Placement year can be difficult. For most people it is the realisation that there is no safety net in reality. At university and school, you can re-sit a test if you fail, in the work place, if you don’t do your job well, you are replaced. Placement year can both make or break a student; for myself, it broke me at this point.
During December, I was let go from BWAR. The reasoning behind it was difficult to comprehend for myself. The thing that placement officers don’t tell you is that the companies that take placement students will do one of two things: (1) they will make you shadow others and you will be the designated coffee barrister and maid, or (2) they will use your skills to their advantage.
I was lucky with BWAR, they helped me expand my skills in graphic design as well as other transferable skills. Perhaps the biggest lesson I’ve learnt though was to stand up for myself as well as learning about humility. Most placement students will feel that because they have got a placement, they are the best in their field. The fact of the matter is, that we as students are far from perfect or at the top of our game.
When I first started at BWAR, I thought that I would be used for the skills I had, as I was in essence stepping into a junior role that another member of staff was leaving. Whilst this was the case, it didn’t last for long. We are told before we begin placements that we should ‘make our own opportunities to learn’, so when the boss asked if I wouldn’t mind taking on more responsibility due to another member of staff leaving, I practically bit his arm off at the shoulder replying, “of course I would love to gain more experience”, this however, was the beginning of my fall.
My new title was “graphic designer and content writer”. I have never been a content writer, with blogging being the exception, but I decided that sometimes you need to do things you don’t like in order to get better at them. At first it was great. I got to learn how to talk to customers and gain an insight into the world of SMEs and other occupations. My writing skills improved, but with time the content I was writing became monotonous. There was only so many times you could write “we have over 50 years of hands on experience in the building industry, and are Gas Safe Registered”. With boredom came lack of passion, and in turn, my ability to content write declined. At this point, my job role was not as promised. My boss was not actively seeking a replacement content writer, nor was my role split 50/50; graphics and content. Instead, I was content writing most of the time and barely doing one logo a week.
With the content I was writing not maintaining the high standards expected, I was given a warning. This warning though was not welcomed, for I knew I could have dealt with it better. Though I had bitten my tongue during the meeting, I knew that I should have said something. I was not a content writer and the position was only supposed to be temporary. The fact that I was being punished for something I knew nothing about, and for all intents and purposes, was not great for me.
With time, I soon found myself out of a job and in a spiral of worry and depression. Christmas was far from easy. Businesses are not open over the Christmas period, so I had to wait until January for replies in regards to finding a new placement. I had chosen BWAR as it was a paid placement and I was trying to save up for university the approaching academic year. Now I was eating into those savings to stay afloat.
I do not hold anything against BWAR. The opportunities and teaching I got from the company were amazing. I learnt not only what I was good at, but also where I could improve. I learnt some basic CSS and HTML, how to put content into websites, how to duplicate sites, use of customer service skills, graphic design, templates for print and why we need them, marketing and so much more. The friends I made there were also invaluable and the clients I spoke to helped me discover more about the world around me, which is essential to life in the real world outside of university.
A few of my friends and old work colleagues endeavoured to help me at least find paid work after I left BWAR, and for that I am eternally grateful. The real world can be harsh, but with a few good allies and contacts you can go anywhere. I believe the expression “it’s not what you know, but who you know” was very applicable.
After Christmas I was getting interviews but no responses, which did not help with my depression or anxiety. I started to think that I was destined to fail my placement year and in turn my life in employment. All of a sudden, I received an email from a prestigious design studio, Neomam, in Manchester, stating that they would be willing to take me on under the conditions that I wouldn’t mind waiting until February/March time. I of course agreed and will be contacting them again soon to ask for an update. For me, this was the turning point. I had prospectively emailed the company asking if they had any openings for an intern. Though the reply was no, they had looked at my blog and had fallen in love with my perspective on things as well as my content writing skills.
I might not be a content writer for the likes of companies like at BWAR, but apparently I was a good writer when it came to columns and essays. This restored my faith a little. For myself, I knew that content writing like at BWAR was not my calling, but perhaps writing columns and blogs may have been. A few other companies started emailing me back stating that though they did not have any positions, but they would consider me after I graduated, due to my blogs. It was a path I then decided to consider.
A friend of mine in the meantime, placed me on his books for 4 weeks so that I would have a month less to worry about. Although this was not paid, it did go towards the weeks I needed to pass my year. The experience I gained whilst working with his company were essential and got me back on track to loving graphics again. I worked with some amazing clients who were based in the local area, as well as advertising for the Troll Run.
I still needed a paid job alongside this though, and opted to join a recruitment agency. There are many benefits to using a recruitment agency, the main one being that they find you work very quickly. In under a week of our initial meeting, I started a new job in customer services during the day, whilst continuing my internship from home in the evenings. Working in customer services, which doesn’t sound like it would help me with my graphic design career, actually did. Customer services taught me about content and humility again. The majority of inbound calls could have been prevented if manuals had been more user friendly, whether that meant text being bigger, content being clearer or images being a bit easier to understand. Although I may not have been doing any graphics here, it did help me understand the consequences of bad design. My time with this company came to an end rather unexpectedly, however it meant that I had enough money to pay off next year’s accommodation, with a little left over for the likes of my car insurance and so on.
I managed to find a placement that would cover me for my remaining mandatory weeks, which is where I presently am. Mel’s Weddings came at a time that I needed it most. Whilst unpaid, I am allowed to work from home and if I am needed to be in the office, I know that I will be covered financially.
During my first week or so, I helped in re-branding the whole company to “Luxury Events Group”. The following week I had helped run their social media accounts to learn about SEO requirements and Marketing. My followers on Instagram went from 200 to nearly 4000 almost overnight, with wedding companies, venues, marketing, bridal magazines and many brides to be now following my personal account.
It turns out that when you announce an “Instagram takeover” people assume you are a well-known blogger. I was posting not only to the company Instagram (@luxuryeventsgroup), but duplicating the posts on my own account (@scarletruthmargaret) and tagging the company in them. Hashtags and tags became my new best friends, as I will discuss in my next post.
Alongside this, an old friend of mine contacted me and wondered if I was still in the area of Staffordshire, offering me a teaching role. I had never considered teaching, as I was far from patient and I know that I was not a great public speaker. I may act confident, but put me in a room with 20 blank faces staring at me and you’ll find I internally scream for the earth to swallow me up. It wasn’t as it sounded though, it was 1-on-1 tuition in how to use certain pieces Adobe software and it was with adults and not children. At the end of the day, it was money and experience and would help me relearn what I hadn’t had practise in in a while. Though the company this was for has to be anonymous at this point, I know that it will eventually look good on my CV once they have signed a release.
I am excited for the next couple of weeks with Luxury Events Group and my teaching job, and I will be excited to see the opportunities that arise from them both. I will take each day as it comes and will aim to be a better me at the end.
So far, if I were to sum up my placement year, I would say that it has completely broken me. In saying that, it has also made me realise what I need to be doing in life and what strengths and weaknesses I need to focus on. All learning curves involve a steep slope, but I know that once I reach the top I will be ok. I may have had my confidence shot, but I know that the biggest lesson I needed to learn was humility, and I feel that I am doing this slowly but surely. I am not at the top of my field, and I may never be, but I do know that I am a better person from this.