Field Placement: Finding Your Fit

Though many students experience stress and anxiety over the prospect of securing a field placement, most are excited about leaving the classroom and seeing what a ‘real’ job in their chosen field is like.  Once the initial ‘freak-out’ period has passed and students are able to focus on the actual experience, most report that their placement was everything they expected.

But…there are students who report a less-than-satisfying experience and others still who are down-right angry about the quality of their experience.  Inevitably, when I debrief with them to get at the root of the problem, they admit that they didn’t put a whole lot of thought into the placement they accepted because they were too worried about getting an experience – ANY experience. 

If you are getting ready for a field placement, here are two tips to significantly increase your chances of finding your fit.

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
  2. Ask good questions!

Students admitted that they didn’t really ask questions in the interview and some of them didn’t attend an interview – they sent their resume via email, had a phone conversation, and accepted the placement as soon as it was offered to them.  Placement hosts who hire sight unseen do so generally for one of three reasons:

  1. They aren’t invested in the process because it’s for a limited time (not a good sign).
  2. They are too busy (not a bad omen, but may not be a good sign).
  3. They have taken Durham College students for years, have been happy with their students and don’t feel the need to interview (understandable and nothing wrong with that…for the employer.  But what about you?).

Attending an actual interview is the best way to assess whether or not the placement is a good fit for you.  If they don’t generally interview, ask if you can attend one.  Regardless of how you interact with  a potential host, be sure to ask good questions!

Good questions to ask:

  1. What tasks will I spend the majority of my time working on? If they can’t give you clear and specific answers, maybe they haven’t put a lot of thought into the placement and are simply looking for an extra set of hands. This is not a good sign.
  2. Who will be my primary supervisor? If this person is not involved in the hiring process, ask to meet them.  If you have to rely on this person for guidance and support, you should meet them.  Ask them what they enjoy the most about having a placement student in the office and how they would describe their supervisory style.
  3. Will I have the opportunity to (insert tasks/experiences here)? If there are specific things you are hoping to get exposure to, then be that specific in your interview.  What are the make-it-or-break-it things you want to get a sense of?
  4. What do you like most about working here? A question like this takes the focus off of ‘tasks’ and puts it on the work environment.  

Some placement experiences can range from 70 hours to 500 hours!  The more time you will be in your placement, the more time you should invest in ensuring you will be in one that is a good fit for both you and the organization you’ll be working for.  No one knows better than you what you want and need, and if you don’t take ownership of the process, no one else will! 

Stay tuned for ‘finding your fit part 2’ – what to do if you find yourself in a placement that isn’t challenging you!

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Kathleen Stewart

Parent, cart-wheeler, teacher, marathoner.

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