an eye out too for other less high profile jobs postings boards that others may not have come across, as this may give you an edge in applying for roles where there are fewer applicants to compete with.
If you already have a particular company in mind, then it's a good idea to check their careers page for any current listings.
Your own university's careers pages can be a really helpful resource too, as they're specially tailored for undergraduate placements and graduate roles.
Try to get along to some careers fairs too - this is how I came across my most promising leads and it's what led me directly to the placement that I have right now.
I'd also highly recommend you look for reviews of the company you're interested in to see what their employees, past and present, have got to say.
Some reviews may persuade you toward a company even more - while others may put you off completely. Either way, this is information that is better discovered sooner rather than later.
3. Be fastidious in your planning
As you start to accumulate your list of prospects it'll become really important to keep on top of your administration.
Make sure you bookmark the pages of the placements you're interested in as there's nothing worse than identifying a great opportunity and then mislaying the details!
You might also find it helpful to create a bookmarks folder as, before you know it, you may have a long list of jobs postings to keep track of.
Before you start to put together your application you'll want to be sure you understand exactly what the role entails, what skills are required of you, and what grades you may need to achieve in order to qualify.
It's a good idea to check that the location in question is viable for you in terms of transport. If not, then ask yourself whether you're open to relocating for the role.
Avoid the temptation to submit loads of applications just to increase your chances of success.
A well-crafted application could take you hours to prepare - so you'll want to be sure you're investing your time in the company or companies that you feel you really want to be a part of.
Through my own application period, I was severely bombarded by class exams, course work, and projects - whilst also keeping up with a significant workload of lectures.
This meant that at times I would not make an application for over a month, and would then submit several in one go.
If this is the same case for you, just make sure to keep track of the application deadlines for the companies you are most interested in.
4. Brace yourself for some challenges
Once you’ve submitted your application you'll then wait to see if you've been successful in progressing to the assessment stage.
Exactly what this next stage will involve will depend on the recruitment process of the specific company - but one thing's for certain, you can expect to be put to the test!
Many companies will require you to complete a series of aptitude tests involving numerical and verbal skills, as well as situational judgement. Others may proceed you directly to some form of interview (telephone or video or maybe both.)
Situational judgement tests are designed to challenge your ability to react to situations you may face in your workplace, with the employer ranking your decision against a set of criteria to see how fit you are for the job.
This can sometimes appear to be an unpredictable process and there may well be times that you submit answers which seem in line with what a company wants, but that still result in a rejection.
Fortunately there are some useful online resources that you can use to prepare for the testing stage, such as this helpful information on aptitude tests provided by SHL Direct.
Telephone interviews are usually carried out by a HR representative of the company, who will pose a set of predetermined questions to see if you are a match to the requirements of the role.
Video interviews generally consist of an automated question-answer system with a question appearing on the screen, followed by a timer (usually 30 seconds to a minute), before a recording of your answer begins.
Speaking to the camera on your phone or laptop can seem pretty impersonal, and the lack of human communication might throw off your ability to answer questions on the spot.
But just make sure to place yourself in an environment with minimal disturbances - and stay calm and confident - you'll be fine.
5. Stay positive, whatever the outcome
Now you've reached the conclusion of the application and preliminary assessment stage, things are likely to go one of two ways.
Scenario one - you’re invited to continue the process by attending an interview.
Or scenario two - you face a rejection.
No one enjoys the prospect of scenario two and it can be hard to be turned down by a firm you may have been ambitious to join - but don’t let it get you down.
Take the opportunity to learn from the experience and see how you can improve for next time.
Some companies may provide more personal feedback which can be helpful - but if they don't, then you could always drop them an email to ask for further comments or more detailed evaluation of your performance.
In my next blog post, I'll focus on how you can prepare for scenario one - the final interview - and I'll also offer some insights on what life's been like for me in my own Engineering Placement role.
In the meantime though you might like to check out JJS's Employment Opportunities eBook which provides loads of information on roles in the electronic manufacturing industry.