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Careers and Global Opportunities

My Placement Experience at the Northern Ireland Civil Service

Want to do a placement but it's not offered on your course? Hear from Law student Holly about how she took a year out to undertake a placement with Civil Service.

Lu in the careers building on her phone

As someone studying law, I didn’t think that doing a placement during my degree was even an option for me. The Law LLB course doesn’t generally allow for a placement option. However, I took a year off between my second and third year to begin a 51-week placement in September 2021 with the Northern Ireland Civil Service. My role was based at the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), working within an environmental policy division. It has been incredibly rewarding and has allowed me to gain experience involving drafting legislation, preparing memorandums, and legal research.

Why the NICS Placement?

Having held part-time administrative jobs throughout university, I wanted to gain some legal-specific work experience before finishing my degree, so that was also a big incentive for undertaking a placement. What attracted me to the NICS specifically was that it specifically catered to lots of different courses (including law) allowing me to gain relevant experience that will benefit me in the future.

It also came with a salary of £18,595, which allowed me to support myself while on placement year. It’s important to remember that if you choose to take a year out (if it is not a compulsory part of your course) you won’t get any maintenance loan or grants, so bear that in mind when looking for placement opportunities. Even for those who have a placement option integrated into their degree, it’s always good to make sure that your placement/loan will cover your expenses.

What was the application process like?

The application process was straightforward but did take quite a while from start to finish. I applied on the NICS Website for the role, which gave me the option to rank my preferred placement types relevant to my degree. My application was assessed, and I then had an interview which involved questions based on the NICS competency framework. I was then put onto a merit list and selected for a placement at DAERA. The whole process took from March (when I first applied) until early September (when I received confirmation that I would be going to DAERA).

How did Queen's support me on my placement?

My personal tutor was able to provide a reference to support my placement application, and my advisor of studies was able support my application for a temporary leave of absence. I also had a one-to-one support meeting with the School of Law’s Employability and Placement Officer during my year out, where we talked about what I was doing on placement and if I was enjoying my time away from Queen’s.

I have also had the opportunity to be actively involved with Queen's while on my year out. I wrote blogs for Queen's newspaper The Gown and the Queen's Law Society’s publication The Verdict. I am also the Lead Moderator of QUB Women in Law, and I’ve been able to help run events on campus while on my year out, which has definitely help off-set any feelings of missing out.

Why take a placement year?

Experience is an incredibly important asset when seeking graduate roles after university. In 2019, High Fliers survey found that

‘one-third of graduate employers stated that a graduate with no previous work experience at all would not be successful during their selection process, regardless of their academic qualification’.

Placements can not only allow you to develop experience within your chosen industry, but also allow you to gain a wide range of transferable skills including time management, communication, and teamwork.

Undertaking a placement is one of the best ways to demonstrate to employers that you have the skills and experience needed for a graduate role, enhancing your career prospects. I would definitely recommend a placement year to anyone thinking of applying!

Tips for taking a placement year:

  1. Start Early: if you’re thinking of taking a placement year, start looking for placements as early as possible. This gives you the best chance of being successful, but also gives you time to plan ahead regarding student finance and taking a year out if you need to.
  2. Be open-minded: Even if a placement isn’t in your specific industry, many placements offer you the opportunity to gain a broad range of transferable skills
  3. Stay involved: it can be easy to let yourself drift away from friends and your uni circle while on placement. While then can be very rewarding, they can also be long hours which can impact on your social life. Try to stay involved in any clubs or societies that you’re in and stay in contact with friends.

Find out more

Careers and Employability

Law at Queen's

School of Law

Holly Nesbitt

Law| Undergraduate | UK

My name is Holly, and I’ll be going into my final year of Law LLB in September! I live in Belfast, and whilst at Queen’s I’ve been involved with peer mentoring, The Verdict Magazine, The Gown Newspaper, and I am also the Lead Moderator of QUB Women in Law!

Holly Nesbitt