Professional Training Year

Emily Spain, Final Year Law Student 

Why did you choose to do a Professional Training Year?

I chose to a Professional Training Year because I wanted to gain some real-world experience before completing my degree and was eager to apply the skills I had learnt in my first two years of university. Having a year out of your studies to experience the working world, build connections and gain key life skills sounded like a great opportunity to me, especially considering you are continually supported by the university throughout the year. Looking back now, I can see how much I’ve grown personally and professionally from doing a PTY; my grades are higher in final year, I have more confidence, and I secured a graduate job with ease. I could not recommend doing a PTY enough! 

How did you find the application process? 

I found the application process well-supported but also very unique to you. There are lots of opportunities for support and feedback with applications and finding a job by the PTY team if that is what you want, but equally you can just go off and find a job on your own if that is how you prefer to work. 

We have an internal job search page here at Surrey called ‘Surrey Pathfinder’ which has loads of great roles to consider and is a fantastic resource. You can also find a placement elsewhere, such as through other job sites or by making enquiries with companies. This means there are loads of roles out there to look into, and lots of opportunities to consider. 

I sadly had my first placement cancelled due to COVID-19, so whilst I initially found a placement on LinkedIn, I later then secured another placement via Surrey Pathfinder. I think this shows that you have lots of time and opportunities to find a role. It seems daunting when you start your second year and begin to think about placement, but you have so much time to find one, and in my case two, so definitely don’t let the thought of finding one put you off.

What type of work did you get to do on your placement? 

My placement was incredibly varied. I worked as a research intern in local government and had lots of opportunities to experience different areas of work. My first focus was qualitative research with residents, involving drafting surveys, conducting interviews with residents, and creating reports for the local Council with recommendations based on my findings. As part of this, I went on a secondment for month to a research agency and got to experience the same work from the perspective of the private sector. This was not only a great experience but allowed me to work with a brand-new team and experience a new organisation. 

I also had the opportunity to work on a local community project fund (worth £100 million!) and was involved in the drafting of application forms and the legal governance behind the fund. This gave me the opportunity to work directly with the Director of Law and Governance, a huge opportunity, meaning I had feedback on my drafting skills from very experienced professionals. 

Finally, I was heavily involved in a lot of COVID-19 reporting and analysis, and even took on an additional role as a Business Support for one of the major reporting organisations in the county. I took on this work by expressing an interest in what the team was doing, being proactive in meetings, and always being organised. The team recognised my contribution and asked me to be involved for the remainder of my placement year, meaning I had 7 months experiencing two different placement roles. This experience taught me that, not only does a placement year give you hands-on work experience within the placement you choose, but it can also provide you with the opportunity to go above and beyond your role, further expanding your experience.

What do you think you gained from the experience?

As obvious as it sounds, from my PTY experience, I gained so much experience and developed lots of crucial skills. As a result, I always say the most important thing placement gave me was confidence; I have strong examples and a new-found belief in my strengths and skillset, which I have been able to apply to my studies and will take with me into my future career. Examples of these skills include leadership, teamwork, and time management skills, all of which I now know I can apply to a corporate work environment. 

Working as part of a large organisation and in a corporate setting is a significant experience which I am pleased to have. Simple things like hosting meetings on Microsoft Teams, managing Outlook diaries for both myself and others, and getting to know the structure and culture of a brand-new organisation were things I hadn’t anticipated learning from. The opportunities I had to interview clients, deliver presentations to 50+ colleagues, and manage my own workload were huge learning opportunities, but equally was getting used to corporate jargon like ‘let’s circle back’ and ‘please deliver by EOD tomorrow’. 

A final thing I gained from placement was experience of the working world, both in the legal sector and within other sectors. I found my placement gave me perspective on where I want to go after university, what sort of roles or industries I am interested in, and how important the culture and people of a workplace are to me. I built lots of strong connections during my placement year, many of whom I am still in contact with over 6 months later. I was also offered two graduate roles from my placement year which were fantastic options to consider alongside my graduate job search in my final year of university. 

If you could give any piece of advice to future placement students, what would it be? 

My first piece of advice would be to definitely do a placement, I can’t recommend it enough. In terms of when you are doing a placement, these are my top tips:

Approach every situation trying to learn and being as helpful as possible. Colleagues will recognise your efforts and will give you greater opportunities for professional development if they see you are eager. 

Somewhat contrary to my above advice, do not sit around and wait to be given work. If you have spare time in the day, ask your manager or colleagues how you can help or if there are any extra projects you can get involved with. Similarly, if you hear about a piece of work that sounds interesting, ask if you can help with it! So long as your manager approves, people will rarely turn down help with work and this is a great way to tailor your PTY to experience the things you want to.  

Keep a running list of all the things you are learning as you go, and anything you feel you are doing particularly well or could improve upon. This will not only help you when you come to write your placement report at the end of your PTY, but it’s a great way to reflect and see how far you have come. 

If in doubt, write it down, and always write the date at the top of the page because people will often say to you “do you remember what X said in that meeting last Tuesday?” and suddenly you are counting pages in a notebook trying to work out which day was Tuesday. 

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask questions and ask for advice. Take advantage of your time as the young, inexperienced member of the team and ask as many silly questions as you want. 

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