Fashion // Hints & Tips for Placement Year Applications

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If you are currently studying fashion, whether that be marketing, buying or design related (amongst others), you will most likely have a work placement or placement year option included in your course. As many of you know, I study International Fashion Marketing at MMU and have just gone onto my final year after completing my placement year as a Buying/E-Commerce Assistant. I thoroughly enjoyed my time on placement and I'm sure your lecturers have already started drilling into you how important it is for you to gain a placement year - especially if you have just started your second year. Not only will it give you an insight into a job/company you may want to pursue a career with, it will also give you a heads up on the game with vital experience and contacts once you are looking for a graduate job. I must state that not everyone will get a placement year or decide to take one in the first place; that doesn't mean you are doomed to never find a job once you have graduated, I know many people on my course who have just graduated without taking the placement year option and have already gained jobs in the industry. It's not the be all and end all, but I would recommend it so you can experience not only the application process but also various job roles to give you a better idea of what you want to do, or not do once you graduate. I've decided to write this blog post to give my hints and tips to make the application process a lot easier for yourselves, to help take away some of the stress and to make sure you are fully prepared. Even if you don't have a placement year as part of your course, some of these tips can also be applied to help you find some short term/ part time work experience with a company or an internship during the holidays.

1. The early bird catches the worm

As it's November, a lot of companies may have already started looking for placement students. Make sure you are checking for new placement notices on your University's website/ Moodle page - Sign up to email alerts to ensure potential roles are fed straight into your inbox. The bigger companies, such as River Island, John Lewis and Burberry are more likely to start advertising for placements early and will have usually advertised before the Christmas break so that they can get their interview processes done and dusted. If you see their placement advertisements pop up, make sure you apply as soon as possible - as the larger companies tend to be way more popular with applicants, a lot of the time they will stop accepting new applications once they have received a certain amount, even if this is before the initial deadline that they originally stated. Don't leave it to chance and make sure you finish the application and have it sent off in plenty of time. Smaller companies tend to advertise later on in the year - once they know what budgets they have to play with and how many positions they can offer. So don't panic and think there won't be many placements available after Christmas, but be aware that they can pop up at any point and if you know a company you like is due to advertise make sure you are prepared and have enough time to complete the application. 

2. Do your own digging

I would suggest not solely relying on the advertisements your university provides, not all opportunities will be advertised through this channel, some companies may not advertise a position at all! Social media is a great way to search for and track down a variety of companies, follow them and any associated careers accounts to keep up to date with any impromptu announcements! Although not for my placement year, I landed an internship with AX Paris through Twitter by sending an application in response to a tweet of theirs. There are also specific Twitter accounts such as Fashion Workie and UK Fashion Intern that retweet hundreds of placement and internship opportunities - a lot of which you wouldn't see on your University's page. My university also has a dedicated Twitter account for placements that tweets positions as well as information on relevant workshops and upcoming careers fairs. Some companies may choose to advertise through their own careers page or Linked In account, so either sign up for alerts or keep checking the page for placement opportunities. You may also decide to source your own placement, most companies will have a contact email on their website for careers and ad hoc applications (where there isn't a particular role currently advertised but you are welcome to send in your details). Why not send a covering email to inquire if they offer any placement positions along with your CV? Even if they aren't actively advertising, the company may create a role for you if they think you'd be suitable - you have nothing to lose by asking, just keep it professional and ensure your email will grab the recipient's attention as well as showcase your passion and skills. 

3. Follow instructions

It may be obvious, but follow any instructions the company provides in the advertisement. If they want certain details about you, make sure you include them in your application. If they want you to write 300 words on why you want to work for the brand, don't send them a five page essay. If they want you to send in a 5 minute video with set, specific questions to answer, ensure you have answered them all completely in the time. Each company will have different requirements and the first way they will whittle down the applicants is by seeing who hasn't followed their instructions and done what they were told. If you leave something out of your application or haven't answered a mandatory question, yours will unfortunately be one of the first to be rejected. Give yourself the best possible chance by reading and re-reading the advertisement to fully understand what the company is asking of you. Follow all of the instructions they have set and make sure you have not left any details out or exceeded any set limits. Some of the tasks may seem tedious, but it's vital you complete them fully and don't leave parts out because you don't feel like doing it; you will only be wasting your time by submitting it uncompleted. 

4. Take advantage of resources

If you have a placement year as part of your course, you will most likely have accompanying lectures/ tutorials that will help you to get your CV, covering letter, portfolio etc together. These may also include guest lecturers from placement companies as well as workshops on assessment centres and interviews. My advice will be to attend all of these lectures - it will be relevant for both placements and graduate schemes. Do not turn down the opportunity for your tutor to look over your CV and cover letters - they are there to offer advice and to point you in the right direction as well as to rule out any mistakes you have overlooked. Guest lectures from companies will give you an insight into their working environment and  the roles you will undertake during your time there; this will often help you decide whether the company is right for you. They will offer you a lot of hints and tips for things they look out for in applications and there will also be current placement students there to chat about their experiences and to answer any questions. Even if you don't particularly want to work for that company, the advice they offer will most likely apply to a company that you do. Your lecturers may also run workshops which could include help on interviews, psychometric testing, assessment centre tasks and portfolio building. This is such vital help and will help you to create a stand-out application, so take advantage of what information your lecturers are offering you - one task we covered in an assessment centre workshop was the exact same one I experienced at a John Lewis assessment centre. Your University's employability service may also offer meetings to improve your CVs/Cover letter as well as workshops on interview techniques, assessment centres and online testing, so if you feel like you need some extra help or want an extra boost of confidence before an interview, drop in and see how they can help!

5. Practice, Practice, Practice

A major part of some application processes is psychometric testing - especially for the bigger brands. These will test your abilities on a number of aspects including verbal, critical understanding, numerical and situational judgement in a timed format. These will identify your strengths and weaknesses to a company, show how you respond to certain scenarios as well as to show your ability to cope in a pressurised situation. You will often do these tests as part of an online application, but don't be surprised if you are asked to do them again during an assessment centre/ interview. You will be given a very short amount of time, that will probably leave you with 30-60 seconds per question. In numerical tests, you will have to analyse graphs and statistical data to answer the set questions and in verbal tests you will be given a quote and then asked a question which you will test your understanding of the quote. Most of these will be multiple choice, but even so, on your first few goes you will probably not get to the end of the tests. It's very easy in these tests to panic and go blank, causing you to flounder and take up a proportion of the time - this is completely normal so don't think this means you will always do this. With practice comes better time management and techniques, if you are stuck on a question, skip it and move on - you will have another chance to answer it at the end (if you still have time). Like I said, it's mostly multiple choice, you don't have to generate the answers out of thin air - if you really are struggling and getting to the end, make an educated guess. During personality tests, do not try to pick the answer you think the company wants you to say rather than the answer you would truthfully pick, the assessors will notice this a mile off - remember you might not always be right guessing what they are looking for, try to answer as honestly as you can. Your lecturers will usually provide you will practice tests for you to have a go at, but whilst I was applying I found SHL Direct particularly helpful.

6. Do your research on the company

For each and every application you want to make, tailor it to both the job role and company you are applying for. Not only will it show you have a genuine interest, it will also show you have made the effort to read up on the company and not just copied and pasted your application several times over. Research the company's brand values and ethos and showcase how you can represent these within your own skill set, if you have covered the company in any university or recreational work that you have done, try and mention/include this in your application; you could also include all of this work in a portfolio and bring it along to your interview - the assessor will be more likely to remember the skills you have demonstrated visually to them. Take a look at the company's recent activity, have they launched a new ad campaign? Released an exclusive collection? Launched in a new country? Won any industry awards? Keep your eye on the business news as well as information the company will release on their website to make sure you are up to date with their most recent activities. You never know when a relevant question will pop up on your online application where you can discuss these topics and will demonstrate to assessors that you are clued up on the company and what they are doing. Interviews are also a great way of mentioning any facts or news stories you have found out about the company, it will help conversation flow between you and the interviewer, rather than just being a back and forth of questions and answers, don't be afraid to ask the interviewer questions as well! Make sure you really understand the job role you are applying for and you are able to demonstrate the skills needed to fulfill the position - being able to design and develop a fashion collection is fantastic, but not so much if you need to showcase strong mathematical and analytical skills for a merchandising role. Include all relevant past experiences and university work that will prove you meet that certain job role's criteria, Obviously you may be applying for several different roles, I applied for marketing, buying and PR positions, but just make sure each individual application demonstrates the relevant skills and experiences for that particular role and that you can confidently talk about that area of the business. 

7. Be confident

Video, telephone as well as face to face interviews can be unsettling, unnerving and intimidating. They can catch you off guard and reduce you to a stuttering mess if you aren't properly prepared. Telephone interviews in particular can happen anytime after you have submitted your application without prior warning, so don't just submit and forget all about it. It's imperative you continue your research and practice your interview techniques so you are ready for any unexpected phone calls! In my opinion, I think telephone and video interviews are harder in the respect that you can't read the interviewer's reactions and it's harder to bounce off what they are saying, having some important notes to hand from your research will help keep the conversation flowing and help you talk more in depth and concisely about the topics - as my lecturer says "add a comma, not a full stop". If you have an upcoming face to face interview, do some research on typical interview questions for that job role and practice with a friend or family member to help improve what you are actually saying in response to the questions and to make it easier to speak with confidence - after all, if you've heard the questions before you will already have an idea of the best way to answer and won't be hesitating. Even if you don't feel confident during an interview, try and fake it- nothing will put an interviewer off more than if you can't get your words out. Listen to what the interviewer is asking, take a moment to compose yourself and answer fully, whether it's explaining how you overcame a situation or analysing your strengths and weaknesses make sure you really answer the question. Remember they are human too so don't be intimidated, if you need to hear the question again they will repeat it. Body language is also a dead giveaway, if you act confidently you will look confident to the interviewer, so try not to fidget, squirm or shake. You won't believe the difference in the impression you make if you are sat up straight, maintaining eye contact and above all not looking like a rabbit in the headlights!

8. Don't be disheartened

At the end of the day, no matter how much effort you put into your applications or how much prep you do for the interview, there is always a chance, for whatever reason that you won't proceed any further in the application process. A lot of companies will only contact successful candidates for assessment centres/ interviews, which can be disheartening especially if you have been waiting for a response for a couple of weeks and hear from someone else that they have already been invited.  If you do attend an interview/ assessment centre and don't get offered a placement, this is the stage that they will usually provide some tailored feedback to you about what you did well and what you could improve on. Use this information to your advantage so you can identify your weaknesses and improve them ready for the next interview. Once you have gone through an interview/assessment centre environment you will feel a lot more comfortable the next time round as you've simply already experienced it before. So in theory, the more experience and information you can draw from your initial interviews, the better prepared you will be for the next one and the more likely you will nail it! - practice makes perfect after all. If you do receive a few rejections don't see this as a reason to give up, you never know the next placement you apply for could be the one you are offered. There will be those who have a placement sorted by mid October and there will be those who get one mid July. There will be placements advertised right through from October until August/September, so don't feel as though you've missed your chance and you may as well stop trying. The best thing is to stay positive and soldier on, if you give up you will just make it easier for those who are still trying - make sure you are the one still trying! It won't be easy, it will be stressful, upsetting and make you want to rip your hair out, but if you put all your hard work, dedication and effort into this process you will be much more likely to reap the rewards and secure your dream placement, you just have to believe in yourself!

I hope these tips have been informative and helpful, I know it's just a sort of general overview of placement year applications, but I hope there are a few pointers that will help you on your journey. Obviously there is so much more I could talk about more in depth, so if there's anything you want more information or advice on, I can always write some more specific blog posts catered to those areas, just send me an email or leave a comment and I'll see what I can do :)

Good luck guys! Are you currently applying for a placement year/ internship in fashion? Let me know your thoughts :)

Amie xx

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