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Determine your work experience goals
To determine what type of experience you want, you first need to analyse your skills and set goals. For example:
- Are there specific skills that you learnt in your course that you want to further develop?
- Do you want to try out a particular industry or business to see if it is right for you?
- How much time can you commit?
Do your research
Start by researching your course career outcomes, view the career snapshots on the JCU Careers and Employability website, and talk to your lecturers, work colleagues, family and friends. You can use SEEK and Glassdoor to read reviews on company profiles, which might give you insight into what it would be like working there or in a particular role. Don’t let online reviews dictate your decision, and keep in mind that some reviews may be more emotive than factual.
You can use the JCU Alumni tool on the James Cook University LinkedIn page to get in touch with other JCU students and graduates, and find out where they have worked – searches can be filtered by course, location, employer, industry and skills.
You also need to research the types of jobs available at each of the organisations that you have narrowed down. Their current employment opportunities will give an indication of the skills and attributes they are looking for.
Action: Go to your downloaded workbook and complete Activity 1
What skills can you offer?
Now that you’ve done your research, you will have a better understanding of the industries you could work in, the type of organisations that suit you, and the skills they are recruiting for.
To be successful in gaining work experience, you need to prove that you are the right person for the employer to invest time and money on to train. Reflect on your skills and experiences so that you can draw links between the skills that they want and the skills that you have. If you don’t have a lot of (or any) work history, you will need to rely on the skills learnt at university and through volunteering and extra-curricular activities. You will also need to provide examples of how you have developed and demonstrated these skills.
How to spot a good internship/placement
Here are the top five things to watch out for when selecting opportunities to apply for:
- Tasks – a good work experience will provide you with real responsibilities and opportunities to learn and contribute, whilst complying with the Fair Work Act. You will learn about the business and specific skills needed in the role.
- Mentoring – if this isn’t specified, it is a good idea to ask what type of support will be offered. A good mentor is invaluable to the success of your experience and professional learning.
- Training – a structured program will usually provide more support and training.
- Evaluation – a good employer will provide you with constructive feedback to help enhance your strengths and identify weaknesses.
- Pathways to future employment – many employers will hire graduates from their pool of vacation work/internship students. You are likely to get valuable experience from organisations that do this as they have a vested interest in developing their candidates.
If you are unsure about what a program offers, you should ask prior to applying.
The Australian Association of Graduate Employers (AAGE) surveys undergraduates each year to determine the Top Intern Programs. This survey asks interns to rate their employer on 15 categories, such as induction and training, content of work, and quality of supervision provided by the manager. View the list to learn which programs are rated highly, and why.
How to find work experience
Just as job opportunities can arise in various ways, there are also several avenues for finding out about work experience/placement opportunities. As previously mentioned, if your course requirements include practical experience, go to your College website or speak with the Placement Officer in your College office about placement opportunities as they are different for each degree.
- Research employers online – Most organisations will list opportunities on their own website under a page dedicated to careers.
- Job search websites – CareerHub, SEEK, LinkedIn, CareerOne, Prosple, and GradConnection – many of these websites advertise internships as well as graduate programs.
- Specialised job sites – Don’t rely solely on general online job boards. Sign up to specialised job sites for your industry (NRMjobs for Science, Australian Human Resources Institute for HR, and professional association websites).
- Social media – Follow companies you’d like to work for on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram.
- Employment agencies – Contact recruitment agencies such as Hays, Signature Staff, CBC Staff, Precruitment and TP Human Capital to find out about temporary/contract roles and other employment opportunities that might be relevant to your course.
- Volunteering – Organisations such as Volunteering North Queensland (Townsville) and FNQ Volunteers Inc. (Cairns) will discuss your goals with you to help match you with the right volunteering position. There are also opportunities to volunteer on campus, and in your community – see SEEK Volunteer and Volunteering Australia.
- Career events and webinars – Meet employers on campus or via live online events and webinars. Attend industry events organised by your College, student clubs and societies, professional association and JCU Careers and Employability. Career events and webinars are advertised on JCU CareerHub.
Employers may have work experience opportunities, but do not openly advertise them, so it is up to you to be proactive and approach organisations. There might not be anything available, but at least you are now on their radar if something should become available.
- Be proactive, not reactive. Just looking for advertised positions and setting up email alerts won’t always find you a placement.
- Be active on LinkedIn. Join LinkedIn industry groups relevant to your studies and search for companies and JCU alumni contacts. Make new contacts as they may know of opportunities.
Use your networks
It’s not just what you know, it’s who you know! Start by talking to your family, friends, lecturers, tutors, colleagues and fellow students – find out who has contacts in the industry or organisations you want to work in. Don’t just ask them about opportunities they know of, ask them who their contacts are or who they might know that could have a contact for you.
Attend professional networking events and ask questions. These include, careers events/fairs (face-to-face and virtual), career/recruitment webinars, industry panels, and conferences.
Action: Go to your downloaded workbook and complete Activity 2
Prepare your application and be interview ready
Once you have done your research and you have found some opportunities to apply for, it is time to prepare your application. Employers often recruit graduates from their pool of interns or students who have undertaken experience within their organisation, so you need to put as much time into this application as you would for graduate employment.
You need to prepare a tailored and concise resume and cover letter for every position and follow all instructions. Your application needs to show your genuine interest and enthusiasm for the role, highlight your key skills and achievements relevant to the role, and how you will make a valid contribution. For help with creating your resume and cover letter or expression of interest, see the Master Written Applications module in the JCU Employability Edge program.
You will also need to be ready for an interview. You must be able to confidently articulate how you have developed the skills they are looking for, and why you want to work for them.
Common questions you might get for a work experience opportunity include:
- Why do you want to work at our company?
- What do you want to get out of this experience?
- What is the most relevant experience you have?
- What do you do to stay organised?
- Give an example of a challenge that you have faced, and how did you overcome it?
- Do you have any questions?