Category Archives: Uncategorized

4 tips to a fruitful placement experience

Hello everyone, my name is James Chew. I am a third year International Business and Management student, currently undertaking a year-long placement as the Products and Affiliate Assistant at British Tourism Authority in London. Getting a placement is tough, ensuring that you learn and develop skills during your placement is tougher! Here are some tips to ensure that you get the most out of your placement year!

1.Management Style

Take the time and effort to understand the management style of your line manager. This is crucial as different managers have different ways of leadership. My manager loves to give us the ideal outcome and ask us to suggest solutions to achieve that. This gives us a lot of freedom and creativity space to find the ideal solutions. In addition, you should also learn how your manager processes information. My manager loves to view information in the most visually appealing way. Hence, I would usually do mock-up designs or add lots of diagrams and colours in my spreadsheets when I’m presenting to her. Happy Boss = Happy Me!

2.Office Culture

Every team, department and company has a different vibe. You should try to immerse yourself in this office vibe as much as possible. By immersing yourself in the office vibe, you will learn to better communicate with your colleagues even if you are not on the same team or department. Being able to communicate with people is an important skill to learn and it takes constant practice to perfect the art.

If you are an introvert like me, then you can always start with attending social events and just starting with “How’s your day been?”. Being friendly with your colleagues from other teams and departments don’t just create a vibrant office environment, it always makes collaboration easier.


3.Time Management

Most people usually work for 8-9 hours a day with an hour of lunch in between. That may seem like a lot of hours for those who have never held a full-time job, but trust me it is never enough to get all the work done. Especially when you are an intern, there will be times when you are assigned multiple tasks from various colleagues or even managers. Here is a tip, always ask for the deadlines for every task or assignment that lands on your desk. This would allow you to manage your tasks better.

If you realised that you have too much on your plate, don’t be shy to voice out and ask for help. Learning to put your pride down and ask for help doesn’t make you weak, instead, it makes you stronger as an individual! As the saying goes, “Time is Precious”. Do not waste time on inefficient ways of doing things.



4. Results & Achievement

Results and achievement may seem quite straightforward to most students. However, it is almost impossible to constantly deliver results and achievements in the work environment as the definition of it changes over time. Take note of your company’s management directions, this will guide you on what the management deems important which would then be classified as results and achievement.

Here is an example, the management has decided to focus on increasing revenue for the next 6 months but you were more focus on developing a new function which is not crucial to increasing revenue. Even if you had succeeded in getting the new function to work, it would not have been an achievement as it was not the management’s focus.


As I reach the conclusion of this blog entry, I would like to tell students on internships/placements to not be afraid of failing, getting reprimanded or even shun away by your colleagues. We are all in this to learn and gain professional experiences which would contribute to our future career paths. How much you want to gain from your internship/placements is not in the hands of your company but in yours!


My placement experience at Stanley Black & Decker

Hi guys, my name is Ryan Ball. I am now 7 months into my 13-month placement at Stanley Black & Decker and so far, it has been a valuable experience.

The first month was a crossover month; the old and the new intern undertake a transition period. I was taught by another Aston student from the previous year, this was useful to learn the tasks I would be undertaking throughout the year and made the start of the placement much less daunting. This was also a great month outside of work as there was a large group of us that could get together after work and on weekends to go and check out the neighbouring cities and see what Idstein (where I am living) had to offer. After this month, I felt well prepared to be able to handle the role on my own and I was less anxious speaking German to my colleagues. My team understood that I would struggle at certain points and let me sneak in the odd English word if I couldn’t articulate what I wanted to in German which was helpful to begin with! 

I’m the intern for the ‘Brand and Communication’ team, which means I get to complete tasks involving all brands under the Stanley Black & Decker conglomerate including Black+Decker, Bostitch, DEWALT, Facom, Irwin, Lenox and Stanley. My team are responsible for the development and distribution of POS materials, catalogues for each brand, managing merchandise/giveaways and conceptualising and organising company events. My line manager is responsible for events, so some of my work includes helping her to prepare for them. For example, I create preparatory documents for each event known as ‘Dispos’ that include information about our stand, a personnel plan, addresses for the event venue and the hotel as well as any other necessary information. I also organise the delivery of different items for the event, such as displays, catalogues and any products that will be shown on the stand. I got to visit Eurobaustoff in Cologne last year and I will also be helping to run a competition at Holzhandwerk at the end of March which will be a great opportunity to practice my spoken German.

More recently, I have been involved in the development of new catalogues. My tasks include checking that corrections have been made by the external media agent, sourcing any product pictures that our needed from our media library and checking that the correct product prices are being used. Once these catalogues go into print, I break down bulk orders and send them on to our sales representatives who pass them on to customers. My other main task regarding catalogues is to maintain an overview of the stock levels of catalogues for each brand. To do this I use SAP to check the current stock in our warehouse in Belgium. The report is then sent on to colleagues in different departments of the business so they can see how many of each catalogue are available and how to go about making any orders that they require.

Other tasks can range from translating E-Mails for my team from German to English, to creating ‘Etiketten’ (stickers with the barcodes and prices of our products) using Excel. My role often includes lots of short-term tasks to complete, therefore it is important to manage priorities and be aware of any deadlines that are upcoming and distributing time between tasks accordingly. Sometimes the role can become repetitive, but having the support of my team, the other interns (and a solid music playlist) makes these periods manageable! Overall, the placement is enjoyable and has helped me develop a lot of skills, especially my German competence. The crossover period and length of the placement makes it possible to learn as much as possible and gives me the maximum time to try and absorb as much German as I can before I head into final year.

The office is in Idstein, a small town, so it is slightly different to a lot of people I know who are in placement in large cities such as Munich and Nuremberg. It is quite quiet but there’s everything you need, plenty of supermarkets, restaurants and most importantly ‘Lokale’ (pubs) to enjoy. The nearest big city is Frankfurt which is about a 30-minute train journey away. It’s great to have such a big city nearby that you can go to for shopping, a night out or to visit the English shop so you can pick up some home comforts. Another one of the great things about the Stanley Black & Decker internship is that there’s a group of interns, this year there are 5 of us in Marketing and 1 in the Engineering department. This means that we can organise things to do together and helps to make the most out of the year abroad experience. For example, we’ve adopted Mainz as our German football team and we often go to games, most recently against Bayern (Mainz lost, but 15 Euros to watch Bayern play is a bargain!). Some of us also went down to Munich for Oktoberfest for a few days, which I would recommend. We are planning to visit Amsterdam as well as plenty of other German cities such as Berlin, Bonn and Hamburg so there’s plenty to still look forward to for the rest of this year!

What’s the big deal with SMEs?

It can sometimes feel difficult trying to find the right placement or graduate role for you. Large companies can offer attractive graduate schemes or placement programmes, but competition for them is often fierce. But don’t despair, there are plenty of opportunities out there – you just need to look in the right places. Don’t make a big mistake and ignore the opportunities offered at small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – just because they aren’t household names, it doesn’t mean they can’t offer you exciting prospects.

What is an SME?

An SME is defined as a company that employs fewer than 250 people. In 2017, 5.7 million SMEs were recorded in the UK, which means there are a lot of options out there! New and upcoming businesses tend to be SMEs and they cover almost all business sectors, so whatever you are interested in, there should be something for you.

Why should I consider an SME?

There are lots of benefits of working at an SME. Here are just a few that you might find rewarding.

Embrace the culture
The culture of SMEs is one of the biggest differences between smaller and larger companies – you will be in a smaller work environment and, therefore, a smaller team. This means you should be able to integrate well into the team and get to grips with the staff and departments more quickly. Not only will this interconnection between the departments make communication more effective, but you will be able to get a better understanding of your role and feel more comfortable in it much more quickly.

Make an impact
Linking to the close-knit community at SMEs, working within a smaller company means you are more likely to get your hard work noticed. It will also be easier to have your voice heard – you could potentially be working with more senior members of staff in smaller companies which is a great opportunity to share your ideas and make a difference! This will give you job satisfaction – watching your ideas being implemented and being able to oversee projects through from start to finish will help you feel like you are making a real contribution to the business.

Broaden your skill-set
Due to the smaller team size, you are less likely to be restricted to a single role – you will probably have varied responsibilities, maybe even across different departments. For example, if you worked in a marketing role, you could find yourself carrying out work in digital, print, advertising, sales or event workstreams. Not only does this mean you get to pick up transferable skills, but being exposed to different workstreams will help you gain a better understanding of how the company works and which area you may want to specialise in.

Where could I be working?

There are SMEs in all types of sectors, but here are some of the most common areas that you may consider when looking for opportunities:

  • Arts and culture
  • Marketing, media and publishing
  • Manufacturing
  • Financial services
  • Legal services
  • Consultancies
  • Technology/software companies
  • Construction
  • Charities

How do I find opportunities at SMEs?

Finding opportunities at SMEs can sometimes be a bit trickier than finding them at larger companies, as they aren’t often marketed in the same way. Here are some tips to remember during your search.

  • SMEs often rely on recruitment agencies to fill their roles, so it may be worth looking at this route.
  • When searching for roles online, don’t focus on brand identity. This means, instead of searching for companies you know about, focus on searching for specific roles or industries e.g. search for ‘auditing roles in Birmingham’ rather than ‘Deloitte vacancies’. The trick is to use buzzwords – such as sectors and role types – rather than company names.
  • Larger companies often recruit far in advance for their graduate schemes and placement programmes. SMEs don’t – they usually recruit as and when they need to. They often advertise for roles in the Spring, which is ideal if you missed out on some of the early deadlines before Christmas!
  • Don’t dismiss internships – if you are looking for a graduate role, you may only be interested in securing a full-time, permanent position. However, some SMEs may offer internships with the potential for you to be kept on as a permanent member of staff if you impress as an intern. Make sure to read all the details when you see internship opportunities advertised or contact the employer to see if there is a possibility of you being considered for a permanent role at the end of the internship.
  • It’s also a good idea to apply speculatively to SMEs if they aren’t currently advertising specific roles, as they may invite you in for a chat or keep your CV on file for when a role does come up. However, it’s important that you outline your expectations in these speculative applications – say you are looking for paid placement opportunities for example. Don’t say you are willing to work for free, as some companies may exploit that.

Things to remember when searching for opportunities

While we do want you to take SMEs into consideration when searching for opportunities, make sure you take some time to think properly about whether an SME is the right company for you.

  • Think about whether you are happy having a varied role in a small team, or if you would prefer to have a more defined role within a larger team. It can be hard work having to juggle a variety of responsibilities, so think about what kind of work you would be happy with. 
  • How much training do you want? A graduate role at an SME for example won’t be structured in the same way as a larger graduate scheme – it will usually be an entry level role. Additionally, SMEs often focus on on-the-job learning as they often have fewer resources for training compared to larger companies.
  • Do background research about the company before applying – find out what type of work they do, what the work culture is like, what their values are etc. to see if it’s a company you would feel happy working for.
  • There is sometimes the option to negotiate your start date at an SME which you might not be able to do for larger companies. Therefore, if there is a role being advertised with a starting date that is before the end of your exams/you graduate, you may be able to speak to the employer to see if there is any flexibility with the start date.

If you want to find out more about the big opportunities an SME could offer you, we are here to help! Visit our dedicated webpage:, join in the conversation on social media using the hashtag #AstonSMEs or come and speak to us in the Careers+Placements Centre. Don’t forget, you can also explore a range of placement and graduate opportunities at SMEs on Aston Futures.

Why you should consider working at a start-up

Stuart Harrison graduated from Aston University in 2014 with a degree in International Business with Modern Languages (French). He is now Co-Founder of a start-up called Remedy Roots (who are nourishing better health through a range of signature loose leaf tea blends) based in Birmingham. Here he tells us about his career journey, what it’s like working in a start-up and how his placement year helped him to get where he is today.

Tell us a bit about your career journey. How have you moved from being an Aston student to where you are now?

After graduating, I moved down to Reading to work for a B2B marketing agency. I started off in their client services team – helping clients and managing projects for them. I then worked my way over to the planning department, where we would plan marketing strategies and campaigns for our primarily tech-focused clients. During that time, I studied for a Postgraduate Diploma in Digital Marketing with the IDM.

After two years, I decided to move back to Birmingham to live with my girlfriend (a fellow Aston student I met on placement year!). I was briefly the head of marketing for a small tech company, which sadly went bust after four months due to some lingering issues from before I joined.

That left me with a choice – to get another job, or work for myself. I decided to start working as a freelance marketing consultant. Soon after, my cousin approached me with an idea for her own range of health-beneficial herbal teas.

You are Co-Founder of Remedy Roots – how did that come about? Did your degree support you with the work that involved?

My cousin originally asked me for a marketing plan for her new business. After looking at what she wanted to achieve, and the values she would have along the way, I fell in love with the idea. I asked her if she would consider a 50/50 business partner, and she said yes!

My degree formed a solid base of knowledge that I could use to guide us in taking the first steps to creating a business.

What does your work involve? Do you have any highlights you’d like to share?

As a start-up founder, there is no task or job that you can consider as ‘not for you’; you very much become a jack of all trades. As a digital marketer, it’s been really interesting to learn how to sell at events and fairs, which has taught me a lot about the thinking process people actually go through when buying. We’re quite proud of ourselves that we’ve gone through all the steps needed to start getting our products stocked in shops and cafes, which has been a steep learning curve.

Before you graduated from Aston, what was your opinion of working at an SME or start-up? Has this changed?

I’ve always wanted my own business – the degree I chose and the jobs I took after were deliberate, to try and prepare myself for when the right idea came along. The all-consuming nature of a start-up is definitely much clearer to me now, but I’m still really happy to be working for myself!

What do you think are the greatest benefits of working at an SME/start-up?

If you’re working for a start-up, you’ve got a voice that will be heard. There’s no getting lost in the mix and if you’ve got an idea, you can test it out without having to go through three months of getting the right department members on-board. On top of that, if you’re with the right company then there will always be room for progression, because you’re helping the business to expand into bigger and better things.

What advice would you give to other students looking for job at an SME/start-up or considering starting up their own business?

Find something that you love. Whether it’s your idea or someone else’s, if you’re getting involved at a small business level, there’s no room for coasters – you need to really believe in what you’re promoting. At the same time, make sure you’re going into business with someone that’s interested in seeing you profit as well as themselves.

Did you do a placement whilst you were at Aston? If so, where was it and what did it involve? Did it help shape your career path in any way?

Yes! The placement year sealed the deal when I was looking at University courses. I did six months in Nice, France working for a boat rental company, then six months in Paris for Orange Business Services. A placement is invaluable. I found that at all my subsequent job interviews, I spent more time talking about my experiences on the placement year than anything else. It completely broadens your thinking and helps you to appreciate what the working world looks like beyond the part-time jobs that are available to a student.

You can find out more about Remedy Roots here:

If Stuart’s story has inspired you to find out how small companies can offer you big opportunities, we are here to help! Visit our dedicated webpage:, join in the conversation on social media using the hashtag #AstonSMEs or come and speak to us in the Careers+Placements Centre. Don’t forget, you can also explore a range of placement and graduate opportunities at SMEs on Aston Futures.


Christmas in Toulouse

Christmas is still a not-so-distant memory, so now is as an appropriate time as any to share with you my favourite time of year in such a gorgeous city.

Firstly, a short disclaimer is necessary on my part – I unashamedly love Christmas; for me Christmas begins the day after Halloween. I am that person. This year, my local Tesco began stocking Christmas goodies in September and I for one was delighted.

I did significantly lower my expectations when I moved to Toulouse though – especially following their somewhat (in my opinion) half-hearted attempt at Halloween. I was however pleasantly surprised at how enthusiastically the city embraced the Christmas festivities. I cannot recommend Toulouse enough to anyone who will be looking for a cheap weekend away over the next festive period, with (at the time of writing) return flights from most London airports for under £30 (some as cheap as £10), and attractions as stunning as some of the following:

Marché de Noël

On the 24th November 2017, 117 white wooden huts clad with lights and festive decorations popped up in in Place du Capitole. The long-awaited (by me, at least) Marché de Noël had arrived. Every year the stalls sell artisanal products from the local area, Christmas gifts and handmade goods in addition to the plethora of fresh festive food and drinks.

I did develop somewhat of a crêpe addiction over the course of the festive period – several friends back home in the UK had words with me about how bored they were of seeing pictures of crêpes on my Snapchat story in excess of three times a week. I wish I was kidding. In addition to the wealth of churros, vin chaud and gauffres (waffles), another culinary highlight of the Christmas market was Aligot – commonly known among students as cheesy mash. Aligot however has a continental twist in the form of extra ingredients: Raclette, butter, cream and garlic and is very commonly found in the region of Occitanie. If this video doesn’t qualify as food porn, nothing does.

Pictures cannot do justice to the quintessentially festive atmosphere – the smells, sounds, lights and cold air epitomise Christmas for me, although this video of the toulousain Marché de Noël in 2015 gives a pretty good idea.

Galleries Lafayette

Much to my delight, Toulouse is home to a six-floor baby of the iconic Parisian department store. One thing it does succeed at is festive décor – although I imagine on nowhere near the same scale as its parent in Paris. Both inside out, every inch of the store was decked with festivity and was completely packed throughout the whole month of December.

The opening of its new rooftop restaurant and bar Ma Biche sur le Toit, from which the views over Toulouse are said to be spectacular, also coincided with the festive season, so, of course, a visit was necessary. Unfortunately this visit was not a success, as bookings are imperative and the wearing of trainers is forbidden, so this trip is still on the agenda for the next few weeks. Watch this space.

Lights in Centre-Ville

Much to my despair I missed the evening of the switch on of the Christmas lights, although France doesn’t seem to be as big on ‘switch-on ceremonies’ as the events we are used to in the UK which generally feature a Z-list celebrity pressing an oversized button on a rainy November evening.

The lights themselves were gorgeous, with each different area of the centre following a different theme. Some of my favourites are pictured below, although I could have taken thousands of photos of this photogenic city and its stunning lights.


Captioleum and Square Charles de Gaulle

Behind the Capitole building is the Square Charles de Gaulle, the new home to a small village of inflated igloos for the festive season. These igloo pods contained different themed versions of Santa’s grotto and were a delight for young children. In my excitement I forgot to take pictures, although you can see them peeping into the back of this photo:

Above these igloos, a ten minute Christmas film for children was projected directly onto the back of the Capitole building, which really made it all feel very magical.

As city centre Christmas trees go, I’d say Toulouse does pretty well with this enormous ride-on tree which took up residence in Square Charles de Gaulle:

Christmas at Air France

Having already expressed my feelings towards Christmas, I’m sure it’s not hard to imagine my reaction to returning to a ten-foot Christmas tree in the foyer of the office after a weekend back home in England. This was in fact destined to be decorated by the whole building in order to compete with those in the other four buildings on the site. The theme of ‘origami and paperwork’ was elected and soon the tree was covered in makeshift sticky note adornments and an assortment of origami. Sadly our building did not win, but it was one tinsel-clad rung on the festive ladder to feeling ~Christmassy~.

The festivities continued, with a pull de moche (Christmas jumper) competition and a Christmas dinner taking place that same week. Of course, a large part of running conversation classes is to discuss topics which are current and culturally informative, so naturally I led a class about Christmas adverts in the UK. The John-Lewis style Christmas ads we have come to love are basically unheard of in France, so many of my students found this really interesting.

Santa et Cie

One of the more linguistically challenging things I had resolved to do during my time here was to watch a French film at the cinema – obviously sans subtitles. The first week in December I saw posters advertising a family film by the name of Santa et Cie (Santa and co.), and, given the lack of Christmas films available on Netflix in France, two of us went to see it in the hope of feeling yet more festive.

What followed is the strangest, yet most original Christmas film I have ever seen. The plot is as follows: with only three days to go until Christmas, Santa’s entire workforce of elves become ill, leaving Monsieur Claus and his reindeer to travel to Paris to source the only cure: 92,000 doses of vitamin C tablets. Naturally he encounters a whole gamut of difficulties, and enlists the help of a young family with whom he learns the ins and outs of life outside the North Pole. The narrative features the usual morals of not doubting yourself, and the importance of family, especially at Christmas.

I can only hope this film is released with English subtitles in time for next Christmas, so that I can watch it again and understand the 70% of the speech which completely went over my head.

Watch the trailer for Santa et Cie here:

With so much festivity and the added excitement of having to actually travel in order to get home for Christmas, I can say this was the year I truly felt the most festive in the lead up to les vacances. I left work for the airport on the 21st of December with visions of the airport scene of Love Actually in mind.

Watch out for my upcoming post about some of the non-Christmas highlights of Toulouse!

A la prochaine!

Beat the January blues  

It can be tough being on placement sometimes – you’re in a new environment, doing something new and surrounded by new people. It can be even more of a struggle returning to your placement after the excitement and magic of Christmas and New Year, especially if you’re having to say goodbye to loved ones again and deal with the realities of homesickness. This is where we are here to help – take a read through these top tips for beating the January blues on placement.


First of all, it’s important to remember that whatever you are feeling, you are not alone. Whether it’s on placement or in full-time employment, no one wants to go back to work after Christmas! The last few weeks have been full of fun, food and family, so having to get back into a routine is going to be a big shock to the system for all of us. After a few days though, it will feel like you’ve never been away!

Stay busy and plan some fun activities to look forward to. Whether it’s going to lunch with a friend/family, exploring your local area, picking up a new hobby or a trip to the cinema, having lots of activities planned will keep you busy and give you something to take your mind off things.

Treasure your happy memories. Putting together a scrapbook or memory box will let you look back on the good times when you’re feeling a bit down. Take lots of photos, collect gig tickets, keep train tickets, save receipts from meals out, get some souvenirs from places you’ve visited etc. – you’ll be able to look back at these and reminisce for years to come.

If you’ve moved away to do your placement, take some home comforts back with you to remind you of home. Why not pack your favourite snacks, some DVDs, some framed photos, your comfiest blanket or a cuddly toy with you? Making your new place feel familiar and inviting will help you feel happy and comfortable there.Get active. Yes, we know almost everyone makes New Year’s resolutions which they probably won’t keep to do more exercise. But getting active is a great way to feel better both physically and mentally. Exercising can help relieve stress and releases chemicals that make you feel happier. Why not hit the gym or look for some sports clubs to join – it’s also a great way to meet new people!

Look after yourself. The Christmas break can often be a period of excess – which seems like a great idea at the time – but can leave your body feeling out of sorts. Make sure you have a healthy, varied diet, get enough sleep and regularly give yourself some ‘me time’ to recharge. Keep in touch! Make time for regular video calls with you friends and family, and stick to the times you’ve arranged. Not only will these calls help you feel a bit closer to home, but they will also give you something to look forward to. However, while it’s good to stay in touch with people back home or on other placements, don’t get hung up on wishing you were there with them. You may not always think so, but your placement is a great, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so don’t waste it. Whatever you do, don’t just sit around wishing you were somewhere else – you will regret it.

Talk to people. Whatever you’re feeling, don’t keep it bottled up. If you are struggling with your workload or having issues on the placement itself, talk to a manager you can trust about it. If management aren’t aware of your issues, they cannot put anything in place to support or resolve the issues. If you’re struggling with your personal life, tell those who are close to you. It may also help to chat to other students on placement as they will be in the same position as you and might have their own advice to give – you will probably also find you aren’t alone in the way you feel! However, if you feel you need a bit of extra support,  you can talk to the placement team or a professional at The Hub – just because you’re on placement, it doesn’t mean you can’t still access Aston’s support services.






My top tips for dealing with homesickness whilst on a placement abroad

Yasmine Payne graduated from Aston University in July 2017 with a BSc in Business, Management and Public Policy and now works in the Careers+Placements team as International Projects Coordinator. During her undergraduate degree, she completed a study abroad placement in Spain at Universidad de Sevilla. Read through her tips for coping with the struggles of homesickness whilst you’re on your international placement.

Don’t panic!


Homesickness is natural! Do not worry – of course, you will feel sad to be returning to your placement after spending the Christmas period with your loved ones. However, everyone is in the same boat and there are loads of things you can do to combat homesickness.

Join clubs and societies for international exchange students – not only will you meet new people, but you’ll be too busy having fun to feel homesick.

Take trips with your roommates and explore the countries around you, so when you do return to the UK you will be able to tell everyone your memories of visiting new places.

Skype your friends and family so you have a time in the day where you talk to your loved ones and most importantly have fun!

This year abroad is a time for you to learn new things, realise what you are good at and make friends for life!

Make a photo album!


When I went abroad and started to feel homesick, I bought myself a nice photo album and printed off all the pictures I had taken so far. I made sure I kept tickets from football matches I had seen, trains I caught when I visited new cities and plane tickets when I travelled to new countries. Even menus from some of my favourite restaurants!

Putting things down onto paper helps you look at all you have achieved and will make you happy to see all the memories you have created so far! Plus this is a great way to show your creative side and when you return home after your placement you will be able to show your loved ones who will be eager to know all about your journey!

Be open-minded!

Moving to a new country is hard and the fact you have made it this far is an achievement in itself so you should be proud!

A new country comes with many challenges and adjusting to a new culture can have its drawbacks, but if you remain open-minded and eager to learn new things you will have a much more enjoyable experience – you would be surprised how much you can learn about yourself when immersed in a new culture! Believe me, there will be people who want to learn about you just the same way you want to learn about them.

Learn the language!


When moving to a new country, you may also encounter a language you most likely have never spoken before!

When I felt homesick because no one spoke English, I found a Spanish speaking class and this way I met new people who were also on a placement abroad – this also helped me feel more comfortable in my new country as I could speak to people in their language. I was able to make new friends and we would socialise together outside of class. This allowed me to have something fun to add to my daily schedule outside of studying.

Also, having international experience and the ability to speak more than one language makes you look great to employers! Plus when you do move back to the UK, you can show off your new language skills to your family and friends who will be impressed!

I hope these tips have helped and I wish you all the best with your international placement!

I finally plucked up the courage to apply for a government graduate scheme


I always wanted to work for the government but I ended up trying the supposed ‘silver bullets’ of career paths. After unsuccessful stints in the corporate world and startups (not for me) and a very positive experience in PR (my career spirit animal); I knew that I had to take the risk to apply and get my foot in the door. The National Graduate Development Programme (NGDP) recruitment drive is an investment of your time regardless of what stage you get up to…my recruitment was almost a year’s process! Please do not think that graduate schemes are for fresh faced 21 year olds! I graduated with my BSc with a study abroad year almost 4 years ago. Since then, I have gone onto to complete my MA, tried different careers paths, lived in different cities, got lots of life experience and developed as a person before ending up in government. I have met those on the scheme who have completed PhD’s as well as stints in other industries! The more life experience and skill sets you can bring to this job, the better!


My advice for the recruitment process? Take it one step at a time. Try not to overthink it and do not second guess everything. The main thing to keep in mind when applying is ‘fit.’ How do you fit into local government? Why do you fit into local government? What area of local government do you fit into? Are you aware of the financial and community difficulties that lie ahead in a post-Brexit/Trump era? How can your soft and hard skills help local governments work together away from central government? All central funding is to be cut and local governments to be financially self-sufficient by 2019/2020.

A lot of my friends have successfully applied for various government graduate schemes with varying degrees of personal satisfaction and professional gratification. The key to local government is will the work at local government satisfy you? Non-statutory services and duty of care are not ‘sexy’ topics to discuss but play a central role in people’s lives. If services were to be removed or become inaccessible, then we would be failing our residents. In local government, you are on the front line. From library services being cut, rising adult social care costs and a booming young population, the pressure is on to balance the books while meeting our legal requirements before central government pulls our funding.

I am currently in my first placement on the scheme working with the stronger communities’ team and my second placement will be working for the Chief Executive herself. The content of the work is very enjoyable but working with different key stakeholders can be a challenge. There is a lot of overlap with my undergraduate degree, Politics with International Relations and my MA in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies. Your ability to mix your soft and hard skills are put to the test on a daily basis. While this can be challenging the support has been second to none. I have a dedicated team at my local authority to look after me, along with a mentor, my line manager of my current placement, those on my current cohort at my local authority and those across the country, the alumni network and the programme directors of the scheme itself. The NGDP also enrols you onto a professional qualification at the Institute of Leadership and Management. This has already helped me understand and navigate issues that I, as a future leader, am encountering. How to bring together an intergenerational workforce, what are the expectations of flexible working, how does this impact the service delivery of statutory and non-statutory services?

I highly recommend anyone to apply especially those, who like me, tried different career paths before heading down the road of government. If you need any more insight into the programme, I am happy to help. Please ask Careers+Placements for my contact details. I will most likely be replying back when I am not in back-to-back meetings and can access my emails! But I will get there! Pace yourselves and good luck!


Katrina Rattu

Why go abroad for your placement year?

I am currently undertaking my placement year abroad, so I thought I’d share some of my thoughts and experiences on why you should consider doing a placement abroad.


You can conquer a new language! 

The great thing about undertaking a placement abroad is that you can learn a new language!

I am studying and working abroad with the sole intention of improving my French.  I have incorporated speaking French into my daily routine. I deal with my accommodation, bank, doing my shopping and also my classes are in French.

Don’t worry you still get to speak English! Most of my friends are outside of school and are international students. With them, I do speak a lot of English! But, I also have thrown myself out of my comfort zone by attending buddy programmes without my international friends, and this has resulted in me making some real French friends.


Or you can learn the basics…

Alternatively, you can work or study in English in another country. I have friends across Europe who are working in English while living in cities from Amsterdam to Barcelona. I am sure that outside of work they try to learn some of their local languages so that they can use public transport and buy their groceries. I know in France, French people really respect you if you try to speak French even if they realise that you’re not French or that your sentences are incorrect!


You can see the world! 

I have already mentioned in my previous blog that I have visited some pretty cool places like Grenoble in France, undertaking a placement year abroad is such a great way to explore. My most recent trip was to Lake Annecy which is BEAUTIFUL! With placement year you have some time, some money and no real responsibilities tying you down to go out and explore. It is your opportunity to make the most of every weekend, to visit other friends from Aston who are living abroad and to see some new places.




Learn about a new culture

Living in a country enables you to learn more about the culture present and get a feel of the country rather than hearing it on social media. The most significant thing I have learnt so far is the difference between the French and English education systems. In France, most lectures are 3 hours and 15 minutes long, with a break after the first 90 minutes!

I am attending a business school, and it really does feel like I have gone back to school! I am in a class of 30 people, who remain the same in every lesson. Each group has a different timetable, so I follow my 30 friends from Group A for the semester. The classrooms are set out like you would imagine in a school, and our professor picks on individuals during the lesson to answer his or her questions. The class is mandatory and monitored, and missing lessons results in a mark of 0 for your midterm exams!

Other things you will discover are new foods, customs, traditions and social norms. I have learnt a lot about the local cheeses, wines and the local green liqueur “Chartreuse”.


Make new friends 

In my class, all of the students come from French-speaking countries – places in France, Belgium, Chad, Congo, Madagascar and Senegal. I am taking a class to improve my French competencies, and everyone in this class are from China, all hoping to take the Desma exam to prove their fluency in French. My international friends stretch from Australia, Germany, Hungary, Denmark and many of them are American and Irish. I have made friends for life from various countries and have even been invited to visit some of these countries with my new found tour-guides!


Have some life experiences 

This could be your once in a lifetime opportunity to try living abroad for six or twelve months. You have no obligation to ever work abroad again if your experience is negative, or you may find somewhere that you absolutely adore and wish to work after university. However, you can only find out about life in a new country by going to live there. I think the first month was where I learnt the most about myself.

I moved into a studio on my own, I knew no-one in my new city and I had a ton of paperwork to do to settle into France. I had to find ways to make friends, speak French with as many people as possible and set up my bank, doctors, financial aid, water, electricity, accommodation without the help and advice of my parents and friends. I also lost my EHIC on the plane which seemed to be a huge problem to resolve and meant I was unable to complete some of my paperwork in the first few weeks – it felt like a weight was lifted when I finally (finally!) received a new card. You find yourself without your close usual support network for a few weeks, and this is when you realise you are strong enough to do anything if you put your mind to it!

Career opportunities 

Following on from my last comment, you will have experienced such a steep learning curve when moving abroad on your own, that you will have endless examples to give in interviews. You will learn to be independent, work in a team effectively and tackle challenges that you had thought were impossible. Secondly, if I haven’t persuaded you yet, maybe you should consider that your work opportunities could effectively be doubled if you have exposure to a second country alongside your exposure to England.

I have had a handful of interviews for jobs in Paris last week and am awaiting a response. I already have friends in Paris and they have told me that they adore it so much that they are already considering working there after university. I can only hope that I will receive a job offer in the next few days so I can experience the excitement and joy of Paris for myself!


Career in Policy and Public Affairs

Sometimes I find it hard to describe what I do for a living. ‘Policy and public affairs’ isn’t a career path that everyone has heard of, or knows much about. But I think it’s probably one of the most interesting and rewarding careers going.

I loved ancient history and literature at school, and went on to study at the University of Birmingham. After graduating, I was sure that I wanted to work in the public sector, and to do something that used my skills – reading and absorbing information, seeing patterns and analysing situations, and setting out my arguments in writing. After a while tempting for the NHS in an admin role in London, I managed to get onto Birmingham City Council’s graduate programme.

During my time on the graduate programme I worked in several different roles which enabled me to get a sense of what I did – and definitely didn’t want to do in future. It was during a placement in a waste and recycling depot on the outskirts of Birmingham city centre, where I was researching and designing different ways to encourage Brummies to recycle more and throw away less, that I discovered my interest in public policy.

I made a sideways move from working directly in local government to working in higher education policy in London. I wasn’t working for the government department responsible for universities, but for a policy organisation that represents universities – so it was my job to try to influence policy from the outside. I started as a Policy Researcher, and within three and a half years worked my way up to become a Policy Analyst and then a Senior Policy Analyst, eventually managing my own Policy Researcher.

I’m now Aston University’s Policy Advisor. It’s my job to know what is going on in the political world outside, and work out how it might impact on Aston. It’s also my job to find ways of letting policymakers know about all of the excellent work that goes on in Aston. Life as a Policy Advisor is often varied and always interesting. One day I might be watching a parliamentary debate live online to see what the government Minister is saying about universities, the next I’ll be responding to a consultation on what Brexit will mean for the UK’s higher education sector, and another day I’ll be drafting letters to send to MPs about an exciting development at Aston University, or organising a roundtable discussion event.

One of the great things about policy as a career path is that you realise policy roles are all around you, and your skills are really transferrable. As well as the option of working within government or with a particular politician, pretty much any organisation that interacts with government in some way, whether in the public, private or charity sector, will need people to run their policy and public affairs operation.

If you have developed the right skills and experience – like being able to read and digest lengthy and complex reports, analyse what a government announcement will mean for a sector in practice, think how a politician might think, or write a persuasive letter – in a way it doesn’t matter what context you are working in. You can learn that detail of the job as you go along.


My advice for anyone thinking about a career in policy is:

  • When it comes to job hunting or looking for work experience, think outside the box – it’s not just government that has policy roles. Universities, charities of all kinds, political parties, think tanks and representative bodies do too. And it doesn’t have to be in London if that’s not your scene.
  • Your career can be incredibly varied, so don’t pigeon hole yourself into one area of policy. I moved straight from environmental policy to higher education policy so I know it can be done.
  • Do your research and keep up to date with current affairs. If you’re applying for a policy role, have a look at the organisation’s recent news releases or blogs, find out which government departments they interact with and which politicians are in charge, and read one of their recent speeches. This will impress recruiters and show that you have already thought about their policy challenges.

Lizzy Woodfield

Policy Advisor, Aston University

If students would like to talk to someone to gain some advice on how to break into a career in policy, or to discuss any other aspects of their career planning, do book an appointment with a careers consultant via Aston Futures (