Everything You Need To Know To Get a Placement (a.k.a 12-month Internship) in the UK

If you’re looking for a 12 month placement as a student from the UK university, this is the guide for you. While searching for a job and now for a placement I’ve learned quite a few things about the hiring process. Today, I want to share my countless hours of research and preparation with you, together with advice from the experts.

This post will help you to:

  • understand why placement is one of the best things you can do at university
  • get you ready to find a placement
  • learn the secrets of hiring process
  • how to maximise your chances of getting a job

What are the benefits of doing placement?

Well, a placement is one year work experience in the industry before your final year. The biggest benefits are:

  • Students who have done a placement year graduate with a higher average. Usually it’s because placement gives you the opportunity to see what your life will be like after you graduate so it really inspires you to work harder in your final year.
  • Companies are looking for students who are enthusiastic and understand they don’t have that much experience. Therefore, it’s easier to get a placement compared to the job after the graduation.
  • You can see weather you like the company and / or the industry. It’s much better to find out these things sooner so you can make necessary adjustments for your future career
  • You can get great contacts which might help you to get a job after graduation


A typical process of getting into a big brand company

(Microsoft, L’Oreal, Unilever, P&G, WarnerBros, etc)

  1. Research (What you’ll be looking for, Where you’ll be looking for it) -> (note: go to networking events and talk to your personal tutor -> they might give you great advice and maybe even some personal contacts.
  2. CV (covering letter, application) ->
  3. Test (Numerical, Psychometric, Verbal, Other) ->
  4. Telephone Interview ->
  5. Assessment centre (Group interview / Group task / Presentation, Personal Interview) ->
  6. Final Interview ->
  7. Offer.

Different companies have a little different approach in hiring, so this is not an exact hiring process for every company. For example, some companies don’t include any numerical or logical reasoning tests at all, some of them include numerical, verbal and logic reasoning tests, some do just a numerical. It really depends on the role and the company. However CV, telephone interview and assessment center will almost definitely be in every hiring process.

Basic rules your should already know

  • The more you’ll prepare for each hiring stage, the easier it will be to get hired, even if you don’t have much of experience. The more you’ll prepare for every test, telephone interview, in-person interview, group interview, etc – the easier it will be to get to the top and get hired. That’s why I spent hours before taking L’Oreal numerical reasoning test and I successfully passed it.
  • Don’t prepare for what you think they’re asking – prepare for what they’re actually asking
  • Always think about the benefits for the company and know what you can offer – (Kind of “have your niche)
  • Preparation, enthusiasm, knowledge of the industry (and the company) and showing that you have all personal qualities they look for  is a lot more important than experience (I know this because I didn’t get the job because I was so obsessed with showing my experience rather than personality)
  • Tailor your preparation and CV for every employer you’ll be applying for.
  • Your CV building process starts now. Always try to take as much as possible from life so when it comes to CV you won’t have to lie, you’ll just need to put on paper everything you did. Part-time work, societies, hobbies – everything counts.
  • Oh, did I mention to prepare as much as possible?


Placement hiring process in more detail

Stage 1: Research

Try to decide on what kind of job you’ll be looking as early as possible. I understand it might be easier said than done, but trust me – you can’t get “any” job. If you apply for every vacancy available you’ll probably end up with nothing, because it will be really hard to truly show the passion for the company, role and industry and simply stand out from hundreds of other applications. Those hundred of applications are sent by people who apply for “any job that pays money”. Don’t be like them.

When you decide what type of role you’ll be looking for (e.g digital marketing) you can start thinking about all the qualities that are necessary for this kind of job, what skills you have and what strengths you should point out. This activity is highly time consuming but at the same time it is absolutely crucial to get hired fo_r a placement. That’s the main reason why I suggest you to try to specialize.


Where to find placement vacancies? 

Start with some obvious ones. My university does have a separate page and a twitter account for sharing vacancies. However, there are a lot more options:

Try LinkedIn.com – choose “jobs” in the search bar and type in  “[keyword job] internship / placement” (e.g ” digital marketing internship”, “digital marketing placement”)

Try ratemyplacement.co.uk – you can find many (top) companies posting their placement vacancies there. It’s possible to signup for their newsletter to get all the latest vacancies straight to your inbox, but I wouldn’t recommend that – they send way too many newsletters with way to much crap information and stupid, irrelevant ads.

Try enternships.com – this is an amazing internship vacancies website for working in start-ups and young enterprises. But be careful here – make sure you choose and look at paid internships, because there are many companies looking for slaves (unpaid internships).

Try asking your teachers, personal tutors if they know any business owners who might want to offer a placement for a student. Actually, you should look for nice looking companies and simply email them, even though they might not say anywhere they offer placements – this is a long shot, but it’s one of the best ways to get the most awesome internship easily, because you’ll stand out from the crowd instantly by showing that you’re interested in the company. BUT, make sure you don’t ask for “any internship”, be very clear on what kind of job you’re looking for and what you can offer.

Go to all networking events, companies presentations and other face-to-face meeting opportunities and talk to real people. This is the best thing you can do for your career.

Imagine I want to work for…let’s say HP (Hewlett and Packard). In two weeks time they’re coming to my university to make a presentation about themselves. I show up, be super-friendly, super-interested in their company and roles they have and opportunities they offer, present myself in a professional manner, leave them my CV and go home to fill the application form.

Imagine there is another guy, from the same university, who apparently filled the application form on the same day, same time for the same role. But he hasn’t been to the even, hasn’t spoken to anyone. Can you feel the difference between our chances of getting hired?


Stage 2: CV, Covering letter, application form

How to write a CV:  the best website on how to craft and improve your CV. I don’t think you can find anything better than this one.

Quick summary of what is covered :

  • What information your CV should include
  • What makes a good CV
  • Advanced tips for creating a CV for your success

Make your CV stand out:

if you want that someone would read your awesome CV, you have to make it look good. The best article on how to improve design of your CV. It’s written by Rith Chanpory – user interface designer at Google, so he really knows what he’s talking about.

Here’s just a quick summary of the article:

  • Pick a better typeface
  • Remove extra indentations
  • Make it easy to skim
  • Apply typographic detailing

Covering letter

Again, Kent university did an amazing job by creating awesome guide for good covering letter.


Stage 3: Tests (Numerical, verbal reasoning, psychometric)

There is no magic about these tests, they are designed to test certain areas of your mental abilities – how good you are with basic mathematical problems (proportions, functions, etc in numerical tests), how well you can understand main ideas of the next (verbal reasoning) and to test your personality and individual differences (psychometric tests).

The best single tip I can give you about these tests is: prepare in advance. The only way to get good at them is to practice them a lot. There are certain patterns and once you understand all main problems and how to solve them you should be able to ace any of these tests.

Of course, usually you cannot ace the psychometric test because you don’t know what the company is looking for. These tests are rather testing who you individually are and they either like these features of yours or they don’t.

The hardest tests I had to take were these: http://www.shldirect.com/practice_tests.html

Take your time there and you should be fine with any of the tests you’ll get in the future. By the way, very important to note, that you don’t have to be able to complete every task in numerical reasoning, they are designed the way you wouldn’t be able so don’t stress about that.


Stage 4: Telephone interview

The telephone interview is usually the final stage before the assessment center. You should keep in mind that inviting people over the assessment center is a huge expense for the company so they really want to make sure they invite the best candidates for the position.

There are a few types of telephone interview and it varies from company to company. Sometimes in can be competency based telephone interview in which (usually) Human Resource (HR) member will ask you to tell a time when you were [x] or showed [x] ability. They might ask you to demonstrate innovation abilities i.e. thinking outside the box – how you solved a common problem in the unique way. A lot of companies are looking for innovative people, this is a good article on how to demonstrate that ability.

Other common questions:

  • Why do you want to work for [our company]?
  • Can you tell me an example which would show your entrepreneurial abilities?
  • How do you deal with negative feedback?
  • How do you solve difficult tasks?
  • Can you tell me your [x] strengths?
  • Can you tell me your [x] weaknesses?
  • What do you know about [our] company?
  • What kind of problems [our] company is facing at the moment?
Other questions can ask about other qualities they might be looking for – make sure you have some good, recent and relevant examples to prove you have them. How to know what kind of qualities companies are looking for? They might actually tell you when they’ll invite you for the telephone interview or they might talk about that in the vacancy ad or their own website or blog.


How to prepare:

there is no secret answer on how to prepare for any of these questions. Just be smart about that – do a little research online, there are usually many tips and tricks, even exact questions for many positions in many companies. Here’s great infographic on how to search Google more effectively. Use these tips and you’ll be able to find much more relevant and useful information much quicker. Try to think as an interviewer – what would you ask and what would you like to hear as an answer.

Yet there is another very common telephone interview type – it’s more casual and rather than focusing on your qualities, the interviewer might ask job-related questions and talk about your CV and your previous experience. You can’t prepare too much here, you just have to know what you’ve said in your covering letter, your application form (if there was one) and what you’ve written in your CV.

I would also recommend joining http://www.glassdoor.com/index.htm. They do have many awesome tips for various stages of recruitment process and there are many people who share their recruitment experience from various roles and companies. I was able to find exact telephone interview questions so it’s definitely worth looking there.

Stage 5: Assessment center

Again, at this point, companies have very different methods of evaluating people. The best thing you can do is be yourself, don’t try any new type of personalities here because you’ll look like an idiot. People who work there, trust me, are very smart, they’ve been hiring people for years so they can definitely tell when someone is pretending to be something he’s or she’s not.

It’s important to remember that if you’re already in the assessment center it’s because they like you, so keep doing the good work you have already been doing.

What to expect in the assessment center? There are quite a few options and it’s likely you’ll get a combination of a few rather just one.

  • Group interview – this one is quite awkward because it’s very much like 1-on-1 interview except there are bunch of other people listening to you who are also your opponents.
  • Group task – it’s a sort of teamwork exercise in which interviewers try to see how you fit in the team. Usually there are no determined roles so they also try to see who does what and how people share the roles among themselves.
  • Presentation – my favorite one. You get a topic or a problem (related to your work you’re applying for) and you have to prepare a presentation which you give to a few people (2-3).
  • One to one interview (sometimes just one, sometimes a few in a row) Don’t worry about those interviews – be yourself as much as possible – they’re trying to understand what kind of person you are and see if you fit. If you don’t and you don’t get the job – likely you wouldn’t have liked the work as well or it would be too stressful. Prepare to be able to present yourself in the best light and not to under-represent yourself.

Stage 6: Final interview

many tips are the same, they’re just making sure if they made the right decision. If you lied in the previous stage this is where you really have to worry. If not, this is where you should be totally confident and just stay the way you were, because that’s the reason why you’ve got this far.


Stage 7: Offer.

After a while you’ll get an email or a phone call congratulating you and offering you a position. Make sure they clearly state your salary, working hours, any coverage for expenses, holidays, benefits and give you a copy of employment agreement if you decide to join.


Self-check for maximizing the chances of getting a placement:

Before application

Have I evaluated all the pros and cons of getting a placement?

Do I know what role I’ll be looking for?

Where can I find roles in companies that are most interesting to me?


Application process:

Stage [x]

Do I have a good, readable CV which reflects my personality, is accurate, spell-checked and tailored (points out my strengths according to the job description) to the employer?

Is my covering letter clearly stating my strengths according to the job description?

Do I really want to work in the company / position I am applying for?

Stage [x]

Have I made my research on the company?

Have I thought about all the possible questions and do I have good answers for them?


After application:

Was my application successful? Why? Why not?

How can I improve myself, my CV and my covering letter for the next application? What have I learnt?


Have I missed any important points? Please share your experience and tips in the comments.