For many placement students, our placement year is the first exposure to the world of work we experience. Acclimatising to these new roles, often in new surroundings, can take time due to large (and small) changes in our lives, however, there are many ways to speed up that period of adjustment.
Following an offer for a 12-month placement within the Office for National Statistics, I moved to Cardiff with some other placement students in September. I’ll be sharing some tips firstly about how to settle into a new area, and secondly covering how to settle into a new job.
Adjusting to a new area
Having moved to the University of Bath campus in 2019, this isn’t the first time I’ve had a big change in my surroundings. Back then, I found it useful to give myself enough time (for me, at least a month) to acclimatise to my new area, before eventually visiting home. If you’re visiting home every weekend, its likely to interrupt your adjustment to living away. Although it can be really difficult being away from family (especially the first time), I believe it’s important to get used to being in your new area, as you’ll feel more at home when you return from weekend trips away.
Taking time to explore your new area can help you feel more comfortable. Something as simple as a walk can be very effective at helping you feel more settled and help you know your way around. In Cardiff, I’ve found Bute park to be my favourite spot for a walk; it follows the River Taff, away from the busy city centre.
Making weekend plans is important, giving yourself something to look forward to. If there are other placement students in the same organisation/city, make the effort to meet them, this will help you feel more connected to your new area. Alternatively, look into joining any local sports clubs, this is a great way to get to know other people with similar interests.
Whilst joining a new club can be intimidating, the hardest part will be going the first time; the chances are that people will be friendly there which will encourage you to go back. Whilst our placement year is an opportunity to experience the world of work, why not use it as a chance to take up a new hobby or get involved in a local club?
If a concern of yours is not having people to socialise with, I would highly encourage you to look for other students living in your area. Before I sorted accommodation this year, the university provided an excel document listing all the students in my year who had secured a placement, and where their roles were based. This allowed me to contact other students who were living in Wales and arrange accommodation.
Alternatively, depending on the size of the organisation you’re joining, you may be put in contact with other students who will be working at the same company. I would strongly recommend finding others to live with, especially given the current restrictions on social activities. Even if you’re not the most social person, it really helps having people to talk to after a long day at work. I did consider living alone in a studio, but I’m so glad I didn’t, especially given the virtual nature of my work.
Settling into a new job
During your first weeks in your new role, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed with information. Don’t be surprised if your brain feels fried after week 1, it took me some time to get to grips with what my team did and the general structure of the working week.
It’s unlikely/unrealistic that you’ll be expected to immediately remember everything that you’re taught, but I have found making notes to be very effective at helping me remember how to do various tasks. If you’re unsure of anything, simply ask the question to a more experienced colleague. Asking plenty of questions shows that you’re wanting to improve your understanding and will help you in your role in the future.
Introducing yourself to new colleagues and taking the time to get to know everybody will help you settle into your new role. Although it can be intimidating to initiate conversations with new people, colleagues are generally really friendly and will appreciate the efforts you take to get to know them better. When it comes to your work, ask other members of your team if you can shadow certain tasks that you may be asked to do in the future. This will allow you to get to know your team better, as well as teaching you about your role, allowing you to volunteer to do these tasks in the future.
When opportunities arise for you to volunteer to do extra-curricular/ad-hoc tasks, take them. Often these tasks teach you a lot about how your team fits into the organisation, and your colleagues will appreciate the extra help!
I try to ask myself “Why not?” when the team asks for a volunteer. Often, I figure that I may take longer than more experienced-team members to complete a task, but you will only improve at these tasks by practicing and gaining experience. These responsibilities can give you a chance to meet new people and will develop your confidence, as well as looking great on your CV!
Throughout your initial settling-in period, write down any questions you have about the role as they come into your head, taking the opportunity to ask them when you have the chance. After a few weeks, you might consider asking your line manager for constructive feedback on how you’re doing. Try to be honest with your line manager, discuss what you’ve found difficult and what your strengths are, and ask for any advice. Be sure to note down the areas for improvement and look into how you could improve those areas.
Most importantly, give yourself time. There’s no set time frame for you to be completely settled in by, its different for everybody. Whilst you won’t be expected to know everything about your role immediately, you’re likely to get a lot more from your placement if you take all the opportunities which will present themselves.