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Preparation for your first professional job begins well before your receive your first uni offer. Professor Dineli Mather, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Graduate Employment) at Deakin University, says you need to consider a few things before you hit ‘apply’. How many of these items can you check off your work-ready list?
Find your career ‘sweet spot’
Prof. Mather says the first step in establishing your career path should be to work out what you’re interested in and what you’re good at. She calls this the ‘sweet spot’. If you’re not sure what this is, she suggests thinking about whether you like to work on your own or in a team, for example. A preference for working inside or outdoors might be a factor, too. ‘What are you doing when you go over and above without thinking about it?’ Prof. Mather asks. Working out these things will help you make important career decisions.
Sharpen your competitive advantage
It might sound simple, but you need to know what you do better than other people. It may be something that seems insignificant – perhaps you make an excellent coffee or you’re a master of Snapchat – but these skills could nudge you into preferred candidate territory. Prof. Mather says you need to be able to tell an employer, ‘I can do something that other people can’t do.’ Take that thing you’re naturally good at and work towards being the best at it.
Know your values
Be honest with yourself. ‘Would you work for an organisation that uses cheap labour?’ Prof. Mather asks. If the answer is ‘no’, it’s good to start thinking about which industries or jobs you’re likely to avoid when you graduate well before it comes time to job hunt. Likewise, if you want to help people, choose subjects that will ensure your values are reflected in your work. If you want to live a comfortable life, be clear on what sort of course will help you achieve that.
Be an entrepreneur
These days all professionals run their own businesses, in a way. You don’t need to be the founder of the next big start-up to use some entrepreneurial spirit in the hunt for the perfect role. Your social media presence could help you stand out in the graduate market. Or you might need to contact prospective employers and offer your services as a freelancer until a full-time spot comes up. Ultimately, Prof. Mather suggests thinking like a sole trader and contacting businesses that might like to take up your services.
'What are you doing when you go over and above without thinking about it?'
Professor Dineli Mather,
Learn to do lots of things
You’ll evolve constantly in your professional life, so it’s essential to be open to change and adapt to new technology and ways of working. ‘There’s no single career. Most people will have seven to ten careers,’ Prof. Mather says. The best way you can prepare yourself for that is to know how to do many things. You don’t have to be an expert at everything, but the ability to be malleable will make career transitions easier.
Know when organisations recruit
According to Prof. Mather, a large bank, for example, will ensure finance graduates know when they’re hiring by running formal recruitment drives, but small to medium businesses might not. ‘Small businesses will recruit when they need a person,’ she says. Know how and when your desired organisation finds its people, and do your best to be in front of them at the right time.
Get work experience – anything is better than nothing
‘Businesses want people to be work ready, not just have a qualification,’ Prof. Mather says. A first step is simply being able to show that you can hold down a job, get to work on time, get along with people and take responsibility. Once you have that, you’ll have the beginning of a professional network and people who can vouch for you.
Network your heart out
There’s no need to pelt business cards at people, but building authentic professional relationships, applying for internships and activating a LinkedIn account will help you in your job search. Prof. Mather says some jobs are never advertised and opportunities might come across your desk simply because you’ve had a coffee with a prospective employer or know someone who can recommend you for a role.
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