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How to approach each university year

Cíntia Chen

Mon May 19 2014

How to approach each university year

YOUR time at university shouldn’t just be about straight A’s. Preparing for your dream job starts now. Cintia Chen shares a few tips on how to approach each university year to your advantage.

How to approach each university year

In an earlier article, I mentioned I was once told we should approach each university year differently. The first year of university is for you to make friends and adjust to the new stage in life. The second year is the “golden year”, where you are most active and involved in extra-curricular activities whilst expanding your social network. The third and, for some, final year, is for you to start preparing to enter the workforce, or at least, prepare for whatever you’re doing after graduation.

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I asked a few young professionals in Melbourne – who were once international students themselves – if they would like to share any lessons or insights with current university students. They all come from different industries and working environments, including big corporate firms such as ANZ and NAB, small-to-medium sized enterprises, as well as the Victorian Government. In spite of these differences, some key points came up over and over again. I have taken their advice and, together with my experience, put together a short guide about how to approach each university year in preparation for work life.

First year: Make friends

Starting university may create mixed feelings of excitement and nervousness, all stemming from the fact that everything is new. You now have some freedom to plan your timetable and to decide whether or not to go to class. You may be part of a new living arrangement, where you may share an apartment or a house with friends, sibling or strangers; and more importantly, you’ll make new friends, who may or may not be for life.

Photo: Shaun Lee

Photo: Shaun Lee

Reciprocal relationships

Genuine friendships are gold because they are based on reciprocity. This means you give and take, and once you enter the workforce, this will mean helping each other open doors to opportunities and connect with others that may do the same for us. My friend Ella recently told me she was doing a research project about social investments and one of the principals at the company where I work is an expert in corporate social responsibility and social enterprises. In response to my friend’s newfound passion and desire to further explore this area, I offered to introduce and connect her to the principal. As a result, the principal told me there was a chance Ella could potentially be brought on board to help with a research project endorsed by the United Nations Global Compact!

Developing communication skills

Building meaningful relationships isn’t all; making friends and meeting new people will also most definitely help you develop your communication skills, especially if they are from a culture different from your own.

Being able to articulate your ideas, your thoughts and effectively communicate the message across are core skills to have. If you look through job ads, you will see that communication skills are a key requirement, regardless of the profession. Most people I spoke to agreed.

This is particularly important when your colleagues come from all around the world. For example, a friend of mine in Melbourne works with people from Australia, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Singapore, Hong Kong, China, South Africa, etc. We both agreed that it’d be a disaster if none of them could express themselves effectively. No work would get done!

Second year: Pump up your CV

Most people I talked to agree that students should gain work experience during university, and I would argue the second year is the perfect time for it, especially after adjusting to university life. This is the time to get a part-time job, an internship or be actively involved in clubs, societies and even organisations outside of university.

The most important criterion to keep in mind is relevancy. Getting a job for the sake of earning extra money may be good for the short-term, but some good questions to ask yourself are, “Can I put this on my CV? Will this help me get a job or do well at work? How is this related to the area I want to work in?”

If your answers are negative, you may need to reconsider your options.

Meld's volunteer photographers gain on-the-job experience. Photo: Shaun Lee

Meld’s volunteer photographers gain on-the-job experience. Photo: Shaun Lee

Volunteering roles

International students often believe they are at a disadvantage when looking for work experience as they do not possess a Permanent Residency visa. In reality, there are a range of good options that will give you the work experience you want.

First off the list are university clubs and societies (some of which are internationally renowned such as AIESEC and 85Broads), where you have the opportunity to take on executive positions and be responsible for making key decisions, organising events and managing people. There are also many credible not-for-profit organisations with a purposeful mission and brilliant organisational strategies in place that welcome volunteers, regardless of their nationality.

For example, the Oaktree Foundation offers leadership opportunities in a number of areas such as marketing, digital media and business development, for people interested in fighting poverty. Meld Magazine offers opportunities to students aspiring to be journalists, writers, editors, designers, illustrators and other creative fields. One Girl offers opportunities for personal and professional development for those interested in education and economic empowerment, and United Nations Youth Australia offers nationwide or state-wide opportunities to address international issues whilst developing your problem solving and leadership skills.

Internships and part-time jobs

With regards to internships, international students have the advantage of having access to opportunities offered both in Australia and their home country. In Australia, most large corporate organisations, small businesses and start-ups offer internships and part-time positions to students who may not have Australian citizenship.

Many of us would recommend you approach prospective employers and ask them about potential internship opportunities, or a 3-month placement. Remember to demonstrate your capabilities and give them evidence of how you will add value to them and their company. This could be an opportunity to get your foot in the door and potentially lead to more serious responsibilities and commitments in the future.

This was actually what happened to me, when I got offered a part-time job after interning in a consulting company for two weeks, and then a full-time job after graduation.

Third year: Apply for jobs

Applying for jobs can be a very difficult task, mainly because rejection is inevitable. Quite frankly, it is not pleasant. The first thing you should know is that perseverance will be your best friend. I remember sending over 20 job applications in one week. After receiving no responses, I did end up with one or two rejections. I eventually landed a part-time job, but the rejections (or lack thereof) were not fun.

I have heard of people sending 80 applications in one year and securing a good job with a technology company, or of another determined job-seeker sending around 100 applications in a month, and landing a job with a prestigious bank. The point is: many will say no, but we should not let this stop us from trying harder. You can either see the rejection as something that will bring you down, or make you stronger.

How to approach each university year

When you apply for jobs, you are making a statement. You are trying to demonstrate that you add value to the company. This means that you should tailor your CV and cover letter for every job application, outlining the reasons for your interest. Do not send generic CVs and cover letters because it will be obvious that you are re-using the same documents for multiple companies.

And, yes, cover letters are a must. The CV is key, but only contains limited information. The cover letter allows you to further elaborate your experience and skills, accompanied with adequate examples or any other supporting evidence.

Last but not least, make good use of LinkedIn: it is free, useful and far-reaching. Create a profile and keep it up to date, treat it like your online portfolio and use key words to optimise your exposure. Many of my friends have told me that recruiters keep sending them job offers or invitations to meet for an interview. One of them got poached to move to another law firm. Another got a job offer, but when she tried to resign and move to the new company, her current employer gave her a salary raise.

Your time at university should be filled with enriching experiences that make up fond memories in years to come. Use that time wisely. Have fun, invest in the things you are passionate about, keep going, and your efforts will pay off some day.