Career Planning: start now with work experience!

Many students delay career planning until finishing their degree. It’s easy to think, “I’ve still got a couple of years, there’s plenty of time”. However, you can greatly enhance your graduate employment prospects through the range of available undergraduate work experience options.


Many organisations have formal or informal programs for penultimate or final year students. Work experience can be paid or unpaid, as well as volunteer-based, and can include one-off work experience stints, vacation work placements, longer-term cadetships or scholarships. On- or off-the-job training, instruction and mentoring are often included. These programs are a great way to test out an organisation and significantly increase your chances of landing a graduate position.


Opportunities for work-related experience vary depending on your discipline. Some areas such as education or nursing have work placements embedded in the curriculum; in areas like accounting, business and law, faculties often have links with employers offering formal programs. Also consult directories like GO and your careers service for more assistance.


Keep in mind that certain unpaid work experience activities may be governed by regulations under the Australian Government’s Fair Work Act 2009. For further information, it’s worth discussing this with the employer, your uni careers service or faculty advisor, or looking on the Fair Work Act Website.


What are my work experience options?

Cadetship: an employed position offered to students or graduates, designed to provide specific training or mentoring. It can be full- or part-time and varies from formalised, structured schemes to informal arrangements between an individual and an organisation.


Cooperative program: an industry-based learning (IBL) or work-integrated learning (WIL) program consisting of hands-on, full-time experience in the relevant industry. Participation is usually undertaken in your third or fourth year and sometimes involves academic credit.


Internship: similar to a cadetship. It is a supervised work placement arranged between a combination of university, employer and student. It may range from a few weeks part-time to multiple semesters full-time and occurs in a field relevant to the student’s qualification. It may also result in academic credit.


Scholarship: a financial grant provided by government, industry or private organisations. Relevant work experience with the sponsor organisation is often part of the scholarship.


Vacation work: degree-related work (usually paid) often undertaken by students at the end of their second-last year of study. It can often lead to a graduate position, so competition for placements is intense. Winter vacation programs may also be available.


What are the benefits?

The benefits of undertaking any of the above undergraduate options include:

  • Career-relevant experience
  • Résumé enhancement
  • Enhanced knowledge of the industry
  • Networking opportunities
  • Gaining ‘a foot in the door’
  • Opportunity to preview a job/organisation
  • Better grades: you will go back to university with a greater understanding of your field


How do I find out about opportunities?

  • Look through the profiles in this directory and on the GO website
  • Talk to careers services staff and find a mentor who can give you advice about where and when to seek vacation work
  • Contact organisations that you are interested in working for


Keep in mind

  • Remember, vacation work and other work experience programs are good for both employers and job seekers. Employing the wrong people is costly for organisations so they like having the chance to preview workers. If an organisation you have undertaken a placement with offers you a job later down the track, it is less of a risk for both parties: you know the work environment, expectations and whether it is ‘right’ for you and they know your skills, personality and role/organisation suitability.
  • In a broad sense, know the type of work placement and work-experience activity you ideally would like to undertake (and why).
  • Narrow down your preferred industry areas to two or three, and focus on these in your undergraduate opportunities search.
  • Develop an action plan, noting your preferred employers and how you intend to make contact with them.
  • Investigate your options early so that you know what is available when it is time to apply (which is usually around the middle of your penultimate year).
  • Look out for on-campus workshops that will help you to prepare a professional application.
  • Seek assistance, application feedback and personalised tips from your university careers service.
  • Understand the difference between the various types of vacation programs and employment options and identify which might work best for you.
  • Make sure that your email address and phone voice message present a professional image to a prospective employer. Also be mindful that what you put on the public area of a website – e.g. on Facebook or Twitter – can be read by anyone.
  • Don’t leave your application to the last minute.


Thanks to the Monash University Office of Employment and Career Development for previous assistance with this article.

Free Job Alerts
Receive FREE emails about employment opportunities, career advice and other cool stuff for uni students!