The thought of graduating from university is exciting. You are finally bidding farewell to your student life and beginning a new chapter as a working adult. After a few days of ecstasy, however, you find yourself feeling worried about not finding the job you have always wanted. Perhaps you may even start to be bugged by the fact that you did not join your friends for internships during the university summer breaks. Wait a second! Is formal work experience really important to get a full-time job upon graduation? Maybe not.
1. An internship is not everything
Your career counsellor may have recommended you try and get at least one or two internships while in university, but it is perfectly alright if you did not manage to. Surely, internships are great opportunities for undergraduates to discover the jobs they relish and hone the skills which are crucial in the professional working world. Unfortunately, many students perceive internships to be a numbers game where they are only keen to add as many into their resume as possible. This often defeats the useful purpose of starting an internship in the first place.
Internships are not a matter of ‘the more the merrier’.
Your prospective full-time employers are more concerned about your takeaways and how you can apply your skills into the new role rather than the number of internships you have undertaken. Whether you have had internship experience or not, your employer select will still evaluate your calibre, attitude and necessary skills sets which they require. With that said, not having interned before does not put you at a disadvantaged position if you can differentiate yourself from the pack.
2. Build a portfolio that stands out
You might be thinking of beautifying your resume but not, that is not it. We would like to ask if there is anything which you love to do during your free time or better yet, do you have special skills others often compliment you for? These are your passion, skills and talent which you can utilise and carve a strong personal brand. For instance, you may find that you are proficient at troubleshooting technical problems or making edits on Photoshop and Lightroom. Instead of hiding them in the dark, consider stretching and deepening your skills by offering freelance services for them. With freelance marketplace such as Gigworks, it is easy to create your very own freelance profile and network with potential clients both within and beyond your home shores.
With permission from your clients, you may showcase the work which you have performed to your prospective employers during interviews. The testimonials and reviews provided by your clients are also an excellent source of evidence to support the abilities and skills (e.g. good work ethics, adherence to tight deadlines) that you possess. Your interviewers would likely be impressed to find out what you have done and how you had resourcefully resolved challenges while freelancing, as opposed to hearing what other candidates often regurgitate or blankly elaborate on what is mentioned on their resume.
3. Learn and make valuable connections with peers and people of influence
Be wary not to spend your summer breaks working away and in turn, neglect the friendships you have forged and the valuable connections which you have previously made. Stay connected with your peers by meeting up occasionally both in and out of campus, prior to graduation. University is a great place to meet like-minded individuals to exchange ideas, opinions and receive advice for your career choice and decisions. Undisputedly, university is also the place to interact with peers from different fields and faculties. Although they may not endeavour to work in the same industry as you, they may be able to recommend you for more coveted job roles which are not posted to the public. This increases your chance of landing a job rather than applying aimlessly through job advertisements.
While connections made in the workplace are also important, they are mostly professional relationships and many companies do not have effective workplace mentoring programs in place to nurture fresh graduates. How then can you forge meaningful connections and learn from with new people? Well, you could sign up for talks by various keynote speakers and industry mentors to widen your horizon and learn about the latest industry practices. Given their rich working experience and passion for young adults, these individuals are usually more willing to provide guidance for your early career and beyond. Be sincere when reaching out to them and value the time of those who have responded to you.
4. Commit to consistency
Whether you are building your portfolio or making valuable connections with others, the key is to be consistent throughout your university journey. As the saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day, but they were laying bricks every hour.” In order to have an extensive list of freelance experience and portfolio to showcase to your prospective employers, it is ideal that you start to look for freelance opportunities while still in school. Likewise, you should make conscientious and consistent efforts to network, connect and nurture relationships with your peers and people of influence prior to graduating.
While you are still an undergraduate, we would suggest you take some time to plan your schedule and set aside a reasonable amount of time to freelance and pursue your passion. Before you accept any freelance job (be it a one-day or long-term project), do ensure that you are able to commit and produce high-quality results for your clients. Unlike in school where you have semester after semesters to correct your mistakes, the working world has little room for error – your reputation and reliability will take a plunge should you fail to deliver results to your clients. At the same time, your relationships and connections would not stand against time if you only sought them for help when needed and did not bother to nurture them consistently. Go the extra mile, whenever possible.
Are you ready to take the road less travelled and stand out from other job applicants? Remember, having the skills and calibre to perform and grow would far surpass any cited formal work experience.