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My University Placement Year: A Year In Industry

19 July 2018
Aside from qualifications, one of the most important things when it comes to getting a job is experience. In a world where degrees are more common and the job market is more competitive than ever I knew I had to maximise my employability, that's why I chose to do a year in industry as part of my degree. 

I made this decision 4 years ago when I was studying for my A Levels and looking at which universities to apply for. I had already decided that I wanted to do a marketing degree after studying A Level business and having done some work experience in the marketing department of an insurance company. But not all universities and courses offer placement years, so finding one that offered a marketing degree and a placement year, in a suitable location with the right entry criteria for me was a challenge. After a bit of research I had a couple of options, one of those being my chosen university: Aston. 

Aston University is relatively small (about 14,000 students where as the University of Birmingham has double that) university located in the centre of Birmingham. At Aston, around 70% of students undertake placement years and they have been offering placements for over 50 years. When comparing my placement experience to students from other universities, Aston's experience really shows in the level of support they provide to students finding a placement year. Aside from them offering a placement for marketing, the course was also well ranked in league tables and Birmingham was the right distance from home for me. Weirdly enough my dad studied for his degree at Aston and my sister was also based in Birmingham at the time, so it felt a little like fate. 

Three (nearly four) years later here I am, having completed my placement year, ready to share my experience with you. 

University, Uni, placement, year, in, industry, experience, work, degree, 4 years, aston university, birmingham, leicester, dunelm, job

Finding a Placement 

I'm going to be honest with you, finding a placement isn't easy. Along side studying and exams you've got the stress of writing a CV and cover letters to apply for jobs that you have no idea if you could do or not. While I'd had previous jobs in retail and had written a CV before applying for a placement can be very different. Many employers have a similar application process for graduate schemes as they do for placements, this can often involve numerous stages of online tests, assessment centres as well as phone and face to face interviews. Typically, the larger the organisation (or the larger the scheme), the more rigorous the application process is as the competition is fiercer.  

When applying for your placement my biggest tip would to be start applying as soon as possible. Get your CV ready straight away and look at the deadline dates for applications, so you don't miss any opportunities. Each company will start recruiting at different times so don't worry if you can't find a placement straight away as more opportunities may come up. But the sooner you find the right placement for you, the less you need to worry about it and you can shift your focus back to your studies. I started applying quite early and ended up applying for 4 or 5 jobs before finding my placement, but most people end up applying to a lot more before securing a placement. 

So where did I spend my year in industry? The answer to that is homewares retailer, Dunelm. I first saw the position at Dunelm advertised through my university's careers website, the role was for a marketing assistant based at their Store Support Centre in Leicester. Reading through the job description it seemed to fit what I was looking for perfectly, not only that but it was in an industry I was genuinely interested in and a city I was familiar with (my boyfriend's family live in Leicester). The thought of working at Dunelm excited me, so I applied. A few weeks later I found out I had got through to the next stage and had a phone interview, before getting through to the final stage the assessment centre. This was the first assessment centre I had been to so I had no idea what to expect, but we had a few group activities that looked at a few key skills including  organisation, attention to detail and presenting skills. I also had to prepare a presentation for the interview that I had to present to various members of the marketing department. The assessment centre lasted till about 3 o' clock and by about 6 o' clock I'd had the call saying I got the job. The process was well organised and pretty smooth in comparison to some other larger companies.
Kirstie, Allsopp, Home, Stark, Uk, Charity, Ambassador, Charities, Dunelm, Snow, Flake, Appeal

On the Job

Originally the plan was for me to spend a couple of months within each area of the marketing department but this later changed due the needs of the business and also my line manager wanting me to see a project from start to finish. I'm quite glad this happened as I didn't want to start settling into a role for it then to change plus I still got to work with all of the areas within marketing that I was interested in. That was the great thing about Dunelm, they were so supportive in helping me make the most out of my experience whether that was through training or through spending time within different areas of the business. 

First the first 6 months of my time as a Marketing Assistant at Dunelm I worked with the Local Marketing Manager on new stores and refits, as well as supporting struggling stores. This involved planning and implementing campaigns to support these stores through driving footfall. This was a great role to start off with as it gave me a really great overview of marketing as I got to do a little bit of everything from brand to PR to social. Part of this role also included working on in store TV and radio. It was doing this that I got the opportunity to head down to the ITV studios in London and film with Holly Willoughby. This was so exciting and it felt incredible to be able to say that this was my job. 

During the second half of my placement I carried on assisting local but took on more responsibility from the PR and Social team. The main part of this included creating and scheduling the reactive content (mainly Twitter and Instagram Stories) as well as managing the Dorma Facebook page. During this time I also worked on the Dunelm and Kiddicare blogs as well as helping out with charity. This was amazing, as yet again, I got to gain more in depth knowledge and experience within various different areas and also some incredible opportunities such as helping at Press Shows and meeting Home-Start UK ambassador Kirstie Allsopp.

Holly, Willoughby, Placement, Filming, Experience, Work, ITV, Dunelm,

I honestly couldn't have wished for a better year, better colleagues or a better company to work for during my placement year. I feel like I had gained valuable experience in the work place that will set me up well when I have graduated and it has also made me excited to finish uni and start work. While getting a placement is tough, it is definitely an option worth considering as part of your degree. 

Are you considering a placement year? Feel free to comment below with any questions or drop me an email if you need any advice!

Eleanor xx

Flat Lay Tips to Perfect Your Instagram Account

10 July 2018
flat, lay, flatlay, instagram, image, account, social, media, photography, tips, grow, followers

*This post is sponsored by Panasonic

With the Instagram algorithm constantly changing, the struggle to grow your following is tougher than ever (read more about my love/hate relationship with Instagram here). As Facebook (and consequently Instagram) try to give their users more of what they love, their focus has shifted to the quality of content users offer to their following. Add into this the obvious fact that the stronger your content is the more likely people will follow and like your pictures, you have a strategy for success. But improving your Instagram images isn’t as easy as it sounds, so let’s take this one step at a time – starting with flat lays. To put it simply, flat lays are images taken of a collection of objects from above. Not only have they become one of the most popular types of Instagram image but they are also some of the most popular images on my account. So keep reading for my favourite flat lay tips…

The best tools for the job

Ever heard the saying ‘a bad workman blames his tools’ well when it comes to photography sometimes bad tools are to blame. You could be the best photographer in the world but if your image is grainy or pixelated it can ruined. Look for a digital camera with a high megapixel and the ability to change exposure and shutter speed. The Panasonic Mirrorless 12-60mm Lens Camera is a great option if you have the budget, as it has 30k optical zoom, 4K photo and video all in a compact design making it perfect for a variety of uses not just taking flat lays. 

Background focus

While the background is not the main focus of your flat lay, it is the foundation of your photo. I always opt for a light, white surface as this is non offensive and won't distract from the focus of the image. Don’t worry if you don’t have a white floor or table for your flat lays, simply lay a towel or white bed sheets on a flat surface and you have your background. This also allows you to move your white material around your house to find the best lighting. 

flatlay, flat, lay, instagram, food, beauty, blogger, monochrome, red, colour,

Lighten up

As with all photography, lighting is the most crucial part of creating the perfect flat lay. I use natural lighting in all of my photography as I find it gives the best results without the need for lots of editing. But for natural lighting to work you need to consider a couple of things:
  • Time of the day - as the light changes throughout the day it will have different impacts on your image. At midday the sun is at its brightest and this may lead to your image being overexposed. Sunset (or the magic hour) can create beautiful soft lighting in images but can often have an orange tint resulting in the need to alter white balance. During the evening (or on a dark cloudy day) there is no light meaning you won’t be able to see your image. 
  • Positioning – it could be lovely and light outside but if you’re in a dark room you won’t benefit from it. Position yourself close to a window to maximise your lighting.
  • Shadows – Depending on your positioning and the time of the day you can sometimes get quite harsh shadows in your images, especially if the light is coming from behind your objects. To avoid this try repositioning yourself or use a white piece of card to reflect the light onto the shadows. 

Less isn’t always more

Some of my favourite flat lays have to be the ones crammed full of products and objects but they still somehow manage to look beautiful rather than a mess. To make this work, vary the size of the objects you are arranging and fill bare gaps with ribbons, petals or confetti. Also layer textures and objects such as magazines and patterned fabrics to break up your white background. 

Colour co-ordinate 

A huge part of Instagram is how your profile looks with all of your images sitting together. Most people try to make this look more co-ordinating by having a ‘theme’. The easiest way I do this is through adding little accents of colour into my images to ensure they all co-ordinate. For example in the above images I have added hints of red through the strawberries on the pancakes and the rose petals. By keeping the rest of the image black and white and then adding this pop of colour means that they sit together nicely on my Instagram page. I have also done the same with the below images by adding a pop of pink. I will consistently use one colour in at least 6 of my images before gradually transitioning to a new colour if I want to change the look of my feed.  

Practice makes perfect

Flat lays may look easy but sometimes it can be hard to get them to look ‘right’. Take your time, moving different objects and adding bits or taking away items that don’t quite look right. With a bit of trial and error you will finally find the perfect arrangement to take your photo. 

instagram, photography, tips, dslr, iPhone, flatlay, flat, lay, gram, beauty, blogger, pink, pretty, minimalist

What are your tips for the perfect Instagram flat lay?

Eleanor xx