Turkey, stuffing and the pigs in blankets are but a distant memory; you've signed on a lease for next year's rat infested mould box, and you're becoming quickly reacquainted with essays and 3am coffees. For most university students, the Spring Semester is well under way, and with that comes the question that nobody wants to hear: "So, have you got an internship sorted for the summer, yet?"
With the jobs market more competitive than ever - and a media seemingly desperate to remind us as such - both paid and unpaid student placements are more valuable than a week's shop from Tesco and an uncle who's willing to pay your year's rent.
I have been lucky enough to find myself a couple of placements since I started university, and I am often questioned on how I did it and what to expect. There is no magic formula, however, hopefully these tips can make the long placement-hunting process a little easier.
1) Use the services at your disposal.
My first ever placement came through my university career's service. Despite having searched for pretty much everything else since under my own steam, I could not be more thankful for the contact information with which they provided me, as well as the opportunity to have a shiny industry name on my CV. On top of being able to offer work experience opportunities in a range of fields, university career's services will often have a wealth of contacts at their disposal, successful alumni, or just those who have worked with the uni in the past are usually happy to stay in touch. So, even if there are no explicit work opportunities currently on offer in your selected discipline, then a ten-minute meeting with a career's advisor could provide you with several useful email addresses and phone numbers. Subscribing to personalised emails from services such as www.studentjob.co.uk/internship is also useful.
2) Do your research and make it personal
Businesses don't always list placements, internships and opportunities for work experience online; this does not mean that work is unavailable. A lot of organisations will offer experience when approached, however, finding out to whom it is you should be speaking is often the hard bit.
Organisations will usually have several points of contact listed on their website, but these aren't necessarily the best places to direct your questions; speaking to a 'real person' is more likely to produce a week in a swanky office
I've always found Twitter to be my greatest ally in finding out who it is I'm supposed to be speaking to; half an hour with the little blue bird can do you a world of good. 'Official' organisation Twitter pages will often have their employees listed under the imaginatively named "lists" tab. Read through some Twitter bios and find the individual you're looking for, i.e., the person in charge of your favoured department, send them a personally named email through their organisation's web service - often 'person's_name@the_company_you_want_to_work_for.co.uk - and you are far more likely to open your inbox to a response.
Not only does this give the impression that you're willing to work a little harder to find precise information, but it suggests that you care passionately enough about the organisation to delve into the depths of their website and/or Twitter feed.
3) Don't be afraid of rejection
Law firms, newspapers, hospitals, media companies et cetera receive thousands, if not tens of thousands, requests for experience and placements every year; even the most immaculate of CVs will not get a response to every single email.
A quick keyword search in my own email inbox suggests that I have sent 400 emails containing the words 'work' and 'experience'; from that I have received a few writing jobs and five week-long placements, all of which have been, or will be, unpaid. Rejection is an unfortunate, yet inevitable, fact of life when it comes to looking for internships and placements.
Whilst it may seem pointless putting a lot of time and effort into something that may not produce results having a clean and correct CV and an industry relevant cover letter than can easily be attached to an email can save a lot of time in this occasionally frustrating process.
4) Be realistic: start small but aim higher.
If you've never had a placement before, sending an open application to the BBC may not be the most successful of ventures.
Local organisations and businesses are far more likely than larger firms to recruit those who have had little to no industry experience thus far. However, even small organisations are likely to have influential industry contacts, plus, each and every mention of experience on your CV will make you increasingly attractive to the 'bigger fish' of your industry.
Placements are the Holy Grail of the student summer, but, hopefully, by following these few pieces of advice and constantly refreshing your Hotmail inbox, you'll soon be in need of some credit on that Oyster Card. Good luck.