Placement opportunities can come from the most unexpected places

Hi, I’m Tonina, a fourth-year Business Management student, completing my final year at LUMS after returning from a Marketing placement at Prestwich Pharmacy, a Manchester-based wellbeing centre.

What is it like applying for placements?

My placement application process started in early October and finished in late June. As you can imagine, trying to stay motivated during those nine months was one of the most challenging periods of my life, especially since the majority of my friends had secured their placement by March.

“REJECTION is nothing more than REDIRECTION,” is a mantra I started telling myself every time I received the dreadful “We regret to inform you, but …”. Initially, like many others, I applied to every opportunity there was – I was desperate to get a placement. It wasn’t until I sat down to really think about my skills and interests that I realised I am a very creative person and my brain freezes when I see numbers, graphs, and tables. Why am I saying this? Well, because I ignored the facts and applied for project management and procurement placements, which I would have found extremely challenging. Hence, the rejection was redirection to the sector where my skills and abilities are cherished – marketing.

If I could go back in time to give myself advice, it would be not to apply for every placement, but to  reach out to people on LinkedIn doing similar roles, or watch “A day in the Life of X job” videos on Youtube to see if it seems like a good fit before spending the next three hours applying for that role.

What helped me during the application process?

Having bi-weekly meetings with the Careers Team helped me stay grounded and motivated. We used the time to reflect on my CV, the reasons I had been rejected, and to prepare for upcoming telephone interviews or assessment centres. The LUMS Careers Team are the most supportive and understanding staff members I have ever worked with, and I would 100% advise anyone to utilise the one-to-one meetings as well as attend careers workshops – those really helped me develop my understanding of how to use the STAR technique to structure my answers during interviews, as well as identify experience I didn’t really think was relevant before.

How did I get a placement?

Sixty applications later, I realised “It’s not what you know, but who you know”. It sounds clichéd, but it’s true! One afternoon, as I was working at my part-time role as a Societies Team Supervisor in the Students’ Union, I had a meeting with a society exec who had just returned from placement. We were discussing how hard it is to get recognised and be given a chance. Two weeks later, she contacted me asking if I would be interested in helping her dad, the managing director of a wellbeing centre in Manchester, with their Marketing efforts. After a short hiring process of CV & Cover Letter and interview, I got the role as a Marketing Assistant at Prestwich Pharmacy.

An opportunity can come from anywhere. Let everyone around you know that you are looking for a placement. 99% of businesses are small and medium size, don’t focus too much on the 1% – you never know who could give you a chance.

My placement:

Joining a small pharmacy business that didn’t have any prior marketing experience meant I had to learn how to produce work by myself which would be delegated to various teams and departments in bigger companies. As the year progressed, I grew to be what some would call a “full stack marketer”. This means I have developed to a stage where I can autonomously run all marketing activities at Prestwich Pharmacy.

I am now an expert in several different fields, such as content production, graphic design, website development, and social media management. Even though the autonomy I had at such an early stage of my career development was challenging, the experience gave me a very good understanding of the different aspects a career in marketing can offer and helped me to narrow down where my interests lie.

Favourite Campaign:

The most exciting project I worked on was my first solo campaign – a Reverse Advent Calendar – 24 days of giving. The idea behind the campaign was to collect 24 different items sold in the Pharmacy over Christmas to be donated to people facing homelessness. I researched what types of hygiene and clothing items were needed in the local street kitchen where I volunteered and created a campaign around it. I designed a huge advent calendar which we positioned behind the till, created an eye-catching shop display where people could donate items, and reached out to various suppliers to request free stock for the campaign. By the end of the 24 days, we had collected 612 items – ranging from socks and hand warmers to paracetamol, vitamins and hot water bottles. Pitching my original idea and linking my passion for helping homeless people to what I do at work, and creating such a huge impact in my community is a really proud moment.

Final words:

From a shy university student to a marketing wizard in 13 months! Had I not had a placement in the marketing sector, I wouldn’t have been able to test my strengths or find out that I want to work for a small business instead of a corporation. Don’t give up, and keep going!

If you ever need a friendly listening ear, or have any questions I can help with, let’s connect on Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/toninatakova/

Tonina Takova

BSc (Hons) Business Management (Industry)