A Guide to Getting a Graduate/Vacation Job
What is a graduate/vacation job?
A graduate job is usually an entry level job you start in after you finish your university degree. Most of them don’t require you to have much related work experience and it’s a good place to start your career. You usually apply for these jobs in your final year/semester of university and start them after you have finished your degree.
A vacation job is basically a 2-3 month placement in a similar role to that of a graduate job. Most firms will take on students in their penultimate (second last) year of their degree. The same (or similar) recruitment process usually applies to these jobs as most of the time you can be offered a graduate role at the end. It’s a good way to get a taste of what to expect as a graduate and also get some useful work experience.
Some firms offer other types of roles, such as cadetships and co-operative placements. I won’t go into detail about these in the guide but the concepts in this guide can be applied to these roles as well.
What you should do in high school and university
Well the first thing you should do at high school and university is to do subjects and degrees which are relevant to the job you want to apply for. This is not so important at high school, as you should just do the subjects you enjoy and will get you into your required course. At university, you should do a degree (or double/combined degree) in a field which interests you the most (rather than the field which will make you the most money) as you will get through it a lot easier and have a more rewarding career. Keep in mind that around 30% of students do change their courses within or after their first year, so it is not uncommon to change your mind about your degree after you start it. After you start your degree, try to obtain a steady stream of marks and don’t fail too much (or try not to fail any subjects at all). Sometimes, higher marks in your degree can help you get a job easier, but this is not always the case, and can be based on other factors as well, which are discussed below. Most firms will look for at least a Credit average (which is 65% or above), which is not too hard to achieve in most courses.
Apart from your degree and parts, the other aspect that employers look for are ways you build your soft skills. This can be through participation in various activities in school, university and in the community. This shows to an employer that you have a good work-life balance and that you have taken initiative to build yourself and learnt new skills. This will also be beneficial to you when answering interview questions.
Some of the most common skills you develop through doing these activities (and are asked by employers) are communication (verbal and written), teamwork, leadership, motivation, organisation, time management and goal setting. There are many other skills that you can gain as well, but these are just some of the common ones to keep in the back of your head when you think about doing these activities.
You should try to get involved starting from high school, but if it’s not possible (or too late at this point) then university is a great place to start as well. At school, you can get involved in things like school captain, student representative councils, prefects, year book, organising formals, and so on. Even the smallest tasks you do (such as participating in a 1 day focus group) will help you gain skills in some way. At university, you can get involved in various student clubs (by being President, Secretary, Treasurer, etc) or even just helping to organise in some way. Also helping out at university orientations, open days and camps are also something else you can get involved in. In the community, there are plenty of charities out there looking for voluntary work. In the end, it’s up to you to find out what you get involved in and making sure you do.
Apart from all that, you can also get involved via your university work. Working as part of a team in assignments and being a group leader are also ways in which you can develop these skills as well.
Finding places to apply for
Before you go to apply for any jobs, obviously you have to first figure out what firms to apply for. The types of firms and roles you apply for will most likely be determined by your degree (though you shouldn’t let this stop you). Most of the time, a company will list the types of courses they are looking for next to their graduate roles, so you know which ones you are eligible for.
A good website to start at is the Graduate Careers website. It has plenty of information on it about graduate jobs as well as a list of companies each year that you can apply for. Other places where you can get ideas of companies to apply for are the BRW Lists where you can get a list of the Top 100/500 public and private companies as well as accounting firms. Finally, each university should have some sort of careers website or notice board which advertises jobs that are available.
Each year, the major universities will have a careers fair towards the beginning of the year where over 50 companies will come to your university and you can have a talk with each of them. It’s a great chance to meet a lot of companies at once and talk to people who actually work there. Some of the major companies may also hold information sessions at your university which you can attend and get some extra information and tips.
The ICAA also holds various events throughout the year, such as their graduate and vacation information sessions and other events which you can attend to meet various companies and ask them questions.
You should then visit the websites of the individual companies and find out as much information as possible about what they do and where you would fit in. You should try and collate together a list of possible companies to apply for. Try to apply for at least 10 companies if possible.
The recruitment process
Each firm will have their own recruitment process, so it’s up to you to work out what they are doing. Their websites will usually outline the process that they go through. The most common steps include: the online application, information session, psychometric tests, group activities and interviews. Not all firms have all of these things and they might have extra steps as well. Also, some firms like to have a whole day assessment centre where as some split them up on different days.
This step is very important as it will be your first formal contact with an employer and this is usually the biggest hurdle to get across. Most firms nowadays will use an online application process, so you will need to make sure your answers are good and that your resume is tailored towards that particular role.
A fair number of firms nowadays use scanning software to help analyse your information. This means that you should try and use as many key words as possible in your application to make sure your application isn’t rejected. Even if they don’t use any sort of software, the person reading it will still look for the same things. Remember, this step is a very good indication of your written communication skills, so employers will look for a well written and thought out application. These key words can be found in the job advertisement and most of the time, will be similar to the soft skills outlined previously. Also, have a read of the information about the firm on their websites and show you have some knowledge about the firm and their culture.
Most firms will allow you to preview their application forms before you start, so have a look at it to get an idea about what to expect. For example, here is the preview application form for Ernst & Young (a Big 4 accounting firm). Remember to stick to word limits in your application and also to answer the question properly without too much waffle.
Some firms may have an information session at their office which you can attend to get a feel for the firm and meet managers and other graduates. This is a good opportunity to meet people who actually work there and ask as many questions as possible, and get some tips for your application.
Apart from the personal details, work experience and so forth, most employers will ask you about extra-curricular activities as well as some behavioural questions. This is where the section titled “What you should do in high school and university” comes in handy as you can draw on examples from here to answer these questions. Some applications will require you to attach a resume while others will simply ask for all your information in the application.
If an application asks you for a resume attachment, then you have to make sure it is up to scratch and tailored towards the job you are applying for. There are plenty of resume guides available via Google, but I’ll give a quick run down here on how your resume should be structured. Try to keep your resume as short as possible and don’t go over 3 pages. Also, keep it simple, yet neat. A good resume should be able to be copied and pasted into text format without much need for formatting.
For a graduate/vacation job, a good resume structure should be as follows:
- Personal details – preferably in the header, with your name, address, phone number and e-mail address. You don’t need much else than that.
- Career objective – Give a brief 2-3 line description of what type of role you are after. You need to tailor this for each role you are applying for. If you are applying for an accounting job, then obviously having the word accounting (and the specific field of accounting you want to go into, eg. auditing), is a good place to start.
- Education – For this type of role, your education is more important than your work experience. List your university degree, with your major/s as well as your average or GPA. Don’t list all of your subjects here as it’s a waste of space (and is shown in your transcript anyways). List your HSC as well as your UAI and that’s about all.
- Work Experience – List your 3-4 most recent (and most relevant) work experiences, in descending order. Include the name of the company, your role, the period you worked there, your duties (briefly), but more important, how this job helped you to achieve and improve your soft skills (again, use key words).
- Computing Skills – If you are going for an IT job (or a more technically) related job, then listing what computing skills you have is very beneficial here, otherwise put it towards the end if you want to. List things such as programming languages, operating systems, hardware, etc.
- Extra-Curricular Activities – Again, list these in descending order with the period as well as your duties and what skills you obtained out of these.
- Awards/Interests – These fields are optional and less important, but if you have the space then list them briefly.
- Referees – Try to have at least 2 referees, if not 3. List their name, position, company and contact details.
- Some universities run workshops on resumes and interviews as well as have a resume checking facility, so you should use this if you are having problems with your resume.
Some applications will ask for your university results (and therefore, list of university subjects) in either the application itself or as an attachment. You can either include them in a table after your resume or in a separate document (depending on the instructions).
Some firms like to have an information session for all applicants (or selected ones). Sometimes these sessions are assessable (to see how you interact with others), but most of the time, it’s a chance for you to ask questions and meet managers and partners to see whether or not you are suited to the firm and if you like the role. It also gives you a chance to meet possible interviewers as some of the people you meet at the information session may be interviewing you later on.
Most firms like candidates to sit a psychometric test something during the process. These tests are usually designed to see if you have the type of thinking required for the role as well as to see if you are fit for the company. The 2 most common tests are the numerical and verbal reasoning tests. The numerical test will focus on your ability to read graphs, tables and data and interpret these. The verbal test will get you to read a passage and then will ask you a question and you have to say whether it is True, False or Cannot Say from the information in the passage. These tests can be quite difficult and most of the time you will not be able to finish all the questions (though they base it on how many you get correct). There are some practice tests available online and I may insert links here later.
Some firms like to give tests more specific to the role as well, such as logical reasoning and personality tests. They can deal with things like syntax checking, completing number and graphical patterns and so on. Sometimes, you can also be asked about your personality and how you would react in different situations, just to see if you fit into the firm.
All of these tests seem to get easier with practice. It is not something you can prepare for, but you do get used to them after you have done a few.
A fair number of firms nowadays will get you to do a group activity to test your team work skills. This will usually involve some sort of case study where you have to discuss as a group about an idea and come to a consensus. Sometimes, you are assigned various roles, which you need to act out. They assess you on how you discuss rather than what the outcome is. Usually there is a group and individual part to the activities. They usually get you to do an individual presentation to the rest of the group, just to see your presentation skills. In these cases, try not to be too shy, but don’t be too dominant either. They want to see someone who can communicate their ideas in a team effectively, but also someone who can listen to what others have to say.
This is probably the stage that most people fear, but again, it comes with practice. You need to be confident and just be yourself and you will get through it. Some firms like to have multiple interviews with people of different levels, while others will only have one.
If you do have multiple interviews, then you might start off with an interview with a HR person or a lower level manager. This interview will most likely be behavioural based. This means that they will ask you questions about your soft skills mentioned before and ask you to discuss situations where you have demonstrated these. In this case, you should use the STAR model. That is, you should first describe the Situation (context), then talk about the Task and your role in it. Then, discuss the Action and what you did in that task to overcome the problem or task. Then finally, finish off with the outcome or Result.
Some common questions you may get asked include:
- Resolving conflicts
- Negotiating an agreement
- Dealing with an unsatisfied customer
- Deciding between many options
- Analysing information to make a decision
- Working as part of a team
- Being thrown in the “deep end”
- Taking on extra responsibility
- Introducing a change (innovation)
- Team leader
There is plenty of information available online about how to prepare for behavioural style interviews. You should try to think of examples before you go into interviews, but don’t rote learn any answers as it will be obvious to the employer. You should just act natural and try to adapt your examples to whatever questions they may ask.
One of the most important things to do in an interview is to ask questions. In these types of interviews, you will usually ask questions at the end, but you can ask throughout if possible. You should ask at least 3 or 4 questions, just to show you are interested. You can ask about training and developing, where your role can take you, whether they enjoy working in the firm, and so on.
You may also be asked to have a final interview with a higher level manager or partner. These interviews can also be behavioural based, but it’s usually more of a social chat. By that stage, you would have passed most of the other rounds and they just want to align you to a particular role in the firm. Most of the time (especially in the case of a partner), they usually have the final say in if they want you or not, so you have to impress them. You should try and find things to talk about with them, such as an interest of yours, but also show interest in the role that you are applying for. Try and mould the interview into more of a relaxing discussion where you ask questions throughout the interview rather than at the end. If they like you, then they will continue talking, otherwise they have the ability to end the interview early, as they usually have a busy schedule and will only interview people that they are impressed with.
If you manage to get through all that and they are happy with your performance, then you will most likely get an offer from them. This is when you will jump in joy and obviously be quite happy. You will then have a limited amount of time to accept your offer. Most of the time, if you managed to get 1 offer, then you will probably be able to get at least another one. Then it’s decision time. Weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of each of your offers and see which one you like the best.
I might add more here and there later. If anyone wants to contribute then feel free too. I hope people find this guide useful .