It’s an increasingly competitive job market out there. Late last year, research by National Institute of Labour Studies at Flinders University showed that between 2008 and 2014, the proportion of new university graduates in full-time employment dropped from 56.4 per cent to 41.7 per cent. With competition being so high in the job market – Goldman Sachs for instance, received 250,000 graduate applications in 2016 – it is imperative for job seekers, especially graduate job seekers to differentiate themselves from the competition.
Consultant of Best Practice Advisory Services and graduate student mentor, Mr Ratna Ratnakumar said that some of the most important skills that graduates need to develop are problem solving skills, networking and adaptability – academic proficiency is not necessarily the golden key, especially if every other person in a field has a high distinction.
“Every other person has a distinction, so high academic achievements aren’t necessarily going to play a role,” he says. “It means problem-solving skills, behaviour and networking can be important when you have applied for a graduate program.”
Networking, talking to others and making new connections is vital to progress in your career at any stage. Volunteering or attending professional functions as a student member, explains Ratna, can assist job seekers meeting senior members and managers that may work in your chosen industry, who may assist you in the employment process at their respective organisations.
“Having a wide contact network can also help and can be a valuable asset for a company to have an employee who could be able to link them with relevant individuals, professional associations and other businesses.”
Ratna does acknowledge that networking is not necessarily easily mastered by everyone. “It is difficult, even I found it hard at the beginning and it depends on getting experience by attending,” he said.
“When you sit and do nothing it is difficult. Of course when you go for the first meeting you will find it hard. If you go for the second meeting, sometimes you may find it hard, but when you are quiet and sitting in one corner, someone like me will come and talk to you, so that way you are developing a network.”
Some international students may be deterred to attend social functions perhaps due to any language barriers, but this is easily remedied, as according to Ratna, the best solution is still to connect with others.
“[Students have] to get out of their circles,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong within having a circle – but get out of the circle, get into the mainstream. By talking to other groups you are coming out of the shyness. This even happens in the workplace where cultural groups only mix with each other and don’t mix with others.”
“Speaking must come from talking to your colleagues. My background is Sri Lankan, if a Sri Lankan student comes here and only wants to mix with Sri Lankans [they are] not going to develop their skills.”
He recalls his time at an organisation where he was the only Sri Lankan on his floor, but rather than finding it challenging, he saw it as an opportunity to engage with the others around him. “The guy sitting next to me asked to go to the pub and go and play table tennis during lunch time. By playing table tennis during lunchtime I came to know other people from other areas and develop more connections,” he said.
University, says Ratna, is a good platform to improve your language because no one is going to pick on you at the university level. At the work level, other employees may have a tendency to hinder your progress.
“Every other person has a distinction, so high academic achievements aren’t necessarily going to play a role. It means problem-solving skills, behaviour and networking can be important when you have applied for a graduate program.”
Getting a foot in the door
Graduate programs are some of the most sought after entry-level positions, and are therefore competitive to break through.
Behavioural interviews are common when progressing through the interview progress for graduate and associate level jobs, and are used to ascertain the candidate’s suitability for the role through their problem-solving abilities. Generally, the interview panel will give a hypothetical scenario – perhaps that is common within that organisation like how you might handle a difficult client – and candidates are required to offer their hypothetical treatment of the issue.
This why having some work experience is imperative, even if it’s a casual hospitality job at a fast-food chain. Ratna explains that a young graduate doing some odd jobs in a coffee shop or at McDonalds will give better practical answers at behavioural interviews, opposed to a student who has not explored and is not developing other aspects of work life such as, perhaps most importantly, communication.
For a final year student, applications begin from February to March, interviews begin in April and the appointment process commences June – July, subject to completion of the course in November and the placement will usually begin in February, the following year.
Students must apply for programs in February for the following year, and progress through four or five different types of interviews. First they will ask for an aptitude test, then they will sit for a group interview, then successful applicants who are successful here will progress to the 1 to 1 interview, and then the next level.
While some applicants may have a specific role in mind that they would like to progress to, the selection panel may recognise your talents to be suitable to another area. Ratna remembers one mentee of his that had applied for a particular role, progressed to the individual interview stage and later found out that the was not successful for the role, but was offered a job in another area within the company.
“Say I’m doing marketing as a major, and I know I’m not a fit for marketing, but I can show other skills that are relevant for other jobs,” said Ratna.
But what if marketing is what we really want to pursue? “Sometimes we are born like that, we might struggle with something that we feel we might want to do,” said Ratna, “but our innate skillset might serve us – and others – better in other occupations. First get into the workforce, then work your way to the marketing area because you are already inside the system.”
“Within the larger companies and graduate programs which offer a three month rotation, so that in 1 year you would have covered a few different departments, you can ask for a job in the area you might.”
Weaknesses are strengths that have not yet been properly developed. To help build weaknesses Ratna advises his mentees to write down their perceived weaknesses and learn how to develop it, depending on what it is. If it is public speaking for instance, Ratna will advise his mentees to write a small paragraph, stand in front of a mirror or your group of friends and speak. Seeing and hearing your weakness in action can help you to pinpoint the areas you need to work on
“You can’t change it just like that, the mentee must break that barrier. What I would advise actually is that the mentee has to move around his or her own crowd, talk to other people, get comfortable, once you get comfortable then it’s easy to go out and mix with the people,” he said.
He gives the example of a doctor who came from overseas, and was required to take an exam before she could practice. Ratna said that she would not do well if she rushes to sit for the exam while dealing with the anxieties associated with moving countries.
Ratna advised her to take a little more time to absorb the local culture and engage with the community. “Then I advised her to organise to observe a domestic doctor in practice, sit with the GP, see how they talk, and how they practice in Australia, learn those techniques before you go and sit in the exam.”
“Now she is comfortable and now she is slowly recovering and slowly getting through that shyness,” said Ratna.
Introductions are everything
While resumes have been used for the recruitment process for graduate programs, in some cases, explains Ratna, the resume is usually looked at last. . Therefore candidates must satisfy all the other requirements in a graduate intake process before the managers check their resumes thoroughly.
One of the most vital components of the resume is the introductory summary, a short and sweet paragraph about yourself.
“The first paragraph is very important. Most of the managers don’t have time to go through all the resumes because for each graduate program they get about 12,000 applications, with 12,000 resumes you can’t go through it entirely,” said Ratna.
A winning introductory summary is direct, showcases achievements and highlights educational milestones. It is useful to mention tertiary awards, professional memberships, voluntary work and add a sentence or two about your practical and work experience, explained Ratna.
While the graduate job market and entry-level positions are a competitive area, preparation, work experience, networking, flexibility and presentation are key to assist graduates in finding and securing jobs.
“I wish all students good luck with their graduate program applications and placements!”
Ratna Ratnakumar is a committee and advisory board member with over 30 years’ Financial Services experience including 11 years in academia and mentoring. He has worked for several leading life insurance companies, superannuation administrators and for a software developer and as an accredited examiner and lecturer/tutor for tertiary institutions. Ratna is a Fellow of AIM, ANZIIF, ASFA & FINSIA.
Mr Ratnakumar is also a mentor for those looking to take their first steps into the world of work, and those looking to delve further into their careers by providing invaluable advice for every step of the process. Students are free to contact Ratna for advice with graduate programs at firstname.lastname@example.org