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Top tips for students looking to boost their employment prospects with a summer placement

Top tips for students looking to boost their employment prospects with a summer placement

It's that time of year when the desks of HR advisors become lost under a sea of applications from university students all desperately trying to secure a sought-after summer placement. Competition to gain one of these places is tough: dozens of candidates can apply for a single internship, but only a lucky few will make it to the interview stage. So, with thousands of students all scrambling for a limited number of placements, what can they do to make sure they get their foot in the door?

Like many of her counterparts up and down the country, HR manager Pauline Hall from Aberdeen oil and gas engineering consultancy Apply Altra is currently trying to whittle down this year's crop of hopefuls. The firm has placements available across all of its disciplines from process to electrical engineering, and receives up to 10 for each vacancy.

Pauline advises students to make sure they use their CV as a key to sell themselves and their abilities, and to carry out extensive research to help them succeed in achieving their goal. She adds, "It can be a difficult task, but one of the first things I look for when I'm trying to sort through the applications is whether or not the student has had any outstanding achievements, won any awards or had very high grades. Your CV is an important selling tool, so it's vital that students, who have no work experience to base an application on, can show that they have the potential to perform well. If these achievements are made clear, it's likely that they will go straight to the ‘need to interview' pile."

Pauline has five key things that she looks for in a CV, and believes that following these key five points will make an application for a summer placement stand out:

·         A well presented CV with a strong personal profile statement

·         Professional qualifications which stand out on the front page

·         An informative document, but one which is concise and easy to read

·         Details of any other skills or abilities which may not be linked directly to a university course or previous job

·         The truth! It's never a good idea to be less than honest on an application, as even little white lies will eventually be found out

"There is nothing that is a complete turn off in terms of a CV or application, but if the presentation of the document itself is below average then it does make me think twice about the quality of the candidate and their attention to detail," adds Pauline.

Once candidates have passed the hurdle of getting to the interview stage, Pauline suggests that they step up their research about the company and make sure they are well prepared. Every business will have different methods for interviews, but at Apply Altra those on the shortlist are invited for a chat.

Pauline says, "It's at this point that I can tell whether they are right for the company and whether we are right for them. Most interviews are now conducted by at least two people and consist of both technical and competency questions.

"My top tip for being successful in an interview is to relax. This is maybe easier said than done, but just keep reminding yourself that the interviewer must have seen something they like in your application and CV otherwise they would not have invited you for an interview. At the same time don't be so relaxed that you appear not to care."

Employers will use the interview to find out more about you, says Pauline, and this will be your chance to shine above the other candidates. Her five top interview tips are:

·         Be smart and punctual - first impressions count for a lot at interviews

·         Research as much as you can about the company - products, services, competitors, current activities and priorities

·         Prepare your answers for the type of questions you'll be asked, say why you want the job, what your strengths are, what your best achievements are

·         Prepare at least two or three questions to ask at the end of the interview

·         Be confident

Apply Altra has operated a hugely successful placement scheme for several years, with many students who have interned later going on to secure full-time employment after finishing university. Placement students get hands-on experience, with dedicated mentoring from qualified engineers and they will also have an opportunity to put their academic theory into practice.

Pauline adds, "The use of placement students is of great benefit to employers as it is an opportunity to assess a student's potential for future employment and to give a potential recruit a trial without obligation. It also generates goodwill within the academic community, and allows the business sector to put something back into the system.

"In recent years we have employed at least four of our summer placement students after they have completed their degree, so it really is well worth making the effort with a placement application - who knows where it might eventually lead."

Apply Altra is part of the Apply group which has 2,000 employees across Europe. Apply Altra is based in Union Plaza in Aberdeen. Further information can be found at and the firm can be contacted on 01224 652200 or by emailing