My placement year with Greater Anglia

BSc Management and Marketing student Karolina Szpigiel details the invaluable experience she gained during her placement year as a Marketing Executive with Greater Anglia. From creating promotional material for Sundown Festival to stepping in to help during train strikes, she says the benefits of doing a placement year are endless and will give her ‘the extra leg up’ when it comes to applying to graduate roles.

Since graduating, Karolina is now working as a Brand Manager at Greater Anglia. She says its "A real proud moment full of gratitude for the experience and opportunities I’ve had since my placement year!"

Karolina Szpigiel headshot in EBS building

Why did you decide to do a placement year?

Entering university in 2019 I didn’t have a placement year on my radar. After hearing about the opportunities a placement year provides, and doing some research in to the companies which offer a placement year, I thought this may be a great opportunity. What most stood out to me was the opportunity to leave university with a degree and a year’s experience in the industry, giving me an advantage when entering the competitive world of work after uni. A lot of students across the country will be going for that job you want, for that grad scheme you want, so having industry experience helps massively to give you that extra leg up! I also thought it was super important for me to understand whether marketing really is what I want to do; a placement year felt like the best opportunity to understand that.

What skills did you take away from your experience?

I learned a great amount of skills specific to marketing: how to use the CMS (the content management system) for the Greater Anglia website; social media marketing for Facebook and Instagram; working with a variety of partners on promotional activity; traditional marketing at train stations through posters and customer information screens; various elements of branding and working with brand guidelines and working with agencies.

I also learnt about the railway industry. I never had any idea about how it really works and the various components that bring it all together. How the railway works was so fantastic to learn as it really is so much more than just a train service.

I was also very lucky to have Greater Anglia sign me up for the Chartered Institute of Marketing Digital Marketing course, which was super informative and massively helped me with my knowledge.

Importantly, I learned a variety of transferable skills. I had to be versatile, for example when the rail industry was daunted with rail strikes from front line colleagues, the head office workers including myself were trained to support the running of train services during strike days. That’s when I trained to be a train dispatcher alongside my day-to-day job in marketing! During strike days I then worked as a frontline colleague dispatching trains at London Liverpool Street station, it was so different to anything I have done so far but it was amazing to meet a variety of colleagues from other departments who I hadn’t had the chance to meet yet. Also, getting to experience what our frontline colleagues do every day really helped to get to know the business in and out.

 Karolina Szpigiel in a high vis tabard holding a walkie talkie

Other things I learnt included: communicating professionally with colleagues and those outside the organisation; time management when managing several tasks and projects at the same time; collaboration with the team and I learnt how important it is to ask for help when it is needed! It really taught me to never be afraid to ask for help from senior colleagues and understand that we are all here to help each other. But I also really developed working independently as my confidence and knowledge grew.

What was your favourite project?

My favourite project was working with the Sundown Festival on promotional activity via station posters and social media. We collaborated on running a joint giveaway on Instagram, giving away weekend festival tickets and train travel passes! It turned out to be super successful, achieving its objectives and generated lots of interest through entries to the competition. The project allowed me to use several skills I learnt during my placement, such as communicating and organising with external partners and social media marketing. I also got to go to the festival myself which was super fun.

How did you feel returning to your final year afterwards?

I came back to uni feeling rather refreshed. I felt really ready to focus on my essays and get back into learning and the swing of education. It also really makes you appreciate having your own routine instead of a 9-5! But the placement year really prepares you for what’s after uni. Getting back in to essay writing was slightly difficult so it’s super important to keep engaged during the placement by completing the uni assignments on placement review.

How has your time at EBS helped you determine what you want to do after you graduate?

EBS allows you to get an idea of various aspects of business. In first year you get insights into other areas, such as accounting or economics, so it really gives you the opportunity to see what aspect of business you most enjoy! It has also provided me with lots of theoretical knowledge on marketing, which helps to understand how or why the real world of business functions the way it does.

What would you say to a student considering taking a placement year?

 Karolina Szpigiel giving a presentation at Greater Anglia

Do it! Make sure to do a lot of research into the company and industry you are considering. Company culture is just as important as anything else, I was so lucky to have a wonderful team who made me feel very welcome. So, make sure to ask your interviewers questions, it’s an opportunity to get to know each other, not just one sided. Remember when you graduate you will be competing with thousands of people for that job or that grad scheme you really want, a placement year not only shows you have knowledge and skills but also says lots about your character, you went above the ordinary standard to gain something extra! Also, you never know who you can meet on your placement or where you might end up because of it. You can gain amazing references or even future opportunities from the company. The benefits are endless.