SUCCESS STORIES: Erin - my placement year at Disney

6 min read

Tips for anyone who is thinking of completing a placement year, what it's like to intern at Disney, and applying for jobs during the pandemic.

We spoke to Erin back when she was studying for her final Economics exams at the University of Exeter, after having completed a placement year working for Disney.

Can you tell us a bit about your placement in your third year: where was it that you worked and what was your role?

“I worked for Disney in their head office as a research intern in Hammersmith, London. Disney has a whole internship system where there are about 200 interns in the office - around 10% of the workforce. My specific role was within the content-sales department, selling films to TV channels and also selling the non-Disney branded series, like ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and ‘This is Us’.”

What were some of your day-to-day tasks at Disney?

“I was responsible for reporting to all of the sales people, and for data across Europe and South Africa. This data was television data - so how many people watch something, how many were men and women, the age demographic, and how that varies by country. My day-to-day work was a lot of Excel data, and transforming that into decks and presentations, some of which I sent out via reports, gave in person, or via Zoom once the pandemic started."

"All of the work I did was solely mine; it was my responsibility, which as a placement student, you never really expect.”

"You had to be really on the ball because every so often you would get a request from higher management where they needed to know something about a specific show for a meeting, so you had to be very flexible - there was definitely a lot to be responsible for."

Was Disney your first choice for your placement?

“When I applied for placements, I really loved market research, and I had a couple of weeks’ experience at a market research firm which I really liked."

"The Disney role was a dream for me: I was doing research into television, what people like and what people watch."

"I did actually apply for more roles, because obviously you can’t just put all your eggs in one basket. I applied for a few IT roles, and actually got one at the same time as the Disney job, but chose Disney because it was my favourite and I thought it was best suited to me.”

How did you find the whole placement application process?

“I’m currently in the grad job application process and it’s exactly the same, it’s just as much work as finding a grad job is. I think sometimes you can get a bit disheartened, thinking 'why am I having to spend so much time and I still haven’t got a placement?'"

"It's a lot of work, but it’s so rewarding. When you get a job it’s really exciting."

"There are a lot of steps involved in application processes, but I have to say, Disney’s was one of the simplest. They take a CV and cover letter, then invite you to an assessment day. There’s no online testing. On the assessment day, for my year, we did a few different tests, such as attention to detail, mental arithmetic, excel tests, and then a presentation.

So that was quite simple compared to some of the other places I applied for: PWC has a game as part of their recruitment process. I failed the game and I’m still bitter about it - and it’s been two years!"

What are your thoughts on games being part of an application process?

“I think it massively depends on what your strengths are, because I personally hadn’t played a lot of that style of competitive gaming before I did it, and I didn’t pass. I find it quite disheartening if I can’t get past online tests, but I know I would be good for the role in real life."

"For me, I always prefer seeing a person and being able to interact with someone because I feel like that’s where my skills stand out, and it’s not necessary through testing."

Would you recommend doing a placement year to others who have that option at uni?

“Yes, I’m really passionate about the placement year."

"It’s such a great opportunity to do what I like to term a 'practice grad year'."

"You know that you’ve got the safety of your degree and you’re going back to university but you have this year where you’re thrown into that adult, professional workplace for the first time. I understand what the job market is like, what the application process is like, and also what working is like. It massively improved my professional confidence. I have a lot more understanding of what I’m good at, and was able to develop my soft skills as well as the analytical tools you use. So I think it’s really valuable. 

Now when I’m applying for grad jobs, I have a whole job that I’ve already done, pre-graduation, that I can talk about in examples, and it’s very helpful. 

The first couple of weeks I felt like a fish out of water; I got to really love it and, as much as it’s nice to see my friends at uni, I didn’t really want to go back. I was quite happy to have graduated - except I hadn’t!

It’s a good road-test to see what you’ll find it like, and also to have a practice at a graduate role. If you decide, say you ended up doing a finance role and realised ‘finance is not for me’, then you’ve still learned something in that year. You can talk to all the other colleagues around you and understand what they do and what you might like to do which is different.”

Do you have a plan moving forward after uni this year? Are you heading back to Disney?  

“So Disney doesn’t have a graduate scheme and the reason is because they have around 200 interns, that’s where they focus their investment in students and fresh talent. There’s a whole cycle - I was replaced by a girl, and I replaced another person. It’s all built in, whereas there aren’t built-in graduate roles. 

I’m currently in the process of applying to various places, and as you know, the job market is really hard right now.

I’ve been looking at jobs and any attributes I find interesting - it’s a lot of keywords such as ‘analytical’, ‘data presentation’, ‘trends and insights’, so the key things I’m looking for are data-driven roles, and that’s the stuff I've applied for and am in the process of hopefully getting. 

I have a little folder on my Google Chrome which is full of saved job applications of jobs I’d like to do. I'll add to them if I’m procrastinating with my work. It’s hard as a final year student, because you’re also trying to get a good grade in your degree, so that you can go on to whatever graduate job you’ve applied for."

"I remember saying in my placement application process that it’s like taking a couple of extra modules - you just have more to do."

"A lot of people have struggled this year, and you have to remember that everyone is feeling like that. Originally, I pictured myself as this person who’d come out and because she had a placement year, would snap up a job in October and be set by Christmas. That just didn’t happen, and that’s very normal!”

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