Six pieces of advice for undergrads: How to get your foot in the industry door

I took a gap year after finishing High School and spent a fair amount of time challenging the expectation that I attend University in order to get a career. I was meeting people who had excelled in their industries without having attended university, and I was commonly hearing stories from recently graduating friends, who were finding the job search futile and disheartening. It made me question whether Uni was in fact the right path to take. After deliberation I arrived at a decision. I would attend University, study hard and achieve the high grades I knew I was capable of, but I wouldn’t stop there. I would use University as an avenue of opportunity. I would use the knowledge of my teachers to learn in excess of the curriculum, and take as many opportunities as was offered to me to enhance my professional experience and portfolio. I stuck by this decision, and after only completing my first year, attained a Part Time entry-level position in the industry and, entering my third year, am being presented with opportunities I never would have thought possible for an Undergraduate student.
Here are my tips on how new and current students can get their foot in the industry door, fast-tracking their way to a successful career.

#1: P’s Make Degrees But They Don’t Secure Jobs

I remember smiling as Deakin Lecturer Ross Monaghan made this very statement in my first Public Relations lecture. It says it all. Degrees are expected now; simply having a degree is not enough to guarantee a job anymore and definitely doesn’t distinguish you from the rest of the applicants. If you want to succeed, don’t follow this mantra. Instead, work hard in your studies and also enquire after potential practical experience you can undertake on top of your academic workload.

#2: Be Prepared To Give Your Time For Free

Very few people (and companies) will reject an offer of someone working for them for free. Volunteering is a wonderful way to gain some experience for the resume, show your dedication, and learn what you enjoy (and what you don’t). Although you won’t be working for cash, don’t make the mistake of thinking that volunteering is not valuable. The knowledge and experienced gained may give you stronger rewards in the long run.

#3: Make Connections

We’ve all been told, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”. I’m going to say that I don’t believe that to be entirely true. I prefer “Use who you know, to increase what you know”. Making connections within the industry is invaluable. Attend networking events, connect and engage with people online, show your interest and enthusiasm to experts and ask them for a coffee date or beer one day. Most often, they will be more than happy to meet with you and share some advice. Being recommended by someone respected in the industry is a wonderful way of getting opportunities sent your way, however you need to ensure that you’re prepared for the opportunities, and can deliver beyond expectation.

#4: Be Open To Experimenting

You don’t need to know exactly what you want to do, and if that’s the case be open to experimentation. It’s only by trying different things that you’ll get an idea of the road you want to pursue. In saying that, learning something at University and then practicing the same thing professionally are two very different sides of the coin. If you think you know what you want to do, get an internship, temp position or volunteer in a role in that field to ensure you really like it before closing doors on other avenues.

#5: Stand Out From The Crowd

In a row of circles, a triangle is going to be most memorable. That doesn’t mean that being a triangle is better than being a circle, because the reverse could also be true.The idea is simple, whatever everyone else is doing, make sure that you are different. Find ways of making yourself memorable, whether that’s getting personal business cards, attending events aimed at professionals with a low (or non existent) student attendance, running your own website or blog, and approaching people and asking for their time (you’d be amazed how many students will not do this). Go above and beyond the norm, or just be outrageously different, and you will be recognised. As long as you have something to offer once you’ve been noticed, you’re in.

#6: Make Your Own Luck

A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to be nominated by my High School to attend National Leadership Camp alongside 199 other young Australians. We were taught many things over the days we spent together, however there is one memory that has stuck with me stronger than any others. Robyn Moore (inspirational speaker and the voice of our beloved Blinky Bill) was telling a story about her son, who had achieved wonderful things in his young life, but was constantly being called lucky. “He’s not lucky”, she told us, “he lives with intention – that’s all luck is. Luck is when opportunity is met with preparation.” The more I thought about this the more I believed it to be true and since then I have taken responsibility of creating my own luck. When an opportunity presents itself, anyone has the potential to take it, all you need is the intention, and preparation.

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