The 6 ultimate work placement survival skills
Long before I embarked on my Year Abroad I knew that I wanted to find a work placement for my time in Germany. I had been pre-warned by professors, tutors and other students, that not many people actually chose work as an option since it is a bit more risky trying to find a position and most prefer the more relaxed hours available with ELA (English Language Assisting) or study. I was still determined - I wanted the experience and you’ll know what I mean if you’re as career orientated as I am.
I was lucky enough, and persistent enough, to find a work placement that would pay me and for the full twelve months, but having been here for almost ten now, I will concede that there are aspects to it that are tougher than perhaps other options might have been. The hours are certainly longer, which is great in a sense because you don’t have to invent activities to fill your time, but it is also pretty tiring. The bonus is of course, that you are paid correspondingly more for your time. It is definitely worth applying for a placement, I’ve still managed to get an awful lot out of the free time I have and I’ve experienced what you might call ‘real life’ Germany from the point of view of a working adult. Some aspects of a placement do require a bit of navigating though, so I came up with a quick survival kit to help ease out the less smooth aspects of starting full time work for your year abroad.
1. Relentlessness while you’re applying
One of the main turn-offs for a lot of people who would like to try a work placement, is actually having to find one yourself. There is no easy application form, you have to find the placement yourself and then apply for it and you may have to deal with a fair amount of rejection, as with any application process. Definitely start early; applying in September and October may seem over the top, but there really are placements that start offering then and there may be a lot of administration to go through once you have got the job. It’s also never a bad thing knowing early on that you already have a job - it’s a weight off your shoulders. You should hopefully be sent a lot of opportunities via your university’s mailing list or message board, and you can definitely search online to find open placements but don’t be afraid to solicit opportunities too- a company you really love might surprise you by making space for an intern. You can never be too keen or apply for too many placements, it’s hardly a worst case scenario to have spare offers to turn down; this tactic will definitely help you to deal with rejection as well, just shake it off and push out the next job application.
2. Persistence vs Expectations
A lot of bigger companies take on interns but don’t initially trust them with any tasks, or sometimes people don’t even realise the intern is available to help on tasks, which can leave you a tad work-less and lost. Two things combat this quite quickly. One is to not come into the job with too many expectations; your job may not be exactly what was written on the tin but any experience is good experience and you may have to adjust your expectations to fully appreciate the work you are getting. Add to this a large slice of persistence and willingness- go and find yourself jobs, persistently ask managers and colleagues for tasks and learn not to get grumpy when the work isn’t quite as prestigious as you might like. The more willing you are to do the small tasks that your colleagues perhaps aren’t so keen on, the more trust and respect you will gain in the company. And the more people see and hear you asking for work, the more will arrive at your desk.
Okay, especially in a big company there isn’t always something for you to do and colleagues aren’t there on a job creation scheme for you. Let’s say the work really is going through a dry spell- I’ve had these and you can get them in graduate jobs too- you’ve got to learn to be a bit enterprising and independent. You can either set yourself personal learning tasks, do some personal research or work on something for university (think of it as free grammar practise!), which are all great ways to help you feel like you’ve achieved something while you’ve been in the office. The other option is to look at the last pieces of work you’ve done and see if there are side projects you could do; be careful, don’t go editing documents that don’t belong to you. However, if you can think of something to translate for example, or maybe see a task in your department that you think you could improve or make more efficient, take the initiative and do it. Then show your manager your project, even if they don’t like it, the worst that can happen is they’ll be impressed by your work ethic and find you more to do.
It’s a remarkably tough jump from student living to full time work, I certainly wasn’t expecting to be tired after just being in an office all day, but forty hours a week can hit you hard at the beginning. But it’s okay; you will get used to it and used to making the most of your time outside of work. My biggest tip is to not lose energy after the working day, that extra milligram of effort can mean you don’t go home and just collapse on the sofa, you get up and go out and meet some new people, watch a play, attend an event, the list is pretty endless. The higher you keep your energy levels the better you’ll feel at work too, and the more language you’ll learn overall; it’s definitely worth the effort.
With your own skills I mean. You are getting thrown, hopefully, into an environment with extremely high levels of target language, possibly with the company’s own jargon too. That means you don’t need to think you’re terrible if you don’t understand everything on the first day; it will come. You are getting exposed to a lot of current and high-level language, and that’s invaluable for your business German. So try and be proactive about absorbing it and noting it down, but be patient too, and don’t be afraid to ask what certain terms or words mean as you may well come across terms you haven’t even heard in your first language.
Use your location to your advantage. If you have a choice when you’re selecting work placements, don’t just go for what seems like the dream job or the highest pay; consider where you will end up too. You may end up deciding that who you work for is more important than where but if, like me, you don’t have a particular attachment to any one company, then have a look at what different parts of the country you could go to. It could be of particular historical significance, or personal significance, it could be well placed for travel or just be somewhere completely new for you. Whatever it is, life outside of work is very important too and an area can really make that special for you. If, however, you don’t have the luxury of choosing between placements- don’t panic! Look up your local area and get excited before you go, don’t leave it till six months in to discover how far that extra bit of wage can get you. There will definitely be more to see than the inside of your office. And if you’re job sometimes ends up less satisfying than you’d hoped, you’ll have a great distraction available for after work.
If you’re passionate about getting a career boost or a working experience don’t be afraid to take this opportunity. It’s a half-way house between university and full-time work because you still have the support from all of your Year Abroad facilities and you can often get Erasmus, or some other form of funding, to help buffer any financial qualms. I think there’s a lot to be gained from throwing yourself into work for a year and I hope more people get the courage to start applying.