It can be a frustrating process trying to land your first professional role in your industry. The “experience conundrum” is certainly alive and well – you are applying for entry-level positions, but competing against candidates with industry experience. Indeed, the job market is so competitive at all levels, it is becoming harder and harder for graduates to stand out from the crowd. Strong communication skills, a degree, and a terrific GPA, is not necessarily enough to guarantee you a job straight out of University in the current job climate.

Here are three important tips to ask yourself in your final year (or even better, right from your first!) of school or university:

  • Are you proactively seeking roles? (or are you passively waiting?)
  • Have you utilised your network? (are people aware of your skills and what you are looking for?)
  • Are you planning for the long term? (the dream job may not be available to you straight away, but what will get you closer?)

The earlier you adopt this approach during your study, the more likely you are to have a stronger application come graduation time.

PROACTIVITYbreaking in

What do I mean about actively seeking information?

February and March are the most important month for soon-to-be graduates. This is when the majority of applications for graduate roles close for your “Big 4” and other leading firms (for commencement in the following year). Ensure you are on top of your applications.

The selection process for most of these larger companies with structured Graduate programs begin a year in advance, so being organised well in advance is critical. You will want to consider the commitment required for these programs, the type of exposure you will gain, and the mentorship you will receive. Importantly you will want to know about the culture and the training opportunities available over the term of your program.

A great way to get this information is to meet with a working graduate at these companies. Offering to shout them a coffee, in exchange for some feedback and advice, will be highly valuable. You are bound to know someone in your own network, who can refer you to a connection. Approach your University Lecturers or Tutors to enquire about a referral.

This is a tip I cannot recommend enough – do your research. When the recruiter or hiring manager calls you asking, “Why do you want to work for COMPANYAWESOME?” you can get large ticks for simply showing your enthusiasm and keen interest.


This links nicely to networking.  Networking sounds highly daunting – I think we associate it with standing in a room full of strangers making small talk. However, networking is about deeper relationships and QUALITY not QUANTITY. When you build a quality network, you are talking with other professionals who share common interests, passions, and expertise. Three things I have encountered over my time at work (for the most part!):

  • People genuinely like to help
  • People also genuinely like to share information and talk about their learning experiences
  • People are quite generous with their time and more than happy to meet for coffee
  • If they don’t have the time, they will always be polite when declining

Invest more time in talking with the people you genuinely find inspiring and interesting, and actively seek to connect with people who you think share your interests.

Hi Dave, I was referred your details by Dr Sam White at the University of Legends. I understand you have been working at COMPANYAWESOME in their graduate program. I was hoping you could share some of your experiences with me about your time at COMPANYAWESOME. I want to ensure I am fully researched on the commitment and application requirements of the position before submitting my application”.

Hi Sarah, thanks for your call. Sure, I would be more than happy to share my experience with you. How about a coffee catch up this Thursday in the CBD? How is Dr White’s course going?…

Take a deep breath, and give it a go!


Study hard at University – but do not neglect your practical working experience. Every small step you take in the professional arena will help you build your toolkit. For example:

  • Sarah started working at her Aunties Marketing firm during her first year of study (Bachelor of Business). This built her confidence and she undertook a variety of administration, reception and billing roles. She also got exposure to Marketing and Sales.
  • After a year of Administration experience, Sarah then successfully secured an Administration Coordinator role with a small Health Practice. She managed all aspects of administration thus developed excellent customer service skills, time management skills, technology skills, and more.
  • By her final year of study, Sarah was working in a QLD based Health organisation, working closely with the Health Practioners (reporting, admin coordination, client services).
  • Over her summer break, Sarah approached a recruitment company (focusing on recruiting nurses and support workers), asking if they would consider taking her on for work experience. They had a high volume period, therefore were more than happy to pay her on a casual basis to assist them. Here she gained great exposure to the industry and was able to utilise her existing knowledge of the industry (having worked in the health sector, and having done marketing and sales in her past role).

By the time Sarah graduated her Bachelor of Business, she not only knew that she loved recruitment and working with people, but she also had experience and several great references from her prior employers. She also had the confidence to present professionally in a corporate environment, and respond to questions with interesting anecdotes, when it came to interview for graduate programs.

To break into the industry, proactivity, “thinking outside the box” and forward planning will greatly assist.

Kaitlan Laurie – Organisational Development Consultant 

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