The graduate job market is extremely competitive, with over 100 graduates applying for each opening (FE news, 2020) - in other words, just having a degree does not guarantee a job these days. The good news is, going to university is still more than worthwhile! Apart from amazing extracurriculars, covered in my last blog, some universities offer the so-called “sandwich year” option (ie a placement year), when you can spend a full year working in your industry.

From the beginning of your second year, you can apply to companies and organisations. For an economics student, this can include financial services, banking, insurance, management consulting, or fintech. The typical application process includes an online application, situational judgment test, numerical and verbal tests, video interviews, and the assessment centre. This may seem daunting, but fortunately, the University of Essex has an experienced team of placement officers, who provide help throughout your application process. They offer 1-on-1 CV reviews, mock interviews, and even put on a dedicated series of lectures called “Campus to Corporate”, where you have the opportunity to interact with final-year students who just returned from their placements.

By choosing to complete a placement year, I had applied the skills I learned in the classroom to the workplace. I was fortunate enough to receive an offer from the Bank of England. There I spent 13 months in three different teams: evaluating the monetary policy, estimating the resilience of the UK financial sector to climate change, and computing statistics of mortgage lending.

During the placement, I was given the opportunity to see the live trade, interview the chief editor of The Financial Times, contribute to discussions with policy experts, and even meet the Governor of the Bank of England himself! Together with other placement interns, I attended seminars and lectures organised by the Bank and held career workshops to A-level students across the country. The learning experience was immense and the chance to build my network with colleagues who are experts in their field was invaluable.

Photo of student Asja outside the Bank of England, London

The experience was an amazing chance to “test-drive” a job and re-evaluate what I would like to do in the future. In my opinion, any placement year experience would greatly enhance one’s employability. The successful completion of it may even lead to a graduate scheme job offer, which was the case for me, as I secured a role in the Data and Statistics Division and a sponsored part-time Masters degree.

As an additional bonus to the placement year, if you manage to secure a graduate position before returning to university, you can focus on completing your degree instead of stressing about time-consuming job applications and interviews.

All in all, applying for placements has many upsides and no downsides. What is the worst that can happen anyway? Even if you fail to secure a position, you will still have experience with the application process, which will give you a competitive edge when applying for graduate schemes in your final year.

Lastly, don’t ask yourself “what if I fail?”, but rather “what if I fly?”.