Many students delay career planning until after they have finished their degree. It’s easy to think ‘I’ve still got a couple of years, there’s plenty of time.’ However, you can greatly enhance your graduate employment prospects through the range of available undergraduate work experience options.
Many organisations have formal or informal programs for penultimate or final-year students. Work experience can be paid or unpaid (as well as volunteer-based) and can often include on- or off-the-job training, instruction and mentoring. These programs are a great way to test out an organisation and significantly increase your chances of landing a graduate position.
Opportunities for work-related experience vary depending on your discipline. Some areas such as Education or Nursing have work placements embedded in the curriculum; in areas like Accounting, Business and Law, faculties often have links with employers offering formal programs.
What are my work experience options?
Cadetship – an employed position offered to students or graduates that is designed to provide specific training or mentoring. It can be full or part time and varies from a formalised, structured scheme to an informal arrangement between an individual and an organisation.
Cooperative program – an industry-based learning (IBL) or work-integrated learning (WIL) program consisting of hands-on, full-time experience in a relevant industry. Participation is usually undertaken in your third or fourth year and sometimes involves academic credit.
Internship – similar to a cadetship, it is a supervised work placement arranged between a combination of university, employer and student. It may range from a few weeks part time to multiple semesters full time and occurs in a field relevant to the student’s qualification. It may also result in academic credit.
Scholarship – a financial grant provided by government, industry or private organisations. Relevant work experience with the sponsor organisation is often part of the scholarship.
Vacation work – degree-related work (usually paid) often undertaken by students at the end of their second-last year of study. It can often lead to a graduate position, so competition for placements is intense. Winter vacation programs may also be available.
(Article co-edited by the Monash University Office of Employment and Career Development.)
The benefits of undertaking any of the above undergraduate options include:
- career-relevant experience
- résumé enhancement
- enhanced knowledge of the industry
- networking opportunities
- gaining ‘a foot in the door’
- opportunity to preview a job or organisation
- better grades – you’ll go back to university with a greater understanding of your field.
Vacation work and other work experience programs are good for both employers and job seekers. Employing the wrong people is costly for organisations so they like having the chance to preview workers. If an organisation you have undertaken a placement with offers you a job later down the track, it’s less of a risk for both parties – you know the work environment, expectations and whether it is ‘right’ for you and they know your skills, personality and role or organisation suitability.
How do I find out about opportunities?
- Browse through online job directories, such as Graduate Opportunities, for lists of employers that may be recruiting in your field.
- Talk to careers services staff and find a mentor who can give you advice about where and when to seek vacation work.
- Contact organisations that you are interested in working for.
Planning for work experience
- In a broad sense, know the type of work placement and work-experience activity you ideally would like to undertake (and why).
- Narrow down your preferred industry areas to two or three and focus on these in your undergraduate opportunities search.
- Develop an action plan, noting your preferred employers and how you intend to make contact with them.
- Investigate your options early so you know what is available when it is time to apply (usually around the middle of your penultimate year).
- Look out for on-campus workshops that will help you to prepare a professional application.
- Seek assistance, application feedback and personalised tips from your university careers service.