How to intern better: my 18 months as a Careers Intern

by Sep 6, 2021

Find your ‘x factor’

My first project with the Careers team was to develop resources for students considering the highly competitive consulting industry.

Just about all of the strategists and consultants I interviewed said something along the lines of, you need to find your ‘x factor’.

You need to know what sets you apart and makes you uniquely valuable to an organisation. One even told me that he had spent an entire job interview talking about a trip he took to India to help out in the tech space and didn’t even gloss over his internship with Google.

That job advertisement that looks like it may be the perfect next stepping-stone in your career is probably looking pretty tasty to a lot of other candidates too. Chances are that many of them have higher qualifications, a better GPA, more experience, exude charisma or rival Terry Tao in IQ, so what do you bring to the table that others don’t? Why should they hire you and not someone else?

If you can’t come up with a concrete answer to this question, chances are they will be hiring someone else. That’s okay, and understanding your unique skill set, experience and perspective may take some time to develop and articulate, but once you are seeking out competitive jobs, you need to have a clear answer to this question.

For an engineering student, this may be delving into personal projects and showcasing them on a website. An aspiring vet might want to volunteer at their local dog shelter in their free time. A business student might want to get involved in as many clubs as possible and try launching a startup. A humanitarian might want to take an overseas gap year and volunteer in the third world or work at an NGO.

Everyone is going to have to do different things to stand out, but the important thing is to do something. This won’t guarantee you the job either, but sooner or later, you will find a role where your ‘x factor’ is exactly what they’re looking for.


Having a degree doesn’t entitle you to a job

It was all too sad to see students come into Careers that were struggling to find work, especially if they had already graduated. If you think that a hiring manager from Google or any other company for that matter is going to slide into your LinkedIn DMs because you’re about to finish your degree and you’ve got a distinction average, frankly, you’re dreaming.

Far too many people either believe or act as if earning themselves a degree entitles them to a job. This simply isn’t true.

When it comes to your career, you need to take an active, not passive, role. Well-compensated, respected and meaningful work in a positive environment is not going to just fall into your lap, you’re going to have to work for it and seek it out.

Don’t get me wrong, an extraordinary career is more than achievable, but don’t expect to achieve the extraordinary by doing the ordinary. Have a life and don’t go overboard, but whether you’re a first-year or nearing the end of your course, you should be taking steps to craft the career you want.


Understand the ‘why?’ behind what you’re doing

Having facilitated many one-on-one appointments with students, you see just how much effort is put into application documents. We were constantly bombarded with questions surrounding minutiae such as fonts, minor design choices or something more major such as the content that should be included and which order it should be in.

Asking these questions is nothing to be ashamed about, but you can answer all of these questions by asking yourself one question:

Why am I including this in my application document?

In short, every single element of your resume, cover letter, LinkedIn profile etc., should have a clear meaning and purpose behind it.

  • Why am I including my volunteer experience? To demonstrate that my values align with the employer, to show that I am willing to put in extra time into things that I am interested in and to exhibit that I possess skills that might not be picked up in a profession.
  • Why include a personal project that I’ve completed that wasn’t a part of my course? To give concrete evidence that I am passionate about what I am pursuing and that I haven’t just chosen my degree because my parents told me to.
  • Why am I putting the ‘Professional Experience’ section above the ‘Education’ section? Because the job ad specifies that they are looking for someone with industry experience and because what I’ve learnt from my past roles is most applicable to this one.
  • Should I include my retail experience from a few years ago? No, because it’s irrelevant to the role, and I have plenty of more relevant experience to draw from.
  • Why have I included my HSC results from 8 years ago? Good point. Maybe I should leave that out.

There is no such thing as a perfect application document, and things such as font or minimal design changes are subjective. Every hiring manager has their own preferences and is going to be looking for different things. As long as you have a clear rationale and understanding of everything that you’ve included in your application documents, you will be giving yourself the best chance of success.


Know your values

Salary gets far too much focus when we are choosing work to pursue. Sure, you should seek out enough money to be able to support yourself and enjoy your free time but is an extra 10-20% or more worth a three hour daily commute? Is it worth returning home every day feeling drained, grumpy and that you only have enough energy to order takeout and crawl into bed to watch Netflix before repeating this all over again tomorrow? Is it worth putting up with a belligerent boss and/or unpleasant co-workers that make you dread coming into the office?

Working with the Careers team was far removed from the kind of work I see myself doing in STEM, but I enjoyed the time I spent in the office and in some cases, I looked forward to going in. This owed in no small part to the wonderful work environment created by my colleagues and the convenience of working at my university.

The research is clear too, the quality of your life comes down to the quality of your relationships and connections to your community. It’s far better to seek out work that is convenient, fulfilling and in a positive environment than just well compensated.

That way, you will enjoy working alongside and catching up with your co-workers, you will have more time to spend with your family, and you will return home with more energy to be a better and more devoted friend and family member.

This one’s up to you, but all I’m saying is that if you chase quality work and not just a paycheck, the thought of your weekend coming to an end might not give you that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach that so many of us can relate to.


Featured image courtesy of Pexels

Dean Ockenden

Dean Ockenden

Careers Intern

Dean is a second year Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) and Bachelor of Arts in International Studies student.