How to find an industrial placement for your IT degree
Computer science graduates who completed an industrial placement are less likely to be unemployed six months after graduation than those who didn’t, according to a government-commissioned report.*
Industrial placements are also known as a year in industry, placement year or sandwich placement, and are an opportunity to work full-time for a business for six to twelve months, typically in the penultimate year of your undergraduate degree.
Most of the IT placement student roles we see advertised are in software development and programming, project management and technical support. Employers hiring IT placement students tend to be technology and software companies, professional services firms, engineering firms and consumer goods companies; however, your university is likely to know of local businesses that take on students too (more on this later).
Even freshers need to work hard if they want a placement
If your first-year grades add up to a 2.1, there will be more organisations that you can apply to. Allianz, Atos, BAE Systems, CGI, G-Research and IBM are all examples of placement employers that want you to be on track for a 2.1. But don’t panic if you don’t think you will achieve this. Balfour Beatty and Network Rail, for example, require placement applicants to be on track for a 2.2, and some smaller employers will be less specific.
Apply early for the best chance of getting a technology placement
Don’t be surprised if employers close their applications before the stated deadline. If they get plenty of good applications early on then it makes sense for them to stop accepting more. To make sure you don’t miss out, start making applications as soon as they open at employers you like. Applications could open as early as August before you start your second year. IT placement deadlines with larger employers often fall between the end of October and the new year, but some employers, particularly smaller ones, accept applications right up until the summer before the placement is due to start.
Don’t let location hold you back if you don’t need to be based in a particular part of the UK.
Prepare to make multiple placement applications
Quality, rather than quantity, is a good mantra to go by; however, you shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket by only applying to one or two employers. On the other hand, there’s no point applying to organisations that wouldn’t be a good match for the type of work you want to do.
Do your research to find a good number of technology employers you want to apply to – we suggest you narrow it down to between five and ten. Use our technology employer hubs as a starting point and follow up on any employers that your university tells you about. Good research into what the employer does and what the placement role involves will also help you with the ‘Why do you want to work for us?’ question.
Be open-minded. Think about what’s making you rule out certain placement vacancies and whether it’s a good enough reason not to apply. For example, don’t let location hold you back if you don’t need to be based in a particular part of the UK; plenty of placement students relocate for the year and find a new social group for that time, while not losing touch with their uni friends.
Good applications can’t be rushed, so schedule in time in advance to complete them. If the initial application involves submitting an online form and/or covering letter and CV, you’ll need to put aside an afternoon or evening to complete it. Less time is needed for applications that only require you to give basic details about yourself at this stage.
Use your university’s placement-finder services
Your university will have staff who specialise in helping students find placements – you should make the most of their expertise. They may be called an industrial placement officer and work specifically with the computer science department or faculty, or they may be part of the general careers service.
Find out who your placement officer is because:
- they will have a database of technology placement vacancies and be able to point you in the right direction for where to look for more
- they will have a bank of tech employer contacts who have hired placement students from your university in the past
- they will know about local employers who take on placement students
- they may also be willing to look over one or two of your applications before you submit them and advise on different parts of the recruitment process, which could include the likes of video interviews and assessment days
Your university will have staff who specialise in helping students find placements – make the most of their expertise.
Go to IT and technology placement events
Universities want their students to successfully find a placement and they put on a whole host of free events to help you. Make sure you find time for them. Your university is likely to put on all of the types of event below; we suggest going to at least one of each.
Placement fairs. Talking to tech recruiters is as simple as having a friendly and interested chat about their organisation and what you are looking for in a placement. If you’re polite and enthusiastic then you’ll make a good impression and they may recognise your application at a later stage. At the end of your conversation you could ask if you could connect with the recruiter on LinkedIn. Some application processes are anonymous, so recruiters won’t always be able to see your name, but you may be able to refer to having met them somewhere in your application, for example when answering the ‘Why do you want to work for us?’ question.
Employer presentations. Take notes as it’s easy to forget who said what once you’ve heard from a few different employers. Afterwards, pick out the things that appealed to you about that employer and research to see if other placement employers offer the same.
Application workshops and information meetings. You’d be unwise to miss the practical information on offer here, whether it’s key dates, what the placement officers can do for you or application tips.
IT’s not just for the boys! event. This is actually an external event organised by TARGETjobs, but it has similarities with some of the above. It’s a day-long event for female students interested in a career in technology, which, among other things, gives you the chance to meet a whole load of graduate and placement employers who are keen to get some good applications following the event. Click here to find out more, pre-register or apply.
What’s the difference between an IT industrial placement and an internship?
Industrial placements are different to internships, though sometimes the terms are used interchangeably. Most employers consider an internship to be shorter than an industrial placement, typically lasting two to thirteen weeks and taking place during the university holidays. IT and technology internships are still a valuable way to get experience in an IT, development or technology role. If you’re looking for an IT internship, you may find the following useful:
- How to get an internship with a big graduate employer
- Which IT and technology employers offer summer internships?
- What to do if you don’t find an IT internship
Reasons to do a placement year in IT
We spoke to Rebecca Cackett, student recruitment manager at CGI, which is a big employer of IT placement students. ‘A placement gives you extra experience to add to your CV that makes you stand out,’ says Rebecca. ‘Other experiences, such as part-time jobs, are good, but industry experience can be even better.’
This is because placements allow you to take skills learned on your degree and find a real-life application for them. Rebecca gives an example: ‘A student applying to us might say that they learned about Java in group work at university, which is great. Even better is when they can describe how they wrote Java code for a client’s system during their placement year.’
Other recruiters told TARGETjobs that graduates who had done placements tended to be more at ease in a business environment.
If you're not on a sandwich course you could see if you can convert to one or be allowed to complete your finals a year later.
Students who have done placement years may also show a particularly good work ethic during their final year of university. Spending a year in a working environment with deadlines and targets can professionalise the way you approach your academic work. Moreover, if your placement turns out to be in a sector or role that you want to go into when you graduate then your final year at university can feel more purposeful.
What if I’m not on a sandwich year course?
If your degree course doesn’t include the chance to do a placement, talk to your course tutor about any opportunities you want to apply for and see if you could convert to the sandwich course or be allowed to complete your finals a year later.
Universities always want to boost the employment prospects of their students, so they are likely to consider your request, especially if you already have some IT and technology employers in mind to apply to.
*The Shadbolt Review of Computer Sciences Degree Accreditation and Graduate Employability, 2016
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