Big lessons learned from student placement year

31 May 2022

Business studies student Alana Rocks joined Opencast’s recruitment team in 2021 on a one-year placement. As her placement comes to end, she looks back at an inspiring year – and at what she’s learned along the way.

‘Potential made powerful’ is Opencast’s striking mission statement and perfectly encapsulates my placement with the company from Newcastle University.

I was given the opportunity – and support – to push myself and finding solutions to challenges gave me confidence in my own abilities.

Prior to starting my placement, I did not anticipate how invaluable this experience would be for my personal development. Opencast amplified my understanding of the business world through first-hand experiences beyond anything taught in lecture theatres.

Through the breadth of responsibilities handed to me, I can see a clear pathway for myself after university, and I have obtained a stronger understanding of where my passions lie. And I have certainly improved my employability through the placement.

Opencast is an independent technology consultancy that has experienced enormous recent growth. Mission 2025 is Opencast’s expansion strategy to recruit 500 new consultant employees by 2025 (though the company now expects to reach this number by the end of 2022).

Photograph of Alana Rocks
"Opencast believed in my abilities from the start and throughout my journey I have been given an abundance of support and encouragement"

Talent engagement

My role at the company is with the recruitment team as a talent engagement co-ordinator, focusing on the recruitment and onboarding aspects of the employee lifecycle.

Daily tasks involve conducting initial chats, sourcing candidates, co-ordinating and organising the recruitment pipeline. It also involves participating in strategic and operational-based research to analyse the recruitment process, and brainstorming innovative ways to overcome hurdles the team faces when up against tight deadlines.

Such an expansive recruitment framework creates a high-pressure working environment that requires strong communication skills, and analytical and organisational skills – and this role has given me an opportunity to develop such attributes.

In relation to further business activities, I have been given marketing related responsibilities such as creating job advertisements on external job boards and using social media-based campaigns as a marketing tool on platforms like LinkedIn to increase Opencast’s brand awareness.

I have had the opportunity to work closely with learning and development and HR teams on occasion when conflicting/sensitive situations among candidates have surfaced, and I have assisted HR with improving employee retention. I was involved in the process of recruiting and introducing the people experience team, whose purpose is to improve wellbeing among employees.

Improving performance

Specific areas in which I have improved my performance thanks to my placement include:
  • Operating effectively in teams
  • Critical and creative thinker
  • Taking personal responsibility for learning and high performance.

In addition to this, the work I have undertaken across the last 12 months has given me an opportunity to demonstrate my ability to be resilient, adaptable, open minded and culturally aware.

Furthermore, I have enriched my knowledge of the business world in five fundamental areas:

  • Developed my ability to reflect and learn
  • Appreciation for complexities and constant change
  • Awareness and understanding of culture
  • Knowledge of area of business
  • Employability and transferrable skills.

While working with the company core functions teams at Opencast, it became apparent that no two days were the same. This was particularly the case within the fast-paced, dynamic and highly competitive tech consultancy market wherein the recruitment team’s talent pool lies.

Big talent demand

Opencast’s enormous client growth has led to a perpetual demand for more talent. The characteristics of client demand changes constantly, and working inside this dynamic environment, I have gained a strong appreciation for the complexities of constant change.

Opencast chair Charlie Hoult says Opencast has a mantra about “good team work”. The importance of having strong communication and collaboration skills became apparent as I began my internship. Working with such a powerful talent engagement team has developed my ability to operate effectively in teams. Ultimately, such frequent demand changes ensure the whole team is always aware of their position and roles. This process was vital for productivity and eliminating any bottlenecks.

When the demand changes occur, I am responsible for ensuring our internal recruitment pipeline of candidates is updated and ensuring our external job boards and agencies are also updated. As my role lies primarily in co-ordinating the recruitment process, it is critical for me to stay current with demand to ensure the correct candidates are prioritised and move through our process efficiently.

Understanding change

Not only has working with the talent engagement team given me experience of working in a complex and evolving environment, but on a broader scale I have gained an appreciation of change when looking at an overview of Opencast’s growth, doubling in size in the last 12 months from 100-200 people.

The initial ambition for 2022 was to double in size again, however, Opencast is already ahead of schedule to hit this target. There is no doubt this growth has exposed me to the importance of managing change effectively within a business. The talent engagement team has doubled in size since I began my internship.

Originally, I was the only talent engagement co-ordinator, but with such dramatic growth, the company has recently recruited another team member who works alongside me. When he initially joined, I was tasked to mentor him and redesign the co-ordination strategy to suit both of us.

This role has enhanced my employability further by allowing me to build upon my leadership skills. In addition, the responsibility of being a mentor to a new employee also has also helped my ability to acknowledge the needs of other team members, not only from a technical perspective but from a cultural/behavioural stance and personal matters.

One specific target I was interested in was to improve my awareness of critical and creative thinking. I have been asked to lead numerous operation and strategy related projects in my placement year.

Identifying bottlenecks

The most influential project I ran on placement was to do with breaking down the recruitment/interview process and undertaking analysis to work out, within this process, where the bottlenecks are.

Once I’d done this, I created plans to eliminate the challenges. I found one of the greatest bottlenecks in the recruitment process was the way in which we gathered interview availability – there was no formal timetable for interviewers and the previous method was time constraining and tedious. From this, I established a weekly interview timetable.

The introduction of the rota has eliminated the bottle neck of candidate traffic waiting in the pipeline to be interviewed, meaning candidates now move through the process more rapidly and we achieve onboarding goals a lot quicker. Taking charge of this project gave me an opportunity to gain key knowledge of how important a strong strategy can be when achieving goals.

Opencast has a ‘Don’t Step Over the Milk’ philosophy. This means that the company expects its employees to use their own initiative – everyone is given the freedom to manage their daily work routine. As an employer, Opencast places a great deal of trust in its employees to perform without being micromanaged.

This approach matches the company’s flat hierarchy business model. These core company characteristics combined with the encouragement for me to take the initiative, manage my own ambitions, and think independently have improved my confidence in my own abilities.

Building interviewer capacity

One way in which I demonstrated this was through identifying another bottleneck in our recruitment strategy. I helped identify the interviewer capacity we had in September 2021 was not going to match the daily interviews figures estimated for the first quarter of 2022.

From this, I made it a high priority to train employees to interview in anticipation of this major increase in demand. From September 2021 to January 2022, the interview team at Opencast increased by a quarter (25 new members) – and from this capacity increase, we managed to eliminate a bottleneck from arising. 

In the first half of my internship, I acted as an internal recruiter, undertaking daily tasks involving sourcing tech talent through recruitment sites like Total Jobs and Reed. I then spent time studying individual tech roles and sourcing the correct candidates to fill requirements.

Once sourced I also conducted several one-on-one initial chats (which is the first stage of Opencast’s interview process). The purpose of these screening calls is to gain a grasp of the candidates’ skills, experience and most importantly evaluate whether the candidate would be a cultural fit to the company’s business model. In order to carry out these initial chats properly and identify suitable candidates, I needed to be fully aware of the company’s culture, ambitions and successes.

Invaluable for personal development

My placement has been an invaluable experience, enhancing my personal development and growth. The knowledge I have acquired through this opportunity has evolved my perception of the business beyond my expectations.

But the most valuable knowledge I acquired from Opencast only came to light recently, when comparing my placement experience to fellow intern students. From various conversations it became clear that others have not been inspired the way I have been.

Opencast believed in my abilities from the start and throughout my journey I have been given an abundance of support and encouragement.

Opencast has delivered on its ‘Possible made Powerful’ mission, and I feel my experiences and the inspiring Opencast people have given me power, ambition, and the drive to believe in my abilities, and to ultimately succeed in the world of business.