Orientation, the first step towards a placement, focuses on three questions: why do I want to do a placement, what are the degree programme’s preconditions regarding work placements, and what are the requirements regarding the content of a placement? Hopefully, this step will give you a clear picture of your options as well as help you decide whether you want to go through with it. In this chapter in the book, you will find two sample placements to give you an idea of what to expect: One concerns a placement abroad and the other a placement in the Netherlands. These examples will paint a picture of the steps that may follow next. It is possible, of course, to skip a step or parts of a step.
Self-analysis provides you with the tools to draw up a personal profile that identifies your competences. In order to learn to identify your competences, you need to have an idea of what your boundaries and barriers are, to be aware of the characteristics of your generation, to have an overview of all your activities (your CV or résumé), and to have analyzed your strengths and weaknesses. Employers also speak in terms of competences in their job descriptions; to speak in terms of competences is to speak the language of an organization. You can add your list of competences to your personal profile, thus displaying your abilities and wishes – a prerequisite when you start exploring the labour market in search for a placement (step 3).
This step describes how to perform a market analysis. In other words, it explains how to find an organization that can offer you a placement assignment that dovetails with the personal profile you drew up in step 2. This chapter shows you what sectors are distinguished by the Chamber of Commerce and also gives a number of examples of industries and sub-industries that belong to those sectors. These overviews provide information on the cash flows between organizations and enable you to identify them as commercial organizations or non-profit organizations. The distinction between commercial and non-profit gives you information about the culture within an organization. By comparing this information with your personal profile, you can find out in what kind of organization you belong. Once you have found a suitable organization, you can focus on potential positions, which, in turn, belong to different departments within that organization. As a result, the placement assignment that you agree on in the end will be as close as possible to the kind of job that appeals to you the most.
Networking is, in short, an important competence on the road to finding a placement. It is something everyone can learn. Some people do it naturally, while others need some incentive and self-imposed discipline. As a student, you are in the ideal position to develop into a good networker. Thanks to all those students and student associations, you have a massive network. Also, everyone is in the same boat, and this lowers the thresholds for starting a conversation.
Networking for a placement does not have to be more difficult than networking for a new bicycle. It is all about having the right mentality:
What it comes down to in practice is reacting to signals of acquaintances: answering their questions, sending them things that they might need, sending them a token of thanks when they have done you a favour, and so on – in short, treating your contacts and the people you meet through them in a social, friendly, and sympathetic way. Once you adopt this mentality, you will notice that you will start enjoying it, even though the results might not be immediately visible. (Van Eeden, 2004, p. 36)
Before moving on to step 5, applying for a placement, here is a list of all the do’s and don’ts of networking:
Applying for a placement starts with collecting all relevant information not only about the position and the placement advertisement, but also about the application procedure and the person whom you are directing your letter to. You can do this through information that the company puts online or sends out via the press or via interviews in, for instance, company magazines. And also via the phone call you make in advance. We recommend you never send an application letter without gaining in-depth knowledge of the addressee.
Basically, every placement provider will expect you to send at least a CV when applying for a placement. In most cases, a CV is all they need, and you might be accepted on the basis of a phone call. Some placement providers also ask for a short motivational text or a letter. If it is possible, placement providers prefer to meet you in person. Only then will you be invited for an interview, so there won’t always be a real interview and, therefore, a full-fletched application procedure.
There are different types of CV. Depending on the organization’s requirements, you can modify your basic CV into a solicited CV or a skills CV. The requirements are always the same: a CV needs to be complete, concise, organized, clear, interesting, professional, concrete, and appropriate. It should also reflect your competences. Application letters also come in different types. A letter written in response to an advertisement can be a bit more specific than an unsolicited application letter. While most placements are found via networking and unsolicited applications, applying via an online form or an employment agency is becoming more and more common. This especially goes for placements abroad, as those involve differences in language and culture.
Always ask someone to proofread the solicited CVs and letters you draw up. Does it fit the organization? Is it not too modest? Is it not too boastful either? Ask someone who is good at editing to look for any spelling and grammar errors. Put the CV down for a few days and read it again. Make sure that the CVs you send to the organizations are the same as the CVs you put on the Internet. Regularly update your LinkedIn profile.
The application procedure for placements usually involves just the one interview, which is conducted face to face or – for placements abroad – by telephone or via the Internet. The interview may be carried out by more than one person. Your CV or LinkedIn profile often serves as a guideline, and a thorough preparation can exercise considerable influence on the outcome. Knowledge of the country’s culture, of the organization, and of your own strengths and weaknesses are the most useful (using the STAR method). Once you realize that it is not only you who benefits from the placement but that you are also an asset to the placement-providing organization, you are ready to meet your interviewers as equals. The more relaxed you are, the better. It also enables you to properly respond to cases, unexpected questions, and language switching. Asking questions yourself is perfectly normal and okay in some countries. At the end of the interview, do not be afraid to ask about the steps that are to follow and the possibilities of remuneration. The application procedure may include a psychological evaluation or assessment. The next step addresses the formalities you have to take care of once you are accepted for a placement.
Once you found a placement, it must first be approved by your faculty. If you can’t get it approved, you can still carry out the placement as a ‘volunteer placement’, which yields experience but no credits. Students usually gain approval for their placement through a placement plan submitted to their lecturer. A placement plan also mentions whether it concerns a final-year project (i.e. a combination with a thesis or dissertation). If the lecturer gives you the green light, you can let the host institution know that the placement can go ahead. The host institution will also appoint a supervisor. The student can then, together with the supervisor and the lecturer, complete the placement contract. The student will also have to check his liability insurance, health insurance, and possibly his travel insurance. A placement abroad also requires the student to make preparations regarding finance, health, travel documents, permits, and safety. This entire procedure takes time and challenges the student to steer a middle course between the university’s expectations (theoretical) and those of the host institution (practical). During the placement, it is advisable to keep a log with notes of the tasks you carry out and what you think of them. Halfway through the placement, the lecturer will carry out an interim evaluation with the student and the practical supervisor. In case there are certain factors that obstruct the placement’s progress, the student should report them to both supervisors immediately. If there are no obstacles, the placement will be over before you know it. What happens then is discussed in step 8.
Once your placement is at an end, you will have to hand in a placement report to the lecturer for assessment. It is proper form to discuss your placement report with the practical supervisor – or someone else within the placement-providing organization – first. Many degree programmes provide an assessment form for the placement provider, but you can also ask your practical supervisor to write an assessment report and to give your lecturer a copy. After returning from your placement, you may have a bit of a hangover: you are no longer an employee and colleague but have returned to being a student. To prevent this from undermining your motivation, you can share your placement experiences with as many people as possible.