Balancing Work and Study in Your Final Year

The work/study balance of a final-year DMU student – Sarah on being a Frontrunner for Unitemps!

As I started the final year of my English and Journalism degree, I couldn’t believe I would be leaving so soon! Although I had known my year of graduation was looming, it had always seemed in the distance, and not only did I feel sad about leaving, I also felt unprepared!

I’ve had quite a few jobs since I turned sixteen: working in a pet shop and waitressing, I even worked in Primark for a month (and no, it wasn’t actually that bad!) While these jobs have given me a lot of useful skills, I wanted more professional experience to add to my CV because, as we all know, the job market is tough to get into! That’s where Unitemps and Frontrunners came in.

Unitemps, which is a campus-based recruitment agency who recruits students for temporary work at the uni, only came to De Montfort last year. I can’t remember how I found out about Unitemps; I think I saw an advert and then signed up. But I’m glad I did! I applied for a few jobs and pretty much straight away, I was asked to work at the Open Day for Journalism. I turned up, a little bleary eyed, it was 8.30am and us students aren’t used to early mornings! I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I saw a few friends who were also working for different Faculties. We were all given lime-coloured Student Ambassador t-shirts (not exactly the height of fashion) and told where to go and given a timetable for the day. This put me at ease, because I was afraid that I would be wandering around not sure what I was doing, so I was happy when I saw that it was all structured

For the first hour I was directing guests and then I went to meet the tutor I was assigned to. He told me what I would be doing for the day, sitting in the presentations and helping on the tour of the Journalism labs. It was easy work and at 12pm we were given a free lunch! Not bad, considering we were being paid over £7/hour! After lunch I sat in another presentation and campus tour, and it was then time to go. I enjoyed working at the Open Day because it was good to talk to prospective students and answer their questions. I chose De Montfort because I thought their Open Day was really good, so it was fun to take part in and hopefully I was influential in other students’ decisions!

The second job I did for Unitemps was a careers fair. As with the Open Day, we were given a timetable with our assigned tasks and the dreaded t-shirts made another appearance! For the first few hours we were car park chaperoning, to meet the employers and direct them to the Hugh Aston building. I was working with three other girls, so we could have a chat while we worked, which was very relaxed. We also met Morris, the car park attendant, who amused us with his funny stories and mannerisms!

Then we had to hand out leaflets about the careers fair to encourage more students to turn up, so we waited outside the appropriate lecture halls to give them out, and left them in various buildings. The rest of the day was spent helping out at the fair, and again, we got a free lunch! I got the chance to speak to the employers and network, and even secured myself a work placement. So it was a very successful day!

I found out about Frontrunners last year when I applied for a placement, but unfortunately didn’t hear back. Frontrunners run placements in the uni and it gives students the chance to get employability skills, which help them get the experience they need to get a job when they graduate. The placements are specialised in various areas of the uni, so they cater for everybody’s degrees. Although they don’t guarantee that you will get a job because you have taken part in Frontrunners, the experience that it gives you is invaluable and will help you stand out amongst other candidates.

When the list of Frontrunner placements was released in November, I saw that there was one for Unitemps. I applied for this placement because I had enjoyed the work I had done for Unitemps, so I read the description and applied, but didn’t think I would hear back. I then got an email inviting me for an interview so I was very happy.

The interview was in January, and I was asked to produce a five-minute presentation about how I would promote the importance of part-time work and Unitemps to students. I talked about how important it is for students to work while doing their degree. Unitemps and Frontrunners give students the opportunity to gain the employability skills to help them get a job and if they haven’t worked before, then prepares them for working life: getting up in the morning and how to behave professionally are skills that a lot of students need to learn (me included!)  Frontrunners also gives you the opportunity to have an interview which can be daunting, especially when you get in the room and there are two people there to interview you. I tried to answer all the questions as well as I could and had to think on my feet, which must have worked, because after the weekend, I had a phone call to say that I had got the job!

I’ve since been working for Unitemps in my placement for three months and I am enjoying the experience. Although I have a lot of uni work to do at the moment, including a 10,000-word dissertation, my Manager has been flexible to fit in my shifts around my lectures. If I have a lot of deadlines, she is very understanding and allows me to do the hours when I can. I’m working with two other Frontrunners in the placement, so the hours are split, which has lessened the work-load for all of us, because we are all in important stages of our degree.

I’ve been working in the Unitemps office to recruit students for the jobs, which is fun, and I’ve discovered a possible career path! It’s also challenged me to do things that I struggle with. I don’t like talking on the phone, but I’ve been having to phone students up, so my confidence has definitely grown. Another part of the job is to promote Unitemps to students, so I have done presentations and created posters. I have also started a weekly blog and newsletter, which utilises the writing skills I have learnt in my degree. We also held a Pizza Registration Night at the Students’ Union on Monday 15th April, to recruit new students, which was fun. I’m also getting paid for all of this, so not only am I enhancing my employability, but it also means that I can afford to go clothes shopping without blowing all of my overdraft!

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