There’s an old joke, not a very kind one, about the recent graduate on a first- job interview encountering the inevitable question: What can you bring to this firm that makes you worth hiring?
“I topped the year in my bachelor’s degree,” the applicant begins, “and my master’s was exceptional and …”
That is when the voice of reality strikes – and strikes hard.
“You have a bunch of degrees – well, so does a thermometer,” the unimpressed interviewer says. “Now tell me why you’ll be more useful than a tube of mercury.”
The one-word answer, the one employers long to hear, is as simple as it is often difficult to obtain: “experience”. Being able to add that real-world qualification makes a CV stand out from the pack for any job-seeker looking to start a career or take an established one in a new direction.
“What we study is more related to theory,” engineering grad Hillary Wu says. “But when you put it into practice it’s another story.”
Ms Wu, like others who have expanded their opportunities and horizons with Monash University’s Professional Year course, took a pathway unique for its size and scope in Australian tertiary education.
What it gained her was a hands-on background and the practical skills she now uses daily as a customer liaison specialist with environmentally aware construction outfit iBuild Building Solutions.
The course, available to graduates in IT, accounting or engineering who have completed at least two years’ study at an Australian university, aims to cement the bricks of earlier academic studies with the mortar of practical experience.
Recognised by the Department of Home Affairs as a part of Australian skilled migration program, the course also emphasises the cultural angle in order to serve as a stepping stone into the mainstream workforce for immigrants coming to grips with what are often different cultural mores of their new homeland.
For 32 weeks, the course centres on classroom learning, with an emphasis on framing killer CVs and mastering the personal presentation skills that nail job interviews.
Then comes a 12-week professional internship arranged through Monash’s formal relationship with more than 600 businesses that includes some of Australia’s biggest and most prestigious companies – L’Oreal, Crown and the AFL being just three of the marquee names.
Before the internship stage begins, however, those enrolled will have been readied by the course’s emphasis on five key aspects of career development:
- business and interpersonal communication, behaviour and practices;
- knowledge of Australian business culture;
- soft skills;
- employability skills.
In Ms Wu’s case, with her engineering qualifications and ambition to see the wider use and acceptance of sustainable design, things could not have worked out better.
“Hilary has helped us design houses that are more efficient, environmentally friendly and sustainable,” iBuild director Jackson Yin says.
“We are so happy about Hillary’s internship – her work, motivation and, most importantly, outcomes – that we offered her a role to work as a customer adviser.
“After completing her internship, she is now working with us a colleague.
“The Professional Year’s internships have been a great way for us to scout talent.”
Monash isn’t alone in fostering work-immersion experience – on-the-job has been part and parcel of education degrees for decades. Other universities also offer add-ons aimed at expanding post-grad qualifications, but the course at Monash College, a wholly owned private subsidiary of the university, stands apart for its huge network of partner companies and the emphasis on mentoring.
No more trawling CVs
Another of those partner companies, Melbourne IT business Chromatix, considers its involvement as a two-way street: not only are students able to enjoy a rails run into a work-experience environment that suits their backgrounds and personalities, the company’s constant quest for talent has been simplified and streamlined by its involvement.
“The old way was that we would have to trawl through each and every [potential applicant]. For us, it saves energy and time, which is fantastic,” founder Irwin Hau said.
“We have actually planned our whole business around internships.
When we first came on board, we didn’t know what we’d get. What we get is people who actually understand our business.”
That is certainly the case with Hilary Wu at iBuild. Her passion for environment-friendly and sustainability was expanded beyond her expectations by the many different facets of her internship experience.
“I had opportunities to rotate through different roles,” she says. “Mainly I was working with environmental engineers, but I got the opportunity to explore different areas such as marketing, sales, and also accounting and IT.”
Know what? That old joke about degrees and thermometers might have some truth to it after all. When it comes to raising career prospects, a hands-on post-grad education can lift prospects into the hot zone.