Engineering placements can provide an invaluable opportunity to apply the learning and skills you've acquired at university in a real-world, day-to-day work environment.
In this blog post, I offer a few insights on how to select the right engineering placement programme, the importance of creating a spot-on CV and the sorts of challenges you're likely to encounter as you go through the selection process.
After applying to uni you may think that all the stress is over. Sadly the reality is not nearly as simple – and I’m not just talking about coursework and exams.
When it came to applying for engineering placements, my more organised friends had started writing their CVs and cover letters over the summer which meant when the applications opened they were straight in there.
I'd had no knowledge that they were doing this - so when I went back to uni, I must admit, I freaked out a little bit. Luckily applications hadn’t been open very long and no one had received any responses yet. So after weeks (okay, months) of procrastination, I knew I had to buckle down. First things first, my CV.
Hone your CV
One of your most important tools is your CV but getting it right can be a real balancing act.
One of the most repeated pieces of advice I kept hearing was "keep it to two pages" - the reason being, if it’s too long it's widely believed that employers aren't going to give you the time of day. The challenge though was to still provide sufficient detail - but at the same time be clear and concise.
The tone of voice of your CV is also really important. You want to come across as confident in your abilities, but without appearing cocky. And you also want to make sure you're not underselling yourself or putting yourself down.
The key is to be able to talk through all the points on your CV with an interviewer and be able to embellish everything without having all of the information on the page. It’s a fine line and it took me many attempts to get there, but eventually I did.
External feedback on your CV can be really helpful too, so make sure you get a few people you trust to look it over and offer their advice. But be wary of involving too many people in the process or you may just end up with too many opinions which can confuse things.
Refine your search
When it actually comes to searching for a placement scheme, I was overwhelmed by how many jobs there were out there. There were job titles that I’ve never heard of and jobs doing things I could never imagine. It’s not necessarily a straight forward search.
Yes, you can refine the list of vacancies to cut down the thousands of jobs on your page, but you may still find yourself scrolling through hundreds of pages of similar jobs that eventually all merge into one.
You can also search by company, if you have someone specific in mind - but this can be limiting. There are so many companies out there that there’s a high likelihood that one of them does exactly what you’re after but you've not even heard of them.
And don’t make all of your decisions based on the salary, as earning £500 more than your friend won’t make any difference if you’re not doing what you want to do.
Visit a placement fair
Most universities, my own included, run a placement fair early on in the year. This provides the opportunity for lots of companies to come in and give talks about what they do and why we should apply to them. Make sure you don’t miss these events - for one thing you'll get so many freebies you’ll never have to buy another pen!
A placement fair offers the chance to look around, meet people and get an actual idea of what companies do. And you'll get a whole lot more information than you would do by simply reading from a website.
Before I went along, I made a short-list of a few companies I felt sure I wanted to speak to. I arrived at the fair with six companies that I was very interested in. As it turned out, I left that fair knowing that I didn’t want to apply to any of the six I'd shortlisted. Luckily though, I also left with a completely different list of companies that I knew for sure I wanted to find out more about.
For most people, myself included, applying for a placement scheme can be a surprisingly long process. Some companies will start by asking for a CV and a cover letter. Then you may have to do some aptitude tests online. Then there might possibly be a video interview. And maybe an assessment centre. You may feel like it's going on forever.
On the other hand, some companies may simply request your CV and, if they like what they see, they may invite you straight in for a one-on-one interview. Or, your process may be somewhere in the middle. Whatever the scenario, make sure you never go in unprepared.
You may also have to deal with the reality of rejection.
I’ll never forget coming out of my last semester one exam, feeling a large sense of relief, and then an email pinging through from a company to tell me that I'd not been successful. It sucked.
You soon realise though, that as unpleasant as it is, rejection is just part of the process. And every time you pick yourself up I guarantee that you will be one step closer to the placement that is right for you.
Perhaps even worse than rejection though, is radio silence.
Early on in the application process I sent my CV and cover letter to a company that I was really interested in. I got invited to complete the first round of online aptitude tests and a week later received that amazing email saying that I was on to the next stage. Bossed it.
The next stage however was more aptitude tests. Great. So I sucked it up and completed those and a few days after got the same amazing email. I couldn’t believe it. I had been invited to an online interview.
Now, these obviously differ but mine was not the bog standard ‘talking to a person over skype’ type interview. No. Mine was talking to a black screen with a question at the top of it and not even being able to see my reflection. It was weird, but I got that confirmation email that it had completed and that I just had to wait. So I waited. And I waited.
I applied to a couple more schemes in the meantime and did some more aptitude tests but I was still set on this one. Then I waited and waited a little bit more and four months on from my video interview I got fed up and sent them an email asking if they'd had any thoughts.
The reply was ‘…we have accepted someone else to the role but had too many applicants to give specific feedback.’ While I didn’t necessarily want specific feedback a rejection would’ve been nicer than no response at all.
Be ready to act quickly
Luckily I stuck at it. I continued my search and found a whole ream of new roles that really interested me. I applied to a couple and one came back very quickly inviting me to a face to face interview the next week. I was so nervous because I hadn’t been in this scenario so far.
Your university may run mock assessment centres to practice these skills, however the next one wasn't due to occur until after my interview. Thankfully I pulled myself together, went along and gave it my all.
And a week later I got a phone call inviting me to a second interview. I couldn’t believe it.
So I went along, shaking all over, and the following day, got a call offering me the position. I was over the moon!
And that was how my engineering placement with JJS Manufacturing began.