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Today’s blog is written by Niall O’Conner. Niall is completing a work placement with Big Red Cloud as part of his Management & Marketing Master’s degree at University College Cork. We asked Niall to think about his experiences to date and if he could think of any advice he would give to other students that are contemplating what to do with regard to their work experience placements.

Niall’s reply runs to a meaty 2,000 words but it is a post that every parent should share with their undergraduate children and it’s also a post that small businesses should read because internships do add value. Of course Niall received some hand holding when he joined (a few in-depth deep dives into accounting software and the principles behind good bookkeeping) but we quickly cut him adrift to get on with his new roles and responsibilities, and glad to say he thrived and is a great contributor to the marketing department.

Over to you Niall……

Hello my name is Niall O Connor and I am currently carrying out my work placement with the Big Red Cloud as part of my Management & Marketing Masters in UCC.

So far in my career I have been exceptionally lucky with the positions I have secured with the Big Red Cloud and erecruit. On top of this I have had the added luxury of experiencing new cultures and environments by carrying out my work placements in both Dublin and Boston respectively.

To date I have graduated with an MBS in Business Information Systems (BIS) securing a Second Class Honours Grade 1 degree (2H1).  I will be furthering my education with an MSc in Management & Marketing which is a Master’s degree that I have almost completed.

After completing five years of college and two work placement experiences through my two respective college courses, I would like to think at this stage that I have built up a wealth of knowledge when it comes to the subject of work placement.

From my perspective nothing can more equip you for the real world than an actual work placement experience. All the hours and hours of lectures in the class room are very beneficial but actually going out there and experiencing real life situations first hand is what it is all about.

From living in a small town (Dingle) there was always the easier option of working at home over the course of the summer months. Although not the most ideal work experience for furthering your career, the allure of my home town had always got the better of me. This can be the case for a lot of people who aren’t from the city or surrounding urban areas in Ireland.

It is quite evident from the above point of view that placement opportunities are very important in a young person’s life. For many, it is the first step into the real world. Getting you out of your comfort zone and experiencing different aspects of life is what it is all about.

One thing I have learned from my two work placements to date (Boston & Dublin) is that they have most definitely altered my life for the greater good. Be it from meeting new people, creating new connections, experiencing a new lifestyle, learning new skills or simply having to manage every aspect of your day-to-day life, no better life altering experience can occur.

From personal experience I know people who are from areas such as Kerry and attend college in Cork, Limerick and Dublin are very much inclined to live at home during the summer months. To many it is the most convenient option but personally on reflection it is a regret of mine especially when looking towards the future. Obviously, financial circumstances can dictate the options of a particular individual but if it is at all possible, experiencing a different culture or environment (If you’re from Cork and you get a placement in Dublin) can be the very change you need.

It is all well and good to come up with this point of view but where does it come from? Obviously everyone is different when it comes to their own personal experiences. For me it was not until I went to America for a five month work placement that I realised the world that is at each and every one of our fingertips.

From my American and Dublin experiences I have come up with 5 top work placement tips for any student contemplating what they should do for their work experience.

  1. Get outside your comfort zone:

Anytime I am asked about my work placement in America I always respond with “The best five months of my life”. There are a number of reasons for this view point. Firstly it opens your eyes, secondly it puts you in situations where you have to make an effort with people you don’t know, thirdly and most importantly it is a great work experience with regards seeing “is this the route I want to go down for the rest of my life” and finally it creates opportunities and life changing experiences you could never possibly have dreamed of. When it’s all said and done, then you realise you have the memories and experiences to last a lifetime.

Dublin to my surprise is actually quite similar to America. Obviously not to the same extremes as America but I cannot quite believe how much of a resemblance it has of sorts to my American experience. The key for both being taken out of your comfort zone. Although Dublin is different in that you will always know somebody, you still have to make the effort to make sure you make the most of the connections you have in place. The most important aspect in my eyes is to always make sure you make the most of the opportunities that present themselves. Always be willing to say yes and you just don’t know what doors you might open or whom you may cross paths with.

  1. Work with a small business.

This point of view is based on my own experiences to date and from speaking with friends. My two work placements have been with small companies. A big issue with large organisations I have come to learn is that they are simply too big to get a full rounded experience and provide real value to you.

At the end of the day work placement is about seeing whether you like a particular role or not and within the big organisations you can be very restricted in what you actually experience.

Small businesses are a lot more open with far greater responsibility and without a doubt, you use more skills over the course of your placement. There are of course opportunities within big organisations but working in a small organisation is a great eye opener especially if you don’t know what path you want to pursue.

Example being when I worked in erecruit in Boston there was four separate teams when it came to their overall recruiting software company. The Release engineer, client experience, sales & marketing and accountant’s team. I worked with the release engineer for the first six weeks, worked with the client experience team for the rest of the placement experience, got to sit in on sales and marketing meetings and finally got to interact regularly with the accountants as they were situated right next to me in the office.

Similarly with the Big Red Cloud I worked within a marketing team that consisted of just three team members (Myself, Michael and Neil). As you can imagine working in an environment such as this gives you a lot of added exposure not to mind benefits when it comes to all the different facets of marketing an accounting software company. A great wealth of knowledge has been bestowed upon me thanks to both Michael and Neil. Going forward it is something I will be forever grateful for.

  1. Experience a different way of life.

One thing that changed me more than anything else over the last two years is my lack of reliance on any one particular individual. When you go abroad for a long period of time you become very much so reliant on individuals you would have had little interaction with before. People you thought you didn’t really get on with turn out to be your best friends. One thing you must always remember is that everyone is in the same situation as you so therefore use this to your advantage.

Although a lot of my friends decided to stay in Ireland the fifty or so of us that went to America experienced five months that words will never be able to describe. As the saying goes what you don’t know you know no better and that is very true for a lot of aspects in life.

However, due to technology, especially social media, nowadays everything you don’t experience is reflected through the eyes of social media. Those missed opportunities are amplified like never before. I know from speaking with people who didn’t grasp the opportunity to take a placement in a contrasting environment and experience a different way of life, do regret it.

  1. Take up a second job.

One big issue when I was in college was that I had no idea what I actually wanted to do after graduation. It was something I always struggled to answer until the middle of last year. I decided in the end to embark on a Masters in Management and Marketing in UCC. I spoke to a lot of people about positions you could acquire after the Masters which finally made me come to the realisation that this was a path I wanted to travel. Carrying out a Masters in an area you want to further your career in is only the first step however.

One key realisation I have come to terms with over the last few months is just how important experience is, if not more important than anything else when seeking out your dream job. Thanks to securing placement in Dublin with the Big Red Cloud I was able to secure a second job with a promotion’s company.

To be very honest with you if you told me a few years ago I would have had to work three jobs, one during the week and two at the weekends (depending on where I was located) over the last 4 months I wouldn’t have believed you. Now I realize that doing these extra jobs, getting the valuable experience required within the sector you want to work in could be the game changer when it comes to securing the position you aspire too.

Taking initiative, going after what you want and taking a few chances along the way are all keys to success. Use your contacts to your advantage and grasp every opportunity you get. Especially within the promotions work, you never know who you will meet when carrying out your job. I have made some great contacts within my desired sector since I realised what I actually want to do so why can’t you?

  1. Make the most of your opportunity.

From looking back on my two work placements to date the greatest thing I can take from both experiences is the fact that I made the most of my opportunities. Before I ever got the placement in Boston I would have very much so been a home bird. Although I lived in Cork for college I would have nearly always made the weekly commute home to Dingle at the weekend. Funnily enough on reflection, I have a feeling before I moved to Boston that I had never gone more than two weeks without seeing the most westerly point in Europe (Dingle).

Although a challenge it may have been on first view, after living the dream so to speak for five months in Boston you begin to realise the life altering ability a placement opportunity has. That is not to say that going abroad is the be all and end all when it comes to a placement. A great placement can be achieved anywhere however carrying it out abroad or in an unfamiliar setting adds greatly to the whole overall experience. Many of my friends had gone on placement in Dublin instead of America and loved the experience. This was more than enough reason for me to go out and experience the Dublin lifestyle for myself with the Big Red Cloud.

Although you are obviously going to a new environment to experience a working life. Making the most of your opportunity is something you have to grasp with both arms. At the end of the day placement is a massive opportunity to make new connections and from my perspective going to an event or socialising with people is the best way of going about this.

I have built a solid network of good friends thanks to my placement experiences. You begin to interact and do everything with these particular individuals. One of the great aspects of having a third year placement is that when you come back in 4th year to college you have all these new people to interact and socialise with. Looking back, although 4th year was my toughest year in college, academically it was also my most enjoyable.

To conclude, I know full well my life would be a whole lot different had I not taken the work placement opportunities in Boston and Dublin. It opened my eyes, it made me a better person and most importantly it showed me how to grasp life and make the most of it. Work hard, play hard as the saying goes while following the path to your dreams.

Luck is one aspect you must also consider and everyone needs there portion of it. Only for people like Marc O’Dwyer (CEO, Big Red Cloud) and Mick McNabb (Head of Talent Acquisition, erecruit) my life would be a whole lot different today and most definitely not as rich (experience wise).

Marc O'Dwyer

After completing a Graduate program in Marketing, Marc’s impressive sales career began at Allied Irish Banks, Pitney Bowes and Panasonic where he received numerous Irish and European sales performance awards and consistently exceeded targets and expectations. In 1992, Marc’s entrepreneurial spirit led him to set up his own business, Irish International Sales (IIS). Initially, this company was a reseller for Take 5 Accounts and Payroll software. Within four years, IIS became the largest reseller of Take 5 in Ireland, acquiring four other Take 5 resellers. He also found time to set up two mobile phone shops under the Cellular World brand and a web design company offering website design services for small businesses. In 2001, he bought the majority share in a small Irish software business, Big Red Book. At that time, the company was losing money. The company became profitable within two months, and Marc then acquired a payroll company to compliment Big Red Books Accounting products. In 2003, IIS were appointed as Channel Partners with SAP for their new SME product, SAP Business One. Marc sold his Take 5 business and concentrated on developing this new market for SAP As a result, by 2007, IIS was recognised as the largest Channel Partner for SAP in EMEA (Europe Middle East and Africa). In 2008, the IIS Sales Manager bought the Company from Marc in an MBO. He launched Big red cloud in June 2012, the online version of big red book, to date the company successfully converts 59% of trials into sales and the number of customers is growing rapidly. Marc continues to run both Big Red Book and Big Red Cloud which now support 75,000 businesses. He is a very keen sportsman, having played rugby for 20 years, represented Leinster at under 16 and under 20 levels, and league squash with Fitzwilliam Lawn Tennis Club for 10 years. Marc has competed in 11 Marathons, including the London and Boston Marathons, and has completed several Triathlons and Half Ironman races. He has also completed six Ironman Races in Austria(x2), Frankfurt (Germany), Nice (France) , Mallorca (Spain) and Copenhagen (Denmark)

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