The Importance of Experience
What is course-relevant experience?
Course-relevant experience provides you with the opportunity to apply the theory and skills that you have learnt in a professional workplace. Hands-on experience can improve your job prospects, expand your professional network, and develop the necessary skills to transition successfully from study to work. It can also give you valuable insight into the type of job and organisational culture you might enjoy once you’re out in the workforce, and help provide additional direction and motivation throughout your studies.
At JCU, your course may include an opportunity to take part in practical experiences and gain hands-on skills and valuable knowledge. These opportunities vary, depending on your area of study and the professional requirements of your degree. These may also go by different names depending on your course of study:
- clinical placements, clinical education, experiential learning, fieldwork, field trips, internships, legal placements, practicums, professional experience, professional industry experience, professional internships, professional placements, Prof.Ex, service learning, projects, simulations and virtual experience, vacation practice, and work-integrated-learning (WIL)
Virtual or remote internships are conducted online and/or by phone. Since COVID-19, virtual internships are becoming more common, and are a great way to get experience, hone your skills and broaden your networks. There are no geographical barriers, and you can often complete your work in a more flexible timeframe. Whilst you may not have the ability to ask quick questions or learn from observation, you will develop valuable skills in effective communication, self-motivation, problem solving, and being resourceful.
These are promoted in the same way as face-to-face internships. You can cold call or write an expression of interest like you would for other employment opportunities. Forage offers five-six hour virtual programs to students, which is a great way to test whether this online format is right for you.
JCU provides student insurance cover to enrolled students undertaking course placements that are a requirement of their program. In addition, JCU may cover enrolled students who wish to do work experience in their related field, but where it is not a course requirement.
An Application for Insurance Cover should be completed by students and approved prior to commencement of the work experience/placement.
Why is experience important?
You will gain insight into a typical day in your chosen profession and workplace expectations. On-the-job experience will help you to develop your applied skills and give you demonstrable examples of the key capabilities that employers are seeking in graduates.
Even if it is a mandatory requirement of your course to undertake a placement, you should aim to get additional relevant experience (paid or unpaid) to enhance your chances of gaining graduate employment. It is good to start early with acquiring experiences to list on your resume as they aren’t always easy to obtain.
Apart from enhancing your resume, here are seven reasons why you should gain course-relevant experience before you graduate.
- Get a graduate job faster
You are more likely to be successful in your graduate applications if you have relevant work experience. This work experience is highly regarded by recruiters, even if it is not listed as an essential criterion in the job advert.
- Deepen your knowledge and skills
By observing colleagues and asking them questions about what they do, you will have the opportunity to find out first-hand if the job and/or industry is right for you. You will also practice what you’ve learnt at university in a professional setting, which will consolidate your learning and give you a deeper understanding of your discipline. Even while observing, you are learning.
- Demonstrate passion and interest
Undertaking relevant experience shows the employer that you are motivated to get into a chosen career and that you’ve done your homework.
- Understand the world of work
It is a great way to gently introduce you to the world of work. You will learn what is and isn’t acceptable in the workplace, and how to navigate office politics.
- Gain transferable skills that employers want
It will help to strengthen your skills and may also highlight skills that you need to work on. Communication skills, teamwork, problem solving, motivation and time management are all transferable skills essential in the workplace and are highly valued by employers.
- Make great contacts
The industry contacts you make on your placement will be invaluable throughout your degree and after graduation, and they may even help you secure a full-time position with the organisation down the track. Many employers use placements as an opportunity to preview students for their graduate programs/future positions and often recruit interns.
- Gain a global perspective
Getting work experience overseas will help you stand out to employers – it will develop your global network, give you a greater awareness of the world, and will develop your intercultural skills. Some disciplines allow their professional experience placement to be undertaken in an overseas location, contact the Placement Coordinator for your discipline to find out more, and view the opportunities available via the JCU Global Experience Outbound Programs (exchange programs range from 2-6 weeks or 6-12 months).
Determine your work experience goals
To determine what type of experience, you want you first need to set your goals. For example:
- Are there specific skills that you learnt in your course that you want to further develop?
- Do you want to try out a particular industry or business to see if it is right for you?
- How much time can you commit?
Do your research
Start by researching your course career outcomes, view the career snapshots on the JCU Careers and Employability website, and talk to your lecturers, work colleagues, family and friends. You can use SEEK and Glassdoor to read reviews on company profiles, which might give you insight into what it would be like working there or in a particular role. Don’t let online reviews dictate your decision, and keep in mind that some reviews may be more emotive than factual.
You can use the JCU Alumni tool on the James Cook University LinkedIn page to get in touch with other JCU students and graduates, and find out where they have worked – searches can be filtered by course, location, employer, industry and skills.
You also need to research the types of jobs available at each of the organisations that you have narrowed down. Their current employment opportunities will give an indication of the skills and attributes they are looking for. For more information on skills, view the Skills Employers Want information sheet.
Action: Go to your downloaded workbook and complete Activity 1
What skills can you offer?
Now that you’ve done your research, you will have a better understanding of the industries you could work in, the type of organisations that suit you, and the skills they are recruiting for.
To be successful in gaining work experience, you need to prove that you are the right person for the employer to invest time and money on to train. Reflect on your skills and experiences so that you can draw links between the skills that they want and the skills that you have. If you don’t have a lot of (or any) work history, you will need to rely on the skills learnt at university and through volunteering and extra-curricular activities. You will also need to provide examples of how you have developed and demonstrated these skills.
To help you narrow down the skills you have and need to have, go to the 21st Century Work Ready module in the JCU Employability Edge program.
What would your employer find if they googled you? Have a quick check today. It is expected that most people have social media accounts, so you don’t need to be invisible, but you do need to ensure that the search results wouldn’t be considered a ‘risk’ to the organisation. Go to the Develop Your Professional Identity module in the JCU Employability Edge program for tips on building your personal brand/online presence.
How to spot a good internship/placement
Here are the top five things to watch out for when selecting opportunities to apply for:
- Tasks – a good work experience will provide you with real responsibilities and opportunities to learn and contribute, whilst complying with the Fair Work Act. You will learn about the business and specific skills needed in the role.
- Mentoring – if this isn’t specified, it is a good idea to ask what type of support will be offered. A good mentor is invaluable to the success of your experience and professional learning.
- Training – a structured program will usually provide more support and training.
- Evaluation – a good employer will provide you with constructive feedback to help enhance your strengths and identify weaknesses.
- Pathways to future employment – many employers will hire graduates from their pool of vacation work/internship students. You are likely to get valuable experience from organisations that do this as they have a vested interest in developing their candidates.
If you are unsure about what a program offers, you should ask prior to applying.
The Australian Association of Graduate Employers (AAGE) surveys undergraduates each year to determine the Top Intern Programs. This survey asks interns to rate their employer on 15 categories, such as induction and training, content of work, and quality of supervision provided by the manager. View the list to learn which programs are rated highly, and why.
How to find work experience
Just as job opportunities can arise in various ways, there are also several avenues for finding out about work experience/placement opportunities. As previously mentioned, if your course requirements include practical experience, go to your College website or speak with the Placement Officer in your College office about placement opportunities as they are different for each degree.
- Research employers online – Most organisations will list opportunities on their own website under a page dedicated to careers.
- Job search websites – CareerHub, SEEK, LinkedIn, CareerOne, JCU Career Directory, GradAustralia and GradConnection – many of these websites advertise internships as well as graduate programs.
- Specialised job sites – Don’t rely solely on general online job boards. Sign up to specialised job sites for your industry (NRMjobs for Science, Australian Human Resources Institute for HR, and professional association websites).
- Social media – Follow companies you’d like to work for on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram.
- Employment agencies – Contact recruitment agencies such as Hays, Signature Staff, Staffing Solution, CBC Staff, Precruitment and Kelly Services to find out about temporary/contract roles and other employment opportunities that might be relevant to your course.
- Volunteering – Organisations such as Volunteering North Queensland (Townsville) and FNQ Volunteers Inc. (Cairns) will discuss your goals with you to help match you with the right volunteering position. There are also opportunities to volunteer on campus, and in your community – see the JCU Careers and Employability website, SEEK Volunteer and Volunteering Australia.
- Career events and webinars – Meet employers on campus or via live online events and webinars. The JCU Careers Fair is held annually in March. Attend industry events organised by your College, student clubs and societies, professional association and JCU Careers and Employability.
Employers may have work experience opportunities, but do not openly advertise them, so it is up to you to be proactive and approach organisations. There might not be anything available, but at least you are now on their radar if something should become available.
Be proactive, not reactive. Just looking for advertised positions and setting up email alerts won’t always find you a placement.
Be active on LinkedIn. Join LinkedIn industry groups relevant to your studies and search for companies and JCU alumni contacts. Make new contacts as they may know of opportunities.
Use your networks
It’s not just what you know, it’s who you know! Start by talking to your family, friends, lecturers, tutors, colleagues and fellow students – find out who has contacts in the industry or organisations you want to work in. Don’t just ask them about opportunities they know of, ask them who their contacts are or who they might know that could have a contact for you.
Attend professional networking events and ask questions. These include, Careers Fairs (face-to-face and virtual), career/recruitment webinars, industry panels, and conferences. JCU holds its annual Careers Fairs in Study Period 1, so go to the website to find out when the events are held, view a list of exhibitors, the disciplines they recruit, and any opportunities available.
Action: Go to your downloaded workbook and complete Activity 2
Prepare your application and be interview ready
Once you have done your research and you have found some opportunities to apply for, it is time to prepare your application. Employers often recruit graduates from their pool of interns or students who have undertaken experience within their organisation, so you need to put as much time into this application as you would for graduate employment.
You need to prepare a tailored and concise resume and cover letter for every position and follow all instructions. Your application needs to show your genuine interest and enthusiasm for the role, highlight your key skills and achievements relevant to the role, and how you will make a valid contribution. For help with creating your resume and cover letter or expression of interest, see the Master Written Applications module in the JCU Employability Edge program.
You will also need to be ready for an interview. You must be able to confidently articulate how you have developed the skills they are looking for, and why you want to work for them.
Common questions you might get for a work experience opportunity include:
- Why do you want to work at our company?
- What do you want to get out of this experience?
- What is the most relevant experience you have?
- What do you do to stay organised?
- Give an example of a challenge that you have faced, and how did you overcome it?
- Do you have any questions?
Prepare and Increase Your Value
Once you have secured your work experience opportunity, you need to start preparing for it so that you can make the most of your experience and impress your employer.
Before your placement
If your placement is part of your course at JCU, make sure you know the expected learning outcomes and any assessment requirements before you start your placement.
Understand the terms of your placement
Find out where you should go, the days and times you will work, and the name and contact details of your supervisor/contact person. Be clear about what is expected of you and what to expect from your workplace.
What is expected of you?
- Be aware of the workplace health and safety policy, procedures and practices
- Perform in accordance with corporate aims
- Follow accepted attendance patterns and times
- Report to your supervisor as directed
- Clarify expectations
What to expect from your workplace
- A safe workplace environment
- An induction program or learning agreement that will help you to familiarise yourself with other staff, and workplace expectations and conditions
- Provide you with appropriate supervision and support
For information on basic conditions in the workplace visit – www.fairwork.gov.au
Although you have researched the industry, company and its culture before your interview, it’s important to refresh your search, so that you have as much updated information as possible. Find out everything you can from the company’s website and social media channels, press releases (about the company and its competitors), and even reviews and feedback from users or customers.
Check the LinkedIn profiles of your work experience colleagues, so that when you begin your internship your supervisors and co-workers won’t feel like complete strangers. You could also email the employer to see if there is any extra reading or preparation work you can do before you start. The more you know before you start, the more you will gain from the experience and the more likely they will be to view you as professional, rather than just an intern.
Setting specific personal and professional goals can help to make the most of your experience. It is a good idea to create a list of your goals and any questions you have about the role, so that you are ready to discuss these with your employer when you begin.
You will need to think about how you will fit your work experience into your schedule. You may need to reprioritise your part-time job, family duties, and social life to allow you to focus on your work experience and study commitments.
What to take
A pen and notepad will probably be supplied for you, but it won’t hurt for you to take a bag or case with your own small notepad and pen (and/or electronic device) – you are going to learn a lot of information quickly, and you will want to take notes.
What to wear
Plan your clothing ahead of time, make sure that your wardrobe reflects the environment that you will be working in, and follow all instructions regarding Personal Protective Equipment, if applicable. Think back to your interview and recall what others wore in the office/lab/on site. If you are unsure, contact your supervisor and ask for guidance. What you wear will help to form a great first impression.
Practice your commute
Make sure that you know where you are going and where you will park, so that you can arrive 5-10 minutes early. Do a practice run of the commute beforehand at the same time that you would be commencing work – this will minimise stress and mishaps on your first day.
During your placement
Your first day
Your first day is likely to include administrative tasks and lots of reading to help get you set up, settled in, and familiar with processes. You will be given an orientation, which might include a tour and completing an online induction. There will be lot of information to process, which could feel overwhelming at first, so take notes. If you are unclear on what is expected of you by your employer, or vice versa, seek clarification as quickly as possible.
Make sure you know the answers to the following questions:
- Where to find resources and answers on your own, when possible
- Who to seek guidance from or ask questions when needed
- How your employer will deliver feedback on your performance
You will be introduced to lots of new faces, but your manager may not be able to introduce to everyone in the office, so be prepared to go around and introduce yourself. Taking the initiative to meet your co-workers will help set a good tone for your ability to establish personal and professional relationships.
The purpose of an internship/placement is to learn from the experts, discover what you are and aren’t interested in, and trial different jobs and areas of specialisation. You will not be expected to know everything. Don’t be shy about asking questions as it shows you are willing to learn, are motivated, and have a genuine interest in your job. Be tactful about when, where and how often you ask questions – remember, there are no silly questions.
Treat it like a real job
Make sure you share your ideas, get your work done in timely manner and get involved in the business. Paid or unpaid, this is a real job and your tasks (big or small), and the way you interact with clients will impact on the organisation. If you make a mistake, you should acknowledge it and find a way to fix it. Don’t make excuses or try to hide it.
Make sure you capitalise on your time with the company and take the opportunity to meet as many of your co-workers as possible – especially those in other departments. If you are working in a big company, you may only have the chance to work closely with certain people in one specific area. This is why it important for you to make a conscious effort to build quality relationships and make connections with people throughout the whole company. It’s a small world, you never know who you may meet that could possibly support you in the future.
Ask for feedback
Some supervisors will be good at giving you positive and constructive feedback, while others may be less forthcoming. If they know it is important to you, they may be more likely to give it.
Write down and reflect daily on any useful information about particular tasks you’ve done and skills you have gained, and keep track of specific facts and figures about your performance and achievements. That way you will have a record of everything you need to help you to sell your course relevant experience in future job applications.
Access your support team
Fitting your placement into your already busy schedule can mean you have a lot to juggle. Let your family, friends and work colleagues know you are going to be extra-busy and ask for help and understanding.
Action: Go to your downloaded workbook and complete Activity 3
How to stand out
If you really want to impress your boss and be earmarked for future opportunities follow these tips!
- Exceed expectations and get creative – go above and beyond on the work you are delivering. Aim to work fast but effectively. If you can identify something that could be done better or could add value, then approach your supervisor with your suggestion for improvement/s.
- Be friendly, helpful and show initiative – if you have run out of tasks to do, you can identify tasks that need doing, ask for more work, or enquire if someone could use some help. Getting along with your co-workers will also show you are a good fit with the company culture.
- Anticipate their needs – an employee that can offer meaningful help or support before a supervisor asks for it (or realises they need it) will stand out from those who just tick off their to-do list.
- Be flexible and calm under pressure – remember to remain calm when a challenge or problem arises as this will help you think more logically about the best way to respond. Your professional attitude to the way you handle a problem will stand out, even if you don’t know exactly how to deal with the issue.
Things to avoid at work:
- Stay off your mobile phone and don’t send text messages, unless you are on a break. Even if other co-workers are on their personal phones, it’s best to avoid such practices. Set your phone to vibrate if you must have your mobile phone at work.
- Don’t engage in idle gossip about other colleagues or your boss, or ‘bad mouth’ them.
- Don’t get involved in any banter which might have sexual or discriminatory overtones.
- Don’t assume something is acceptable practice, get familiar with the rules first.
- Don’t assume you know more about the industry or organisation than the staff working there. Be humble, grateful, and willing to take guidance.
- Save social media for your lunch break (unless it is part of your job). When on social media, don’t post anything negative about your employer or your work experience. These posts have a way of coming back to haunt you, and can cost you your job and reputation.
How to deal with conflict at work
How you deal with conflict can turn a negative experience into a more positive one. Conflict can also be helpful to an organisation as it encourages open-mindedness. You will experience conflict at some point, and you need to learn how to manage it effectively.
Tips on dealing with conflict:
- Remain calm and control your emotions
- Listen actively
- Be respectful and understanding of others opinions
- Consider how you might have contributed to the conflict
- Try to be assertive in your communication
- Try to put things into perspective and reach a compromise
- Take note of what triggered the conflict
- Journal and reflect on the situation to learn what went well and what didn’t
- Try not to hold onto conflict – deal with it and move on
- Seek support if the conflict can’t be resolved or needs to be escalated
Whilst on your work experience you may encounter behaviours or observe things that you feel are unreasonable, which can be challenging. Remember that people and organisations have different thinking and communication styles in the same way that people ask different sorts of questions in different cultures. We all have various ways of doing things and must respect each other’s differences in and out of the workplace.
If you are experiencing conflict or feel you are being treated unfairly during your work experience, watch the step-by-step videos on Managing Conflict in a Workplace.
To view this video, login to LinkedIn Learning through the JCU website and then search for ‘How to Get the Most from Your Temporary Work Placement’.
Track and Reflect
Ask for feedback
Feedback helps you improve and grow professionally and personally, and can happen informally during casual conversations, or formally through meetings. Feedback will help you to identify your strengths and weaknesses and will give you time to improve before graduation. It also shows your employer that you are willing and eager to do your job well, and improve yourself.
Ask for suggestions on what else you can do to create a better outcome as you tackle challenges. Ask specific questions to a wide range of people and don’t solely rely on your Manager – ask other colleagues and friends to give you their perspectives on your performance.
When receiving feedback, whether positive or negative, actively listen without judgement or getting defensive. Be respectful of the person that is giving you the feedback, even if you disagree with their opinion or firmly believe their option/suggestion is incorrect. Think about how you can use this feedback, and what it has taught you about yourself. Ask questions if you need further clarification. You don’t need to solve a problem or have the right answer at the time of receiving feedback, it’s ok to go away and reflect on the feedback you received.
Dealing with negative feedback
The best way to receive negative feedback is to ask a few basic questions to show that you are genuinely interested in resolving any perceived problems. Listen and actually hear what’s being said; don’t get defensive and start making excuses.
Assume good intentions
Try not to make the automatic assumption that the person criticising you is ‘out to get you’. Good, constructive criticism should always be specific and focus on tasks or behaviours, and should never be perceived as personal criticism.
Use negative feedback as a chance to clarify expectations and goals. If you did not understand what you were supposed to do, use this as an opportunity to make appropriate improvements.
Own it and hone it
Accept the feedback and create a plan to make any necessary changes.
Use negative feedback as an opportunity to develop your relationship with your manager and co-workers. Their job is to help you develop, while yours is to deliver results. This is your chance to understand your boss and learn what they value most in their employees.
Use the negative feedback to reflect on all the ways in which you can improve – skills, knowledge, attitude and behaviour.
A positive approach to negative feedback is your chance to demonstrate that you are open to change and growth. You will be seen as mature, cooperative, resilient, and able to make necessary changes.
Recognise its worth
All constructive feedback is a sign of interest in you and what you are doing. It would be far worse to be doing the wrong thing and not have anyone bother to say anything.
To view this video, login to LinkedIn Learning through the JCU website and then search for ‘How to Respond to Critical Feedback’.
Build an ePortfolio to track your experience
Taking notes during your work experience is very important for your reflection and overall development. You can build on the notes you took by adding examples of your work and create your own ePortfolio.
An ePortfolio is simply a way to digitally organise your relevant experiences, skills, documents, and reflections in a way that is easy to access. JCU offers PebblePad, which is an ePortfolio tool that provides additional benefits for searching and storing experiences, including use of tags for easy searching.
Building an ePortfolio is about building self-understanding. By developing your capacity for reflective practice, you can come to understand your own learning as a student, your growth as a person, and your development as a professional. This is a good practice to develop at university as many professional memberships and registrations involve ‘continued professional development’ processes that require you to manage your own learning as a professional.
Benefits of using an ePortfolio
- Summarise skill development and identify areas that need to be developed
- Store reflections and examples to demonstrate your skills and abilities for job applications and interview preparation
- Select suitable evidence from your ePortfolio collection to meet a range of purposes, such as job applications, LinkedIn profile, promotions, awards, scholarships, voluntary or community work, and funding grants
Reflect on your experience
Take some time to review and reflect on your experiences, your skill development and what you have observed in the workplace. This includes what has been learnt, not just what has been done. Aim to make reflection a deliberate and regular activity.
The process of active reflection helps you to:
- Recognise the variety, depth and ongoing development of your knowledge and abilities
- Increase your confidence in yourself as an emerging professional
- Identify skill areas in need of improvement
In the diagram below, experiential learning theorist, David Kolb, explains how learning occurs through experience. Kolb’s experiential learning style theory is typically represented by a four stage learning cycle in which the learner ‘touches all the bases’:
Source: Simply Psychology.org
The following reflection questions may help you process your work experience:
- What were your goals and expectations before you started?
- What knowledge of your field was most important?
- In what ways were you able to apply what you have learned in your academic coursework to your internship, and vice versa?
- What skills did you develop and which would you like to further develop?
- What was the biggest challenge you encountered?
- What new ideas or questions were raised as a result of this experience?
- What was the most important thing you learned about yourself?
- What was your greatest accomplishment?
- In light of this internship experience, how have your personal goals evolved?
Action: Go to your downloaded workbook and complete Activity 4
Articulate your experience
Communication is one of the most important professional skills you can develop. As you reflect on your internship, practice speaking clearly and concisely about your experience. You should be able to describe your work experience in less than two minutes using action-oriented, positive words.
How to describe your experience
- Who are you, what you are studying, what organisation was your experience with, and briefly describe what they do (in one or two sentences)
- Describe your main responsibilities, the skills you developed, and a major achievement from your experience
- Describe what the key takeaways were, and what you would like to achieve following this experience
Write about your experience
Your work experience is a stepping-stone to your next professional experience, so you must be able to articulate what you have learned during your experience in your job application.
- Practice writing about what you did, including details about tasks, skills, and workplace equipment and software utilised.
- Read over your job description to find keywords that describe your experience.
- Reflect on what your challenges and accomplishments were, and consider what impact your work had on the organisation’s efficiency.
This will help you to write qualifiable and quantifiable key points in your resume and cover letter to describe your tasks, skills, and achievements. When you practice writing your examples, follow the STARL model to create your response. You will find information on how to do this in the JCU Employability Edge module: Master Written Applications – Successful Written Communication.
To view this video, login to LinkedIn Learning through the JCU website and then search for ‘Giving and Receiving Feedback Virtually’
Maximise the Experience
Network for success
Your work experience is an opportunity to build your professional network. The relationships you build are almost as important as what you will learn on the job. The people you meet during your experience could end up being a future boss, contact for a role, or a glowing reference that could help you get your next experience or graduate role!
Throughout your experience you may participate in teams, meetings, events and workshops/training, which will provide you with the opportunity to develop relationships and potentially find a mentor. Networking doesn’t come easily to everyone, and you need to practice to gain confidence. Being good at your job isn’t enough when you are competing against many other talented candidates. You need to learn how to network effectively to stand out. Many people find networking scary, but it is simply relationship building and starts by having a simple conversation with people.
Tips on networking during your work experience
Introduce yourself to the people around you, even if they aren’t in your team or department. If you show interest in other people and their work, they tend to be receptive – most people enjoy talking about themselves, or at least about their work! If you are feeling nervous about this, start with getting to know other interns, new staff, or those similar to your age. The more staff you get along with, the more likely you will be seen as a great ‘fit’ for the company.
Research the people you want to connect with
Use LinkedIn and Facebook to research the people you are working with. You can add them on LinkedIn, but include a note to your invitation to explain who you are. Do not add them on Facebook until you’ve really gotten to know them well and feel it would be appropriate. Viewing their profiles will help you to learn things you have in common. Find out some unique things about them, their interests, career journey, achievements, and skills. Once you find something you have in common (maybe they studied at JCU) or there is something they have done that interests you, you have a conversation starter!
Talk about your future plans
Ask about future jobs as you approach the end of your experience. Being flexible and open-minded is important, but if there is a specific area you are interested in then let your manager know. If your supervisor doesn’t have a job for you now, they will have tips on how to apply when the time comes, or may suggest another area of the organisation they know is going to be hiring.
Find a mentor
A good mentor can guide you through your work experience, help you to develop your skills and connect you with professional networks and learning opportunities. You could make a beeline for the person you think you could learn the most from, or you could approach someone that you connected well with during your networking. Having a good mentor will make your transition from student to employee much easier and a lot less stressful.
Why become a mentee?
- Personalise your professional development
- Target your areas for career development and professional growth
- Get help transitioning from studying to the workplace
- Identify your areas of interest
- Develop your communication skills
- Help you set goals
- Get job application and interview tips
- Build your professional networks
Before you ask someone to be your mentor, decide on what you want from them. Do you want to ask them for advice about your work experience project(s), help to develop particular skills, or learn more about specialities relevant to their field of expertise?
Note: Being a mentor does require their time and effort, so if they decline, accept this gracefully. You may consider asking if they have recommendations for another mentor.
What to do next
- Set up short, regular meetings over an agreed period.
- Agree on the best way(s) to communicate (in person, phone, email, LinkedIn)
- Establish your goals and share those with your mentor.
- Go to your meetings with an agenda and a list of specific questions that you would like to ask. Being well prepared shows respect for their time and goodwill.
- Reflect on what went well and what you would do different next time.
Here are some example questions that you may ask your mentor:
- What are the main skills I need to acquire to be successful in XYZ?
- How did you use X skill to help you with Y goal?
- What was the greatest challenge you faced when you first started in your field?
- I am trying to meet person A, how can I approach him/her?
- How did you set yourself apart from others who wanted the same job?
- Did you have an internship when you first started your career? What was one of the most important things you learned?
Being a good mentee
Characteristics of a successful mentee:
- Responsible – you are responsible for your own learning, and your mentor will give you tools and guidance.
- Respectful – respect your mentors advice and opinions. Remember, a mentor is a volunteer, so be respectful of their time.
- Honest – if you hold back, your mentor won’t have the full picture. Be honest about your thoughts, what you need help with, and be open to feedback.
- Appreciation – show your mentor appreciation and formally express your thanks (handwritten note/card, small gift, or endorse them on LinkedIn).
To view this video, login to LinkedIn Learning through the JCU website and then search for ‘Understanding What You Want Out of a Mentoring Relationship’.
Stay in touch and thank them for the opportunity
At the end of your work experience, say goodbye and thank you to each person you’ve met (in person if possible). Leave a lasting impression and send an email or handwritten letter/card to your supervisor, and anyone that helped you. Include your contact details, thank them and let them know what you learned from them and how they impacted on your life and future career. If your experience went well, consider asking your supervisor to be a referee.
Before you go, make a list of the names/email addresses of the key people you have met, and invite those people into your LinkedIn network. This way if they change jobs or companies, you’ll be able to congratulate them and keep in touch.
When you do follow up with them, make sure that you don’t make a request in your first follow-up. Keep it simple and friendly. Keeping in touch will help you to remain on their radar when an opportunity opens up. If you see a job opening in the same organisation, reach out before you apply as your contacts may be able to put in a good word for you or give you tips on your written application.
To view this video, login to LinkedIn Learning through the JCU website and then search for ‘Connecting with a Mentor’
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