The Problem with Placements

It was one of the main reasons I chose Bournemouth University, one of the reasons employers choose Bournemouth students over many others, one of the things I just couldn't wait for and before you know it, it’s all over.

My placement year for Bournemouth University is drawing to an end and what an extreme learning curve, even though I’d worked in a few different PR roles before hand, I have never experienced something like this year and there is a huge part of me that is glad and another part that is mildly devastated and realises I now have to go back to uni and write a dissertation.

“We learn more by looking for the answer to a question and not finding it than we do from learning the answer itself.”

I was lucky enough to spend my year with two huge international companies, both in extremely different sectors and both have extremely different ways of working. For those of you who have read older posts on my blog, you’ll know I had the choice between BBC Worldwide and L’Oreal at the beginning of my placement. I went against my childhood dream and chose BBC Worldwide.

I spent six months working with the Global Brands team on brands such as Top Gear, Dancing with the Stars, Doctor Who and BBC Earth. It’s busy, it’s fast-paced, it has a huge turnover of staff and you work with some of the brightest minds in the industry.

I’ve since spent another four months with Interior Design, Paint and Wallpaper specialist, Farrow & Ball. Distinctly British, extremely creative and genuinely one of the nicest teams I have ever worked with.

Throughout both, I’ve met some lifelong friends and mentors. These companies really do see interns as the future and will invest in you what they can. Neither company I worked for offer this, but some do offer graduate schemes and it could open the door to your place in the scheme!

If you don’t know what kind of PR you want to go into, spending your time with more than one company could be a huge advantage. If you’d like to split your time between two or more, it’d be easier to arrange both before you start! (Have you ever tried to job-hunt and attend interviews when you’re already in full-time work? It’s so hard!)

With the job market getting tougher, the fight for each placement position and even graduate position is hugely difficult and as Bournemouth instil in you, you’ll be lucky to be offered one so you should have good reasons for declining. As much as I can understand this and it is probably the best practice to stick to, one thing my peers and I have learnt this year is that placements are not just about companies picking up the best student. You have to find the right company for you too.

As Fleurie Forbes-Martin emphasises in her interview, you should be asking them questions too. It is far too easy to get swept up in the name, in the brand, in the company or even just the fact a company want you and that will end your placement search.

I've heard of a few different situations arising throughout the placements:  

  • Redundancy
In uncertain times like the current, people are being made redundant left, right and centre and unfortunately that does affect placement students too. With the regulations from the university that you have to complete a certain amount of weeks to proceed to your final year, this does not help however there will many other jobs around, even if they are not specifically advertising through the university, look for temporary assistant/executive roles and apply for these.

  • Bullying
Unfortunately this does go on in workplaces, especially with interns. Many professionals do hold the view that you are affectively their “bitch” and they can say and do what they like to you. This is not the case, just as in a playground, you do have to stand up for yourself and you should get someone more senior involved as soon as possible before the situation escalates.

  • Illness
In this instance, as well as the university, your manager and HR being aware, you may want to consider help from Occupational Health. 

  • Firing
We’ve all heard the rumours of he leaked this information, she slept with her boss, he was just crap at his job etc etc. The reality is, this probably isn’t the truth. To get fired you would have to be doing something completely awful (not saying the above isn’t awful) but I personally have not met anyone who has been fired from their placement year! But, should this happen, don’t give up. Let the university help you through it and learn from your mistakes.

  • Not enjoying work
This I have heard a lot about and this can only be helped by pushing through anyway and hopefully you and your manager can find more enjoyable work for you. The university can again help you through this and can advise you on how best to continue.

If any of these do occur and you do feel you have to move on for whatever reason above or if you have arranged a second placement. Ensure you leave the company in the best spirits. Work as long a notice period as you can, leave a full and complete handover for your successor. Remain working to your highest level of your capability each day. And keep in contact, most bosses will love to hear from you and how you are getting on now. It doesn’t hurt to send a Christmas card with a quick update in! The PR industry is after all, all about who you know, not what you know.

If any of these problems or others occur, the only thing I can suggest is try to deal with it internally in the first instance, whether you use HR, your manager or other methods, fixing problems internally is the best step forward and you should act on this quickly. After graduating there are no guarantees these won’t come up again and there will be no university advisor to back you up then.

If internally doesn’t work, call in your university, and again - do it quickly. Do not bury your head in the sand and hope it will go away because in many instances, it can only get worse. Your university are there to help and support you and don’t forget they have seen it all already!

So onwards and upwards to dissertations and the grad scheme/graduate career hunt with the hindsight and memories that occurred across all our placements this year.

“Experience: That most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.”

A couple of quick tips:

  • Always take a break away from your computer. I am notoriously bad at this. I get far too wrapped up in what I am doing and, luckily I have very good friends who drag me away for coffees and lunch but make sure you do. You only ever go back to your screen in a better mood, revitalised and refreshed – a much better working condition. 
  • During the interview, ask questions. Ask about the team, the workload, the average day, the PR they do (digitally and offline), ask if you can meet the team or take a look at the office. This will not disadvantage you in anyway, it shows you’re interested and you have your head screwed on. They don’t want to hire a misfit anymore than you want to work for one.
  • Tell the university everything as soon as possible. Whether the problem be big or small, that is what they are there for. If you leave things unsaid, they will only build up and possibly reach an unfixable point.
  • Remember every member of your team can teach you something about the industry – even if it’s not book-learning, you may learn how to deal with a difficult team member. Remember you are there to help them all out and work together as a team. 
  • PR is a notoriously bitchy and stressful industry - it’s not personal.
  • Do not let it become your life, again something else I am extremely bad at. When you start working twelve hour days as an intern, you need to sit down with your manager and sort it out. You need to work to live rather than live to work. If you become all about your job, you will lose yourself and it can become very hard to stay motivated and relaxed when that happens. 

Jessica North

Author & Editor

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