My name is Laura and I am a BSc Medical Sciences student here at the university. Shortly I will begin an industrial placement year at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), where I will be based in the Investigative Preclinical Toxicology Department (IPT), and will be researching drug toxicity in relation to cancer development. GSK is one of the World’s global leading pharmaceutical companies, and is currently ranked 18th in the Times Top 100 Graduate Employers.
In this post I will introduce you to industrial placements, from what they entail, to why they are fantastic opportunities, and what you can gain from one. I will also highlight my experiences from my industrial placements applications, and will share my application and interview advice based on those experiences.
Why undertake an industrial placement?
A placement is a fantastic opportunity to gain a wealth of experience and build upon your subject knowledge by working within a company for a year – to be able to gain such experience and knowledge before graduating greatly boosts your employability. You will reflect on the experience and gain many transferable skills that employers look for in exceptional employees. You will also have the chance to network with professionals, meet new people and re-locate into a brand new area. So, to share my advice on applications:
1. Develop an excellent CV and cover letter
When I began to apply, I ensured I had a CV and cover letter that would stand out. One thing I learnt is that experience is vital; for instance, I highlighted my research, laboratory and clinical experience, spoke highly of any roles of responsibility such as President of the Faculty of Biological Sciences society and Clinic Co-ordinator for Leeds Marrow, and the volunteering I had completed in Fiji and Ghana. I also conveyed my enthusiasm and knowledge for both the role and company in my cover letter, to show I really wanted to work with GSK.
2. Showcase your skills and qualifications
I emphasised both my ‘Introduction to Toxicology’ module, where I developed my interest in toxicology, and my laboratory skills modules, as the placement is laboratory based. I also ensured I gave examples of key skills I possess: I demonstrated team working and independence through a lab placement where I worked with two other students, presentation skills through a communication module ‘Topics in Medical Sciences’ which I received a first for, and time management by juggling all of my society, degree and internship commitments.
3. Be enthusiastic
Not only did I convey my enthusiasm through my cover letter, I also showcased my passion through other ways. I undertook laboratory volunteering in my free time, read scientific papers and journals relevant to the placement area, and kept up to date with general scientific news. At the interview, I made sure I asked lots of questions to show I was engaged and that I wanted to learn more about my interviewers, the department, the company, and the role itself.
4. Demonstrate your knowledge of the subject and company
Interviewers may ask questions that relate to the subject area; I was asked questions in relation to toxicology, and animal testing, and I completed a practical assessment. It is also crucial to show the interviewers you have researched the company – to research I looked at the company website, mission statement and main products, and compiled them all into one document. I also printed out all of the relevant lectures and seminars I’d had, and read them through on beforehand and on the journey to the interview.
5. Be a valued team member
Network! To show I wanted to be a member of the team, I made conversation with everybody I met. I asked them questions about their role in the company, and what they loved the most to show I wanted to get to know the people I’d potentially be working with. I also asked about extracurricular activities, socials and departmental meetings to show I was thinking about the bigger picture.
6. If you are rejected, learn from it
It is very unlikely you will get the first placement you apply for – companies look for different candidates, and you can be fantastic, but you may not be the type of person they want. I had four interviews before I obtained my industrial placement, but the application and interview experience I had gained from those earlier applications were essential! If I were to change anything it would be to make sure I have as wide a range of experience as possible before applying.
Overall, treat each job application individually; gain the relevant experience, spend time on the application, get it checked, and prepare for the interview well – the Careers Centre check applications and provide practice interviews, and I took advantage of this as I began searching for placements. Also, apply early and do your own research – many vacancies aren’t advertised through the university, and some companies may make a placement for a keen candidate. Send out some emails, you have nothing to lose! If you are rejected, learn from it, ask for feedback and go and get what you were missing. I did!