Everywhere you look, you see jobs that you know you’d be perfect at. They’re looking for students or recent graduates with knowledge in applicable fields, who love talking to people, have great presentation, excellent research skills, a positive outlook, enjoy working in a team, blah blah blah… And then – there’s the catch. They’re only hiring people with relevant previous work experience. How do you get relative previous work experience if no one is going to give you relative current work experience?
This question plagued my undergraduate degree, and has characterised the six months since I finished it. With a degree that is essentially a glorified Bachelor of Arts, people like me flood websites and job boards every day, demanding a work experience that will give them a boost when they’re actually job-seeking, but they have no way of proving that they’d actually be good at the jobs in the first place. I supported myself throughout my undergrad – and with that comes a lot of waitressing. I waitressed on weekends during high school, I waitressed on week nights during university – and by the time I could see friends of mine starting to get interesting sounding internships because of their prior knowledge of administration work from reception jobs, all I could write on my resume was that I was a very good waitress who hardly ever dropped trays. So I set about seeking ways to make myself seem different from the rest.
1. The first good way to do this is to travel. There’s nothing quite like writing “international experience” on your CV, so, seize an opportunity to study or volunteer overseas, if you can. Studying abroad is often expensive, but it gives you a different perspective on tertiary studies, and it looks great to prospective employers. And considering the current nature of our HECS program, it often comes at a complete discount when you factor in the high costs of education in places like the USA or UK. I chose to study abroad in Wisconsin, USA, and it was an incredible experience. I met lecturers and tutors that I remain in contact with, saw a part of America that not many Australians have, and I have found that it has been a huge talking point in job interviews since. I also began studying Indonesian language – I know, why study Indonesian in Australia, their closest neighbour, when you can study it in the mid-West of America? – and my instant love of the language has taken me to the country to work in the months following the completion of my degree.
2. Whilst I was abroad (and at home, too!) I seized the opportunity to join as many “relevant” (there’s that keyword again) clubs and societies at university as possible. My involvement in their hierarchies was very low – but I did get the chance to have an article or two published for the bi-annual journal of a society relevant to one of my majors. As a student, when and if you have the opportunity, write. Employers love to see that you’re capable and disciplined enough to produce something physical beyond course essays. And it’s also a great way to expand your knowledge on certain topics that could be helpful for actual assessed essays for your degree in that relevant field!
3. My third and final tip is – and probably the most difficult – you have got to be willing to work for free, if only for a little while. Whilst the horror of unpaid internships and work experience was previously a phenomenon isolated only to the United States, Australian employers are fast catching on, and sadly, those who don’t need the money primarily are the ones who are getting the experience that’ll land them those killer jobs in the future. Volunteering is a good way to make yourself stand out from the rest, and it can also help you get some of that “relevant” experience that employers are looking for. Volunteering is also incredibly flexible, and will work around your paid work schedule. I was my own boss when I chose to run a Red Cross blood drive at my school – and now I stamp my CV with ‘exceptional organisation skills’. Many of my friends volunteered at AIME – an Indigenous mentoring scheme that worked around both uni and work schedules. Now, after working my butt off to earn the cash to back myself, I have just concluded a two month internship at a local NGO in Indonesia, where on the side, I chose to volunteer at a school to teach English for my room and board. As a student of international relations with what are now semi-fluent Indonesian language skills; this, I believe, is what is going to make me stand out to future employers.
Whilst I still have a long way ahead of me before I land that dream job, I think that I’m slowly moving in the right direction, considering my humble plate-carrying beginnings. I am currently a writer and ambassador for a South East Asia-based travel magazine, which is by far the best job I’ve ever had, and I landed the role by utilising some of the tips I just shared. Relevant experience is what you make of it – and you don’t need to isolate your search for it to job seeking websites.