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Now you’ve graduated, how can you catch an employer’s eye?

It’s the question that perplexes graduates of all degrees – how do you get a job without experience, and how do you get experience without a job?

For so long, the concept of finding a job post-graduation has been a mystifying question mark for many university students. It can put a dampener on what should be the happy ending of years of hard work. But, to remove the veil of mystery, two employers share what they’re really looking for when hiring graduates.

Michelle W Rutherford, Director of Learning and Teaching, Pre-registration and Transition to Practice at Eastern Health, is a primary partner of Deakin University in student placements. Facilitating placements for the past seven years, she knows what stands out to an employer.

Deakin also has a corporate partnership with IAG Firemark Ventures, where Director, Scott Gunther, runs the work experience placement program. With more than six years experience running this program, he knows the kind of talent to look for in a graduate.

Separate industries, same expectations

While Rutherford and Gunther come from vastly different industries, they share a similar outlook when it comes to hiring graduates. According to Gunther, ‘technical skills are table stakes.’ They’re a minimum requirement and graduates need to have them and be able to apply them.

Rutherford shares a similar stance when it comes to technical knowledge. She says that a hire-able graduate should be able to demonstrate a ‘safe and solid foundational clinical knowledge,’ but also an ‘aptitude to continue to learn.’ This continued learning is a valuable skill to many employers, as it contributes to organisational learning and growth rather than stagnancy.

Industrial/Organisational psychologist, Dr Scott Tannenbaum’s research, on enhancing continuous learning, reiterates the importance of employees ‘continuously learning’ within organisations. It’s a skill in high demand, especially in rapidly changing workplaces where the ability to acquire and learn new information is crucial.

Rutherford and Gunther also emphasise passion and ambition as big factors in a graduate’s employability. ‘A graduate’s attitude to the job is extremely important,’ Rutherford says, and explains, ‘we look for applicants who are eager to join the health service, willing to grow and develop, reflect and respond well to feedback.’

This passion is expected within any industry, from healthcare to finance, and also lends itself to soft skills, which is something highly demanded in all fields. Gunther notes the importance of having soft skills as a graduate, too. Often referred to as ‘people skills’ they include teamwork, positivity and strong communication skills.

Rutherford agrees: ‘Great teamwork within a safe, caring and learning focused organisation requires positive, patient and team focused individuals who are committed to learn and grow with the organisation.’

Technical skills and experience:  How valuable are they?

Another thing Rutherford and Gunther agree on is the importance of work experience. According to Gunther, it’s the difference between standing out and getting looked over when applying for jobs: ‘If they’ve been in a WIL (Work Integrated Learning) or similar program it stands out probably more than anything else.’

Demonstrating his point, Gunther says: ‘we have taken in a number of Deakin students for integrated workplace learning… three who are now full-time employees of IAG through this program.’

‘We actually believe there is an even richer opportunity to identify talent before they even graduate,’ he explains.

This is a view shared by many employers. Graduate Careers Australia notes that ‘gaining a foot in the door’ is just one of the many benefits of undertaking an internship, as well as being a great way to learn about the culture of a workplace.

In fact, a NACE survey has shown that completing a long or paid internship can drastically improve a graduate’s chances of being offered a job – 60% of employers surveyed said ‘they would be more likely to consider a candidate for full-time employment if he/she had completed an internship.’

Rutherford reiterates, saying: ‘we do look for previous work in health, volunteer work or a customer service role to support an application’.

'If they’ve been in a WIL or similar program it stands out probably more than anything else.'

Scott Gunther,
Director, IAG Firemark Ventures

Graduates vs. professionals: How can you come out on top?

Aside from work experience putting graduates in the running for jobs alongside seasoned professionals, Gunther also has a list of things he looks for in a fresh out of uni applicant:

  • ambition
  • results oriented
  • willingness to work both autonomously and in a team
  • problem solving skills
  • communication – written oral and presentation.

Being a new fish in the pond isn’t always a disadvantage either, as Rutherford concludes – compared to professionals in the field, she not only values, but benefits from the ‘fresh eyes of the graduate who joins [the] team with extra enthusiasm and a strong desire to make a difference to people through questioning, reflecting, and participating in change and innovation.’

Now you’ve got the skills you need, check out these great tips on how to write an eye-catching resume.

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