Student profile: Emily Willis

Emily Willis spent her year in industry at Zircon. She talks us through what her days looked like and what advice she would give to future placement students.

Why did you choose to study a year in Industry?

I chose to study a year in industry for two main reasons. Firstly, as many people study psychology at university, I thought a placement year would help me stand out to employers as it would give me a year of relevant experience alongside my undergraduate degree that other graduates may not have. Secondly, I was unsure what area within psychology I wanted to pursue, so I thought a placement would provide me with practical experience alongside what I was learning in my degree, to help me make this decision.

Tell me about your year in industry – how did you get your placement?

My placement was a business psychology placement with Zircon Management Consulting Ltd, a business psychology consultancy. I first heard about Zircon at the placements evening held by the university in the October of my second year. Alongside other placement providers, Zircon presented the opportunity they had for a placement student, and I really liked the sound of it. I contacted Zircon for an application form and went through their application process until January when I was offered the placement role. Alongside applying for Zircon, I also applied for a number of other roles that I found on the placement Moodle page. There are many placements advertised on this page (which are already approved by the university), and there is a wide variety in terms of all the different areas of psychology. Therefore, I would recommend viewing the Moodle page before attempting to find your own placement provider.

Where was it and what did your work involve?

My placement at Zircon was part office-based and part working from home, therefore I completed my work in-person and remotely. My work at Zircon was varied and I got involved in all aspects of the business.

‘My time was split mainly between client work, coordinating client projects, marking client assessments, etc., and product work; building a new psychometric tool, updating tools for BPS certification.’

However, I also got involved in research and design (e.g., designing podcast episodes, creating materials for executive assessments, etc.), facilitation (e.g., assisting with workshops, supporting the delivery of accreditation courses, etc.), write-ups (e.g., writing articles for the BPS’ Assessment and Development Matters publication, writing blog posts for LinkedIn, etc.), and internal development (e.g., contributing to business development meetings, assisting with recruitment, etc.).”

Where did you live during your placement?

I relocated to South London, as the role was partly office-based. I rented a room which my placement supervisor helped me to find. I would recommend asking your supervisor (or other people you know in that area) if they know of anywhere available. Although, I also looked at the ‘spare room’ website, and there was quite a lot of choice, so I would also recommend that.

Were there any nerve-wracking moments?

There were many nerve-wracking moments during my placement, as I constantly put myself out of my comfort zone in order to learn more and gain new skills. The most nerve-wracking moments for me were when I had to present or take the lead in client meetings. As a placement student, I felt as if I was the least knowledgeable and experienced person there, so I felt very out of my depth when I had to contribute my thoughts or facilitate conversations with others. The key for me to overcome these nerves was to tell myself that my supervisor and colleagues would not have put me in these situations if they did not think I could handle them. Also, to understand that if it did go wrong, it was not the end of the world – people are very understanding of nerves, especially when you are a placement student.

“As the year went on, I felt much more confident in these situations, and although my nerves were still there, they were not nearly as strong.”

Pictured above: Emily Willis accepting her award from the ABP, based on the work she did during her research project.

How do you think work-work compares to uni-work?

Work-work is quite different from uni-work, but there are similarities. For example, quite a lot of my time on placement was taken up by conducting research for the company’s psychometric tools, and the process for this was similar to the literature reviews I had done at university. However, a lot of my time was also taken up by meetings with clients, designing materials for assessments, and marking client assessments, which is very different from what I do at university. In general, I definitely made use of the skills and techniques I gained through my university work, but the work at my placement also gave me an opportunity to try things that were completely new, and perhaps more likely what I will do when I graduate and start work.

How do you think your placement experiences have changed you?

“My placement year helped me to develop leaps and bounds both personally and professionally.”

Personally, I can now communicate my points more effectively, take the initiative to get involved, and understand my value and what I bring to the table. Also, my resilience levels increased substantially throughout the year. Professionally, I can now manage large client projects, I have a whole new understanding of the field of business psychology (including psychometrics and their importance), I can independently undertake assessing and report writing, and I have the skills to facilitate vital discussions on subjects such as business improvement. In general, my confidence levels have increased, and I feel much more prepared to go out into the field of business psychology following my undergraduate degree.

What was your favourite memory?

My favourite memory during my placement was when I had just finished coordinating a very large client project with over 1000 people. The project was very tough – it took up a lot of time and was emotionally taxing. However, I felt a huge sense of accomplishment and self-confidence when it finished as I had proved to myself that I can take the lead and produce a successful outcome for a large project.

” I realised how far I had come in my journey, as 6 months previously I would never have been able to do what I did. This project to me shows how much I developed as a result of my placement year and how prepared I am to leave university and start work.”

What about support from the University while you were there?

Before leaving for the placement, the placements team organised a meeting to provide us with all the information needed for the placement (including where to find support). During the placement, we had to complete three evaluation forms throughout the year where we could detail any problems we were facing and if we needed support. Furthermore, my academic supervisor contacted me a number of times throughout the year to ensure I wasn’t experiencing any problems and to discuss my placement experience in general. Finally, within my placement, I received regular supervision from my placement supervisor regarding both my placement and my coursework (and this was checked by the university).

You did really well in your assessment, what qualities do you think helped to achieve that?

For the coursework, I think it is really important to spread the work out, and not leave it all until the last minute. The placement is 4 days a week, so I treated the fifth day as if it was a workday and focused on my university work. This means I wasn’t rushing to finish the coursework at the end of the year, and I was able to submit it earlier, meaning I was able to have a summer break before my busy final year started. Also, I made use of the knowledge and resources I gained in my first and second year, as well as what the placements team provided, to ensure I was creating the best piece of work possible. Finally, I asked for help from my placement and academic supervisor when I was struggling or had any questions. I spoke with them regularly throughout the year to make sure I was on the right track with my coursework, and I think this really helped.

How has the placement aligned with your career aspirations?

Before I went on my placement, I was very unsure of what field of psychology I wanted to pursue, so my career aspirations were not very specific. Now I have completed my placement, I am more certain that I would like to pursue the area of business psychology, as I enjoyed the placement very much. The next steps now would be to apply for a master’s degree in occupational psychology, and potentially work to become an occupational psychologist. Therefore, spending a whole year in a business psychology consultancy (where I got involved in all aspects of the business and gained a huge amount of knowledge and skills) means I am more prepared to move into this field and have relevant experience to talk about in my master’s application.

What do you think your Year in Industry time will add to your resume and your overall job prospects when you graduate?

I think that my year in industry has given me a unique experience that will make me stand out when applying for jobs. My resume will show that alongside my degree, I have gained practical experience in the field of business psychology and so I understand how this field of psychology works in the real world, not just in theory. It will also show that I have already gained the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in graduate roles in this field and that I am familiar with the world of work and know how to navigate it.

“Overall, I believe my job prospects have increased now that I have completed my year in industry.”

Finally, what advice will you give to the next cohort of YiI students?

My advice to future year in industry students would be:

  1. Do not give up when trying to find a placement. I received several rejections, but the placement I ended up with was exactly the right role for me.
  2. When you are in your placement role, say yes to all opportunities, even if they are outside of your comfort zone. By making the most of all that is offered to you, you can gain some invaluable skills and experience. Additionally, ask for feedback as much as possible from your colleagues and supervisor. Constructive feedback may be difficult to hear, but it will help you to learn and grow. Moreover, you can learn a lot from your colleagues, with their different backgrounds and expertise, so do not be afraid to ask them questions to learn more about the area of psychology you are working in.
  3. Finally, the placements team and your academic supervisor are there to help, so make sure to reach out to them with any questions or queries.

Emily is studying for a BSc (Hons) Psychology with a Placement Year.