The competition for even entry-level jobs is now so fierce that you need to have experience, even if you have only just graduated or are still studying.
So, how can you break the seemingly cyclical dilemma of how to get career experience without career experience?
An industry placement or internship may be the answer you’ve been looking for.
Between 2016 and 2017, 74% of successful job applicants had participated in work experience relevant to their graduate role, while 65% of graduates securing graduate work in 2018 had previous engagement with their employer via some form of work experience (2017 AAGE candidate survey report; 2018 AAGE graduate survey summary report).
The fact that you’re more likely to gain employment after completing a placement may seem like reason enough to do one, but it can help to understand why this may be the case.
There are a number of benefits to completing a placement, including the opportunity to:
Bachelor of Information Technology graduate Sarah explains what she gained from her work placement. ‘Apart from gaining a large amount of experience working as Technology Intern in a corporation, I met so many other interns/graduates and am still friends with them 1.5 years later. There were always lots of really fun social activities going on.’
Some programs, such as education and nursing, have mandatory placements that students need to complete in order to be eligible to graduate. Even if you’re not enrolled in one of these programs, you will benefit from organising work experience or an internship yourself. As USQ careers and employability expert Deb says, ‘While academics do their very best to prepare you for the world of work you will be entering, some things just can’t be learned in the classroom the way they can in the “real world”’.
There are a number of ways to find a work placement. According to Deborah, the first thing to do is narrow down the type of placements you’d like to do. As some degrees are quite broad, it’s helpful to have a clear understanding of the direction you would like to head in.
When considering where you’d like to do a placement, consider your network. Do you know someone already working in the area you would like to try? Can you call on this person for an introduction or to provide you with some contact information?
Sarah found out about the internship she completed with Suncorp via a USQStudyDesk course forum. After seeing some of her peers discussing the internship, when the program opened for applications, Sarah reached out to other USQ IT students via social media for advice before applying.
If you can’t think of anyone you know that could help you find a placement, consider the town you live in, or the areas you would be prepared to travel to for a placement. Make a list of the companies that have a focus on your preferred direction, and research these. What is unique about this company? What is it exactly that they do? What is their mission statement? What are their goals and values? What is it that their employees do? You can also utilise job search sites such as Seek, Indeed, and LinkedIn for this kind of research work.
So, you know where you’d like to do your placement. But how do you apply?
This is Deborah’s advice:
‘Before you make contact with a prospective placement host organisation, you need to be sure that your résumé is up to scratch! You will also need to prepare a cover letter introducing yourself and making your request for a placement.
'While they will not organise a placement for you, they can guide you through the steps you will need to take, check over your résumé and cover letter, help you to be as well prepared as possible, and provide advice with regard to the legal implications and insurance cover required for placements. While a USQ student – the cost of your work placement insurance is covered by the university. Bonus!
'To make sure you get the placement you want, it’s important you start looking and preparing as soon as possible. Not all business can take work experience students and the process of finding somewhere to complete your placement can take some time. If you don’t get your first choice of placement, know that you will still have the opportunity to learn important transferable skills, and you might discover an interest or opportunity you hadn’t thought of previously.'
The best way to prepare for your placement is to research the job role prior to starting so that you are familiar with the company’s business ethos, values, and objectives. Another strategy is to try and meet up with, or speak to, the person who is going to be your supervisor in order to gain an understanding of what you will be required to do during this placement.
Once you start your placement, it may take a while to settle in. Don’t let this dishearten you. As Sarah says, ‘Working for a large corporation, it can take some time to get to know all of the areas, acronyms and workplace terminology. The first couple of weeks can also be a little slow, as you are finding your feet, and everyone is getting used to having you around’.
The work you’re doing is probably going to vary between placements. As Mia Freedman, former Cosmopolitan editor, says, ‘Just because it is getting the coffee, just because it’s filing something, still do it well. Because if you don’t do that well, nobody is going to give you the chance to do anything better or give you more responsibility’ (Riddell, 2018). Deborah seconds this advice, and recommends students ‘treat this opportunity as you would a paid job. Expect to work hard and plan to absorb as much as you can’.
The main thing to keep in mind is that the person getting the most out of the arrangement should be the person completing the internship or placement, not the employer. If the employer asks the employee to do tasks that are equal to paid work, the employee should receive a wage. If you’re not sure whether the work you’re doing as part of your placement is appropriate, the general rule is to first speak to your supervisor, but USQ students can always get support from the USQ Careers and Employability Team. You can also check out the Fair Work Ombudsman website to become familiar with your rights at work.
If your placement ends up not being the experience you thought it would be, that’s okay. Think about what exactly it was that made you not enjoy it, and use this new knowledge to help guide you when looking for future jobs.
During her placement, Sarah developed the skills she needed to progress her career, such as negotiation, managing conflict and stakeholder engagement. As a result, at the end of her placement and during her final year of studies, Sarah was asked to stay on as a casual employee, before commencing a graduate position after uni. Here’s how she did it:
‘I am very fortunate to have a really great leader, and we had weekly 1:1 meetings throughout my internship (and still do now) where we would discuss my career objectives. As my internship was coming to an end, I took the initiative and expressed interest in a graduate position and my leader was happy with me, so I was offered a position. I still had a year to go, so we discussed an arrangement where I would stay on casual for the year while I completed my studies. This was a great opportunity as I could stay in contact with my team, and continue to gain experience while finishing my studies.
‘Be open to everything, be confident, and put yourself out there. Employers like to see employees (particularly interns/graduates) who take initiative and show enthusiasm. It will also help you stand out over other interns, particularly if you are interested in a graduate position. Networking is also key – meet with other graduates and staff members and learn from their experiences. Most of the time, they are more than happy to share, and they have some great insights.’
Completing a placement is an effective way of increasing your chances of employment after graduation because it helps you get a foot in the door of the company or industry you want to work in. To read about another USQ student’s placement experience, read Daria’s blog to find out how she got credit for completing a placement in a local engineering workshop that counted towards her degree.
Blau, A. (2017). What students want from their graduate employment in 2017. Retrieved from https://gradaustralia.com.au/news/what-students-want-from-their-graduate-employment-2017
McPherson, S. (2017) Shifting the paradigm around what it means to learn. The Foundation of Young Australians. Retrieved from https://www.fya.org.au/2017/11/28/shifting-paradigm-around-means-learn/
The Foundation of Young Australians. (2015). How are the young people faring in the transition from school to work? Report card 2015. Retrieved from https://www.fya.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/How-young-people-are-faring-report-card-2015-FINAL.pdf