Any sort of work experience or internship is becoming increasingly crucial when you're a student. Not only does it improve your CV hugely, it also gives invaluable insight into the workplace - it can help avoid a potentially disastrous career choice, or conversely, give you a way out of that horrible state of limbo between graduating and getting actual employment.
Beyond work experience and internships is a year-long placement - it's essentially a job for a year. This was a compulsory part of my four year BA Hons advertising course at Bournemouth University. As many pros as there are to spending 12 months in advertising, it certainly takes a lot to get a placement in the industry and make the most out of it once there - and you get little to no help from your university.
The first hurdle to a placement of this length is geography. There is very little opportunity for such experience in the ad world outside of London. With the industry putting such focus on improving diversity within the workplace, I can't help but think this is rather hypocritical. Unless you live in London, or can afford the extortionate London renting prices, the only other option is to commute. This is still a serious amount of money, especially for a student - A 12-month season ticket into London from Reading is over £5,000.
This hurdle is then increased tenfold by the fact that some agencies get away without paying, or just paying expenses. Although this is a hard bargain, you unfortunately have little option but to suck it up. Experience is key.
With regards to choosing where to apply to, the debate is still ongoing as to whether big agencies will offer you more on placements compared to smaller, more intimate agencies. Whilst a bigger agency will offer a more formal and perhaps more structured experience, the tasks have the potential to be less hands on and offer less insight. Conversely, smaller agencies are much more of a stab in the dark. Out of all the smaller agencies I applied to, not one had an official placement scheme. But if this gamble does pay off, and you end up in a smaller agency that takes a placement year seriously, involving you fully and not just handing down the most basic of tasks, the time spent there will be priceless.
When it comes to applying and interviewing, you are bombarded with such a variety of advice. On one hand following protocol and attempting to tick all the 'typical' boxes such as grades is the route advised. However, particularly in a creative industry such as advertising, you are often encouraged to avoid these normalities - personality can sometimes completely overshadow grades. Reading which route is best for which application/interview requires a lot of practice. Unfortunately this practice can really damage your confidence as it will inevitably go very wrong at least once. I was once told in an interview that being on a 1st meant I wasn't having enough fun at university - Grades were clearly not the be all and end all at this particular agency, and I had completely miss read what they were looking for. This, for me, was the most frustrating part of the whole process.
Having said this, despite what credentials agencies are looking for (academic or otherwise), the majority of students are juggling all these stresses and difficulties with trying desperately to get the best grades they can. It is so easy to get caught up in the mindset that getting a placement is more important than your actual degree - whilst it is important, it must not take over.
After going up against everything I have mentioned, I secured a placement in June, 2017. So if you don't get on the official placement schemes before summer, don't panic! In a few weeks I will start my 12-month placement with creative agency, Bandstand. Offering a mix of learning and doing, across all aspects of the agency and all elements of what's involved when working in the advertising industry, I am confident I have found the right place for me to spend my placement.
Hopefully this piece will show both the industry and universities just how tough the whole process is. Agencies must stop taking advantage of students' need for experience, and universities must stop being so blasé about getting a placement; it is by no means a given.