The fact that you are studying science or are considering to study science, means that you have made the conscious decision to make yourself more employable.
Unfortunately, you are not alone in your quest to gain a science degree.
When it comes to finding a job after graduation, you will be one of many fish in the job market sea.
The University of Queensland (UQ) has a large focus on employability, including a free course on developing employability skills and attributes which is offered to people around the world.
These days, to get a good job, a degree is necessary, but not sufficient. Graduates also need work experience. This is sometimes easier said than done.
So let’s clear up some of the myths surrounding getting work experience and becoming more employable.
1. I already need experience to get a foot in the door
It seems to be a vicious cycle – most jobs, even the most junior positions, require you to already have that work experience that you are so desperately trying to gain. So how do you get a foot in the door without any previous experience? The competition for placements at large companies or paid internships is fierce.
A good way to start your career is to go for a smaller company for your first internship, or for a volunteer position. Once you have gained some experience, finding consecutive placements gets much easier and you can focus in on your dream employer.
2. My GPA doesn’t matter
You may have heard people say that your grade point average (GPA) doesn’t matter after the first job. But what if you are still looking for your first job? In order to get your first work contract, internship or volunteer position, potential employers will be interested to see how you are performing at university.
Your GPA is one of the few things to benchmark inexperienced applicants against each other before an interview. If your GPA is well below that of other applicants, chances are you are not going to be invited for an interview. Getting to the interview stage is crucial to showcase your other strengths, such as communication skills, drive, industry knowledge, or your ability to negotiate. So putting 100 per cent of effort in at all times during your studies to get the best GPA possible, might help secure you that all-important interview.
A survey by Graduate Careers Australia* asked more than 350 graduate employers from a range of industries what qualities they sought in an applicant. The employers ranked the “calibre of academic results” in fourth place. The other top qualities they highly regarded were interpersonal and communication skills, drive and commitment, and critical reasoning and analytical skills.
3. My internship should be in an area aligned with my studies
While it makes sense to do an internship in an area related to your studies, it can also be eye-opening and useful to be flexible to get experience in an area that is a little outside your field. In science, the disciplines are not as clear-cut as they may have been 20 years ago and new fields are opening up that combine unrelated disciplines.
A good example is bioinformatics, which combines biology with the computing power of information technology to make sense of the huge amounts of data generated in areas such as genetics. Having a variety of interdisciplinary skills can give you an edge and make you stand out from the competition.
4. There is no sense in getting work experience until my final year of studies
Science is a wide field and many first year students don’t really know what they want to do when they graduate. However, this is no reason to postpone thinking about it and working on a plan. It can be a long road to your dream job.
Thus, try to organise an internship, a volunteer or research opportunity or even a language course already during your first semester break. This can help you develop new skills, meet potential future employers and might make you realise which future career you want to pursue. The worst case scenario – you find out what you don’t want to do in future. This is still a valuable lesson.
5. The more I apply, the better chance I’ve got
You have finally sorted your resume and are thinking of sending it out to as many vacancies as possible? Think again. Many employers receive hundreds of applications to any one job vacancy and can spot if an application is generic right away. If you haven’t taken the time to customise your resume, then don’t expect employers to take the time to read it.
A better approach is to have a close look at the position description, understand what skills the employer is looking for and to use keywords and concrete evidence to demonstrate that you are the right person for the job.
For example, if the position description requires you to perform data analysis, then it is important to outline any previous experience or skills you have in this area. When it comes to applying for vacancies, think quality rather than quantity!
6. Confidence is key
While confidence is important, it can come across as arrogant if you are not careful. If you are in an interview with a certain salary expectation, then “sticking to your guns” could cost you a valuable work experience opportunity.
Being flexible with your desired income and work hours can get you that dream job or internship sooner rather than later.
Hear how industry placements give UQ science students a head start.
Find out which UQ science courses include practical placements.
*GCA 2010 Graduate Outlook Survey of graduate employers in Australasia graduatecareers.com.au