Make the most of your placement year

Published in Renown & Inspiration On May 28th 2015

There really is only so much you can learn whilst in education, luckily many degrees include a year of placement where a student will embark on an internship of some description. I can remember vividly finishing my final semester in the second year of University and thinking I had all my ducks in a row. Designer? Check. Developer? Check. All round sociable guy? Check. Only looking back now, I can see how naive I was.

Recently I graduated from the University of Ulster studying Interactive Multimedia Design— a course structured around introducing students to multidisciplinary skill sets such as: Design, Web Development, Server & Database Management and finally Employability. Last year I partook in an Internship with a local Agency called Eyekiller.

Eyekiller are a full service agency offering web development and digital marketing services, I believe they are one of the best agencies in the country at what they do. Over the time I spent in Eyekiller I learned an incredible amount for which I am forever grateful for. Working with some of the most talented people I have ever met gifted me with the ability to enhance my freelance career, allowing me to become a full stack developer and work in harmony with my brother Paul Wilsdon who is without a shadow of doubt the best designer I know.

Finding a relevant placement can be a daunting task, the idea of selling yourself at such an early stage of your career can leave a fistful of un answered questions. Firstly it's important to define what a great placement year is for you, by setting out what skill you would ideally like to build upon. This requires a good hard look at what you have accomplished thus far and where you would like to go from here.

You must realise that there are suitable and unsuitable placements specifically for you skill set, try sourcing a list of agencies that cater to your career aspirations. Do your homework, look at agencies near and far so that when opportunity comes knocking, let it in—don't let location hold you back, luckily as designers and developers we are in a position to work from anywhere, remotely or abroad.

Finding an Agency

Unfortunately very few people get approached by agencies and the likely hood is that everyone around you is potentially your direct competition. The person that you instantly look to for group work assignments? They are your competition. The person that is renowned for being the best designer in the year? They are your competition. Last year's entire student roll? Yep, they potentially too are your competition. Here is what you can do to cleave yourself from the herd and stand out to employers:

  • Network: Local events are a great way to get talking to agencies, do a little mingling.
  • Portfolio: Having your own site (aside a University showcase) is crucial to promote what you can do.
  • Dialogue: Communicate directly with agencies, let them know who you are and keep them updated.

On Placement Year

So you've found your agency and you are a stones throw away from the first day, it's a pretty nerve racking experience. Fear is good it shows you are passionate about what you do and that means the world to employers.

Try not to be as blind as I was and believe you already know everything you need before stepping a foot in the door. I found out the hard way I wouldn't be in my comfort zone for long. I was stripped of my precious Wordpress and given instructions to build a website into Expression Engine, it made me quiver with fear—I knew nothing about this labyrinth of software and I didn't want to let my creative director down. An agency won't expect you to know everything, nobody knows everything that's the nature of the web and why it's so great, no one knows what is around the corner or what will emerge next. Be honest and never hesitate to ask for help, try to strike conversations with team mates to further your understanding of an area you where previously grey in.

Voice your opinions and be heard but try to always have an open mind. Just because you approach a problem a certain way doesn't mean it's the only or correct solution, being vocal with your team invokes creativity and solves this.

Final Thoughts

Remember that being uncomfortable isn't a bad thing, it's ok to not know what you are doing, after all it means you are learning and when this happens you become an entirely more employable prospect for an agency. Always, Always, Always be attempting to add new strings to your bow.