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Where & What Type of Work

Work Experience

Undergraduate Options

Many students who are midway through a degree put off thinking about career planning: the mindset is, ‘I’ve still got a couple of years, there’s plenty of time’. However, you put it off at your own peril! If you have a couple of years or more left before you graduate, there are things you can be doing which will greatly enhance your graduate employment prospects. First and foremost, familiarise yourself with the range of vacation work and other undergraduate work experience options that are available.

Many organisations in Australia have formal or informal programs for penultimate or final year students. These programs can range from one-off work experience stints to formal vacation work placements, longer-term cadetships or scholarships. Not only are these programs a great way of getting a ‘foot in the door’, they can significantly increase your chances of landing a graduate position and give you an opportunity to test out an organisation and/or career path.

Opportunities for work-related experience vary depending on your field of study. In some courses, like Education or Nursing, for example, work placements are embedded in the curriculum. In areas like Accounting, Business and Law, universities often have links with employers who offer formal programs.

If your course does not have a formal program in place, do not despair. Directories like this one can help you find out about opportunities available, as can your university Careers Service.

“At Hatch, we are looking for students with a strong academic record, leadership and team-working skills, a passion and drive to make a difference and an enthusiasm to work for Hatch.”
- Julie Robertson Graduate Recruitment Coordinator, Hatch

Getting clear on terms
Vacation work

Vacation work is degree-related work (usually paid) undertaken by students at the end of their second-last year of study, over the vacation period. It can often lead to a graduate position, which is why competition for placements can be intense, especially for high-profile organisations. Winter vacation programs are becoming increasingly common so it is worth finding out about all options from your careers service.

Work experience

Work experience is usually student-initiated and its main objective is to provide the student with experience in a real-work setting. The work can be paid or unpaid and varies in structure and intensity.


Cadetships are employed positions offered to students (sometimes graduates) which are designed to provide specific training or mentoring. They can be full-time or part-time and vary from formalised schemes, where cadets are provided with a structured program of training and mentoring, to informal arrangements between an individual student and an organisation.

Cooperative programs

A cooperative program is an industry-based learning program consisting of hands-on, full-time experience in the relevant industry. Participation in a cooperative scheme is usually undertaken in the third or fourth year of study and sometimes involves credit points toward a degree.


Scholarships are financial grants provided by government, industry or private organisations. Relevant work experience with the sponsor organisation is often part of the scholarship.

The benefits

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/organisation
  • Better grades: you will go back to university with a greater understanding of your field

How do I find out about opportunities?

  • Look through the profiles in this directory and on the GO website
  • 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

Keep in mind

Remember, 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 is 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/organisation suitability.

Top tips

  1. In a broad sense, know the type of work placement and work-experience activity you ideally would like to undertake (and why).
  2. Narrow down your preferred industry areas to two or three, and focus on these in your undergraduate opportunities search.
  3. Develop an action plan, noting your preferred employers and how you intend to make contact with them.
  4. Investigate your options early so that you know what is available when it is time to apply (which is usually around the middle of your penultimate year).
  5. Look out for on-campus workshops that will help you to prepare a professional application.
  6. Seek assistance, application feedback and personalised tips from your university careers service.
  7. Understand the difference between the various types of vacation programs and employment options and identify which might work best for you.
  8. Make sure that your email address and phone voice message present a professional image to a prospective employer. Also be mindful that what you put on the public area of a website — eg. on a MySpace or Facebook profile — can be read by anyone.
  9. Don’t leave your application to the last minute.

When graduate recruiters were asked to rank their graduate applicants on a variety of characteristics, academic results rated highest (82.9 per cent of respondents ranking this characteristic as good or excellent), followed by communication skills (76.3 per cent) and the level of extracurricular activities (73 per cent as good or excellent)
- 2007 Graduate Outlook Survey, GCA

This article is taken from the 2008 edition of Graduate Careers Australia's employer directory Graduate Opportunities .

© 2008 Graduate Careers Australia