Seven tips for getting the best out of work placements

By Liam Horan, Career Coach & Managing Director, Sli Nua Careers

Liam Horan, BALLINROBE Tel: 094 95 42965

At Sli Nua Careers, we host quite a few people of various ages on work placement – 40-somethings on back-to-work courses, young adults in college, Erasmus Young Entrepreneurship Programme participants, and Transition Year (TY) teenagers. It is always interesting to see how different people approach these placements, writes Liam Horan, Career Coach, Sli Nua Careers.

Based on our experiences, here are seven tips to ensure you get the most from placements:

  1. Learn a lot about the company beforehand. Rocking up with one hand as long as the other is just not the way to go. You should be able to engage in an intelligent conversation about the business on the first morning. Know the products, services, prices, and maybe even have a stab at their target market and future plans. Read the website closely. Talk to people who’ve used the business. Ideally, talk to someone working there.
  2. Be very clear beforehand about what you are trying to achieve or learn – i.e. if you’re a business student, let the employer know you’d like to get involved in, or shadow staff members carrying out, activities such as making sales, fine-tuning products or services and managing cash flow. For various reasons, the employer may not be able to show you everything, but once they know the focus of your studies or programme, they can assign you to the appropriate area. That’s half the battle.
  3. Remember, you are probably being watched. Businesspeople are always watching where people might slot in down the line. A TY placement might turn out to be more than that: make a good impression, show a good attitude, and more might come of it.
  4. Finish jobs. Or, if you can’t finish them, flag them to the employer or line manager. Don’t let jobs vanish into the ether. Update people on progress. If you have too many things coming your way, ask for guidance on what should command top priority.
  5. Dress appropriately. Make an effort. Remember, the next customer coming in the door may not know that you’re ‘just’ a placement person. As far as they are concerned, you are a representative of the company, so you should dress appropriately. If it’s an office, spruce up a little; if it’s a mechanics workshop, get ready to get dirty. Again, I refer you to Point 3 above.
  6. Show appreciation. Employers don’t have to let you in for placement. Many don’t allow people in. This one has gone out of their way for you. Having a person on placement can actually be quite stressful for an employer as they try to slot them into a busy work schedule. Likewise, work colleagues are probably going out of their way to incorporate you into their daily routines, so show gratitude for that too. (Okay, if you insist, it’s Dairy Milk, thanks).
  7. Make suggestions. If you see something that could improve the functioning of the place – a new way of doing things, a new product idea – don’t be afraid to say it. Any savvy employer knows that a fresh pair of eyes will sometimes see things the regulars won’t. Speak up. When speaking up, don’t dismiss all that has gone before, but do get your idea across.