A common question I am asked by undergraduates here in Adelaide, is whether it’s important to have a casual job while working towards completing tertiary studies. Is any work experience is better than none vs industry relevant experience?
The short answer is that any skills gained through community participation in a voluntary capacity, leadership demonstrated through extra curricular activities such as sports, and paid employment on your résumé will put you ahead of the pack when applying for a graduate role. Academic transcripts do play a part in the hiring process but employers do want well rounded employees that can offer more than a good GPA.
Depending on your chosen career path, it can indeed be difficult to gain paid employment within certain professions without having completed undergraduate study. Speaking from my own personal experience, I started working as a casual at McDonald’s in Year 9 and continued through to the end of my first year at university. Throughout these five years of casual employment, I was able to complete Year 12, commence studies at The University of Adelaide and picked up a whole bunch of skills that have continued to remain transferable throughout my career. The training system adopted by McDonald’s provided the opportunity for me to commence as an employee with no professional experience, and learn the value of customer service right through to food production and store management.
Eventhough I stopped including my employment at McDonald’s on my résumé a few years ago, it is something I have mentioned in every job interview that has been well regarded by employers. Whilst I didn’t go down the path of chasing a career in food hospitality, every skill learnt on the job increased my employability. My message to students considering the best way to start their career would be to work for an employer that provides you with the opportunity to grow. While there are recognised employers who provide on the job training programs, as long as you are being challenged and learning new skills, any type of casual employment will help you in the long run.
During a student’s penultimate year of tertiary study, I suggest visiting the local university career fairs and finding out about any opportunities to undertake vacation employment. Vacation employment provides undergraduate students with the opportunity to apply their vocational knowledge whilst gaining skills on the job.
I also encourage undergraduates to arrange a work experience placement during term breaks. Contact an employer of interest, and inquire as to the process of undertaking work experience. Many corporates will have a scheduled work experience program that will be held at specific times throughout the year. Employers do prefer to hear from applicants themselves, rather than a parent / guardian, as it shows you are using your initiative – a trait highly desirable by prospective employers.
If you’re looking for more guidance, consider arranging for a confidential career review with me in my Adelaide office.