Where is your year placement?
I’m currently doing a year placement as an Assistant User Researcher at HMRC digital, so I’m working in the public sector. I am based in Telford – although HMRC digital offers Industrial Placement roles in other locations across the UK as well
Is your placement paid?
Yes, my placement is paid.
What psychology-related skills or knowledge are you currently using whilst on this placement?
So far I have mainly used transferable skills that are often required in research environments, including psychological research. Analytical research, data handling & analysis, presentation and report writing skills and, of course, teamwork abilities.
What has been the most challenging aspect of the placement so far?
In terms of the work itself, I think something that did make me feel a bit overwhelmed was the enormous amount of knowledge that I had to catch up with and become accustomed to when I first joined the team. This includes everything from the context of their work, its relation to the works of other teams and the progress so far on their research, to local work procedures and jargon – and even team-only customs, like regular socials and daily work reviews. But if I am to compare how I feel at the moment to how I felt during my first few weeks, I would say I am making good progress.
From a more personal perspective, I would say the entire change from being a student, surrounded by students, in a city like Manchester, to being an employee, surrounded by working professionals, away from my friends and familiar places, in an office near Telford town centre. It’s quite a drastic change, but I don’t regret it regardless of how much I miss my lifestyle from last year.
What has been the best/most enjoyable part of the placement?
I think the community within the workplace has been a really pleasant surprise. Being not only my first time working in the UK, but my first full-time job ever, I arrived here with plenty of worries with regards to how I will manage to adapt to a highly professional and high-standard working environment after having spent the past two years surrounded by fellow students. Not to mention all the scenarios that I had in my mind, as a foreigner, where even the slightest cultural differences would somehow lead to awkward situations between me and my workmates.
Instead, I’ve found myself in a diverse and welcoming community, where workmates are always happy to support each other, where effort is constantly made to make the work both efficient and engaging even at the busiest times and where teamwork and collaboration across teams is encouraged at all times – both within and outside of the office! It is, indeed, an ideal work environment from the social networking and relationship building perspectives.
What aspect are you most excited about?
In the near future, I will be leading interviews for user research, which is something I am both curious and excited about. In the more distant future, it is my hope to bring an important, meaningful contribution to any of the projects currently in development. So far I have been assisting several teams with all sorts of tasks that involve recruitment for research, report writing and conducting analytical research, which has gradually made me feel more ambitious. This will depend, however on both my personal progress and the progress of the work on developing projects at the moment.
How has your placement year affected your career aspirations?
The very reason why I have decided to do this placement year was to explore a career option I have not considered before, which is user research. At the end of my 12 months here I hope to be able to decide for myself whether or not a career in user research is something for me. Until then, I will make use of my time here to make discoveries about myself, my practical capabilities, my ambitions and my preferences in terms of a future career – things that until now have seemed quite ambiguous even to myself.
What’s your best tip for finding a placement/applying?
Basically, never stop looking and never stop applying. Make an effort to find some time every day to progress on this. If it’s time consuming, it’s because looking for any job, placement or full-time, is a job in itself. Start early and apply anywhere and everywhere – it could even be roles that don’t even have the word “Psychology” in their titles, tags or job descriptions. If someone between you and the employer should decide whether you are fit for a role, always leave the employer to decide, while you do your best to convince them you are.
If rejected, be resilient – do not be afraid to ask for feedback and acknowledge where and how you should improve. Make full use of both resources offered by the University and the Faculty as well as external ones. Do mock interviews, practice answers on typical questions, ask for help if you need it at any point – as repetitive as these words sound, I found all of this made such a huge difference in my case!
It’s a tiring, tedious and highly frustrating process, but the more effort you put into it, the sooner you’ll reach your desired outcome. If you do receive an offer, think very carefully if you should accept it immediately or if you can afford to keep looking for alternatives – ideally after requesting a deadline for your final decision with regards to that offer.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, do not be afraid to explore. Always keep in mind that it’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance and the benefits of such an experience are worth every effort.
Would you recommend a placement year to other students & why?
Yes, absolutely – especially if you are undecided about what you want to do after you graduate, like I am. A placement year is killing two birds with one stone: on one hand it allows you to afford exploring, asking questions, making mistakes, learning, discovering and developing a clear, practical skill set, as opposed to just academic knowledge. At the end of the placement year you will find yourself with extra skills and knowledge, which can only be a benefit to you.
On the other hand, outside of working hours, not having coursework and exams to worry about for a full year gives you the time to sit down and think. About anything – your ambitions, your passions, your abilities. You will be able to clearly illustrate to yourself what you know so far, what you don’t know and what you need to figure out. Strictly speaking, the worst thing that can happen is you realising mid-year that the work you are doing for the placement is not for you – which means you get to rule it out without the trouble you would expect in the context of a full-time, post-graduation job. In my view at least, a placement year can only be beneficial.
That being said, start applying if you haven’t already and make the coming academic year your year!
FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT IOANA’S PLACEMENT read her ‘first week’ blog post on the HMRC website here!