‘My Student Placement Year’ – Duncan Pastoors
Coming to England from a different country (The Netherlands) I wasn’t certain what to expect in terms of my future. I had to finish college in a single year and then progressed to what has been the best experience of my life, University. I picked English Literature and Creative Writing as a general subject, and then as soon as I had an idea of what I wanted to do I started looking for work experience.
I was very fortunate that my University offered a work experience module in my second year and I ended up finding a job at a charity, alongside working for the university as a marketing assistant. The experiences I gained during this time built the foundation for what I would end up doing at VisitBritain. It also gave me the confidence to apply to jobs, knowing that even though my subject wasn’t generally what they were looking for (I tended to be surrounded by marketing and business students at every interview I went to), they would look at my work experience.
The work experience coupled with the support I got from the incredibly helpful CCi Placements department at my university, led to me landing a wide variety of interviews for which I felt well prepared. The stand-out was StudentEmploymentServices (SES) who guided me through the application process and helped me present myself to the best of my ability. Thanks to the constant support and encouragement from SES, I was made to feel comfortable with the idea of working in London at a big company.
The London Experience
I wanted to work for VisitBritain (VB) for a variety of reasons, most importantly, the job role appealed to me and VB are internationally recognised for their world-class marketing insights, trends and performance analysis. VisitBritain is a well-respected organisation, responsible for internationally marketing my favourite country (England) and city (London), so it was an obvious choice.
Another reason is that the office is based in central London. You can see a picture of the view I have every day below, something that I will miss dearly. It’s been surreal spending every working day of the past year walking past the London Eye, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, and Westminster Abbey, something most people only dream of, and I couldn’t have hoped to work in a better location. It’s helped me get to grips with the London transport system, work around very, very busy crowds, and learn how to cope with living in a massive city.
Experience with VisitBritain
The most important part is the work experience itself, which has been invaluable. From the start of my work experience I have been completely integrated as a member of the retail team, and haven’t been treated differently as an intern. I have been involved as much as other members of the team, had the chance to showcase my ideas and suggestions to colleagues that have been working in this organisation for decades, and have been included in important decisions.
Two weeks after I started, the hype of the ice bucket challenge got to VisitBritain so I ended up being included in one of their filmed ‘performances’ in what seemed like, as Americans would say, a ‘hazing ceremony’. You can watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1EuCer5eY8
That day was a chance for me to meet people outside of my department and show some of my personality, and also see a different side of the people I would be working with. From here on out, the year went very quickly. Throughout the year I’ve had amazing opportunities to visit tourist attractions for free; I got to go to great parties and network with important people in the tourism industry, saw a variety of theatre shows (my introduction to the West End!) and had the opportunity to work with great people, in a great company.
My role has been varied throughout the year, but mainly involved liaising with tourism suppliers who manage attractions such as the London Eye, The Shard, and the Warner Bros. Harry Potter Studio Tour. I helped manage the product pages on our website (http://www.visitbritainshop.com/world/) assisting with copy updates and date close-outs, and helped manage the VisitBritainShop’s affiliate network, assisting affiliates in optimizing their marketing campaigns. As VisitBritain is part of the Department for Culture, Media & Sport I was also given the opportunity to be recorded for the annual international tourism week, and ended up being featured on a Tumblr blog here: http://mytourismjob.tumblr.com/
As an intern, I had fortnightly meetings with my manager where we talked about my career development and the results I wanted to get out of my placement. I was very fortunate to be managed by someone who understood the importance of a placement year, and she helped me develop a variety of skills by giving me the freedom to explore other departments. As I stated previously, I wasn’t certain of what I wanted to do but I’ve had the opportunity to work with data analysis, on a technical front as we were approaching the launch of our new website, and working in a people-focused environment. As a result I have a clearer view of what career I would like to pursue in the future.
Overall my experience at VisitBritain has been amazing. I could not have wished for a better team, a better manager, or a better company as they have supported me along the way and helped me mould my experiences into skills that will benefit me for the rest of my career, and without them I would not have been able to win the Intern of the Year award.
Going back to university
As my return to university approaches, I am confident that the discipline and work ethic that has been instilled in me at VisitBritain will carry over to success in my final year. My placement year has given me a new perspective on what I want to get out of university, and a better idea of how to apply myself to my course. My personal view is that anyone who has the opportunity should definitely do a placement year. Even if you’re certain of what you want to do in the future, it gives you the chance to explore what kind of environment and organisation you would like to work in, if the sector truly fits your personality, and gives you the opportunity to step away from university for a year to come back and apply the experience you obtained to that final year. For me, this placement year has been invaluable and I will miss my colleagues, the company, and the experience.