The Graduation Guide: Taking the First Steps in Your Career
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The Graduation Guide: Taking the First Steps in Your Career

Angelica Silva

Angelica Silva

26/03/2021 • 15 minute read

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People say your senior year flies. For the Class of 2020, theirs Zooms. 

For those of you who have been studying in 2020, you may have felt like you’re in a Final Destination movie, with the obvious destination being – graduation. Whether it be from high school, apprenticeship programs or university, graduating is one of those final transitions we get to experience in life – a final crossing from adolescence into adulthood that ends with a fresh start. Except what happens when it doesn’t end this way?

As students prepare to leave the comforts of their campuses for the big smoke and navigate the wilderness of the job market, this year’s graduates are staggering into uncharted territory. With the number of people unemployed in Australia hitting the one million mark for the first time in 42 years, graduating in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic will have lasting implications on the Class of 2020: their memories, their earning power, and their view of what it means to have a functional society.

If you feel like you’re about to step into a world that’s beginning to crumble to the ground, you’re not alone. It’s a completely natural and understandable response to these unrecognisable times – a response that was exactly mine. I graduated from university at the end of 2019 feeling scared and stuck. It took months of job hunting for me to understand that while it can absolutely be draining, you’re going to get rejected, it’s not personal. To remind you that resilience is key in a tough job market but more importantly, that you are good enough, we’ve put together this guide filled with resources, tips, and the general dos and don’ts to life after graduating.

Step 1: Create your plan 

For those of you who have created their own excel spreadsheet of their entire life plan since seventh grade, you’ll love this first step. But if you’re like many of us and have mostly vague ideas about what career you want to step into, this is your starting point. 

Someone who has clearly spent time thinking about what specific job they want can go into an interview selling themselves for the position. Being confident, prepared and decisive shows employers you’re motivated and determined. So when researching job opportunities, ask yourself these questions: 

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If you have a specific job in mind..

  • Is it an entry-level job, or does it require previous experience?
  • Do I have the required skills necessary to perform this job?
  • Once I get this job, what are the opportunities for job progression? What do I need to prepare for levelling up?

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If you have a specific industry in mind..

  • Is there a particular industry niche I’m interested in?
  • What are the top-performing companies in the field? What kinds of job openings do they have?
  • Do I have the required skills the job listings are seeking?
  • Once I get this job in this industry, what are the opportunities for career progression? What do I need to prepare for levelling up?

Remember, people who demonstrate their sense of direction and know what they want will stand out to employers. We know this is easier said than done for many people who are still figuring out exactly what their purpose is. So, we recommend trying out some online assessments, attending informational interviews, or seeking out a mentor or career counsellor for more guidance. 

Get your tax file number (TFN) sorted

A TFN is your personal reference number in the tax and superannuation systems. It’s a vital part of your identity that is yours for life, even if you change your name, change jobs or move overseas. 

While you aren’t required to have a TFN, you’ll end up paying significantly higher taxes without one. You also won’t be able to apply for government benefits, lodge your tax return electronically or get an Australian business number (ABN). So, set yourself up for a hassle-free job search and apply for one – it’s free. 

Find out if you need an Australian Business Number (ABN)

An ABN is a unique 11 digit number that identifies your business to the government and community. You can use an ABN to:

  • Identify your business to others when ordering and invoicing
  • Avoid pay as you go (PAYG) tax on payments you get
  • Claim good and services tax (GST) credits
  • Claim energy grants credits  
  • Get an Australian domain name 

    It’s compulsory for businesses with a GST turnover of $75,000 or more to have an ABN and to be registered for GST. Businesses with a GST less than this amount can still apply for an ABN and may choose to register for GST once they have an ABN.

Essentially, not everyone needs an ABN. To get one, you must be running a business or enterprise. Check out the Australian Business Register (ABR) website to find out more about your entitlement to an ABN. If you find that you do require an ABN, applying for one is free and only takes a few short minutes.

Figure out your salary expectations

You’re in the middle of a job interview, nailing it, until the “What are your salary expectations?” questions stops you in your tracks. A straightforward question and yet the answer is so complex. At some point in any interview process, whether it be during the initial phone screening or face-to-face interview, you may be asked to give your salary expectation or respond to a predetermined range offered by the employer. It’s difficult to know what to say (and what not to say), which is why using salary expectation calculators can be a huge point of guidance. Try out some of the below calculators to compare estimates:

Step 2: Start marketing yourself

Part-time jobs, summer gigs, internships or just general preparedness – ideally, you already have the bare bones of your resume from completing these. However, whether you’ve got years of experience under your belt or are brand new to the workforce, your chance of landing an interview is more likely to ride on you having a killer resume or curriculum vitae (CV).

But what’s the difference between the two? And do you need both of them? 

A resume should be as concise as possible. Typically, it’s a one-page summary of your work experience and background relevant to the job you are applying for. This should suffice for most entry level positions. 

A CV is lengthier than a resume and provides a more comprehensive overview of, well, you. It’s generally a one-to-two-page summary of your skills and qualifications. In addition to the basics that a resume covers, a CV includes details related to one’s academic and research background.

Think of both of these as your personal marketing documents. They are the very first points of contact between you and your potential employer that will make or break your first impression.

Resume Dos and Don’ts

Dos

  • Do: Highlight your experiences most relevant to the job you’re applying for.
  • Do: Include volunteer experience, side projects, pro-bono, or any other unique work.
  • Do: Include soft skills - make sure each one describes a skill the hiring manager is looking for.
  • Do: Tell the truth - Anything that’s 100% untrue does not belong on your resume

Don'ts

  • Don’t: Include random, unrelated, or off-putting hobbies - we know you love your gin and tonics, but hiring managers won’t find any transferable, work-related skills from this.
  • Don’t: Use more than two fonts - keep it consistent. The same goes for sizing; use larger font sizes for headings and smaller for the text underneath
  • Don’t: Use exclamation marks. Anywhere.

CV

When it comes to CVs, no structure is set in stone. So you’ll need to maximise the impact of your application which may mean changing the layout. For example, if you wish to emphasise your experience, you may want to place Work Experience above Education. It all depends on the role you’re applying for and tailoring your current experiences to it. Coming from someone who has gone through dozens of CV revisions and revamps, I find the below format helps to use as a framework for any CV in the works.

1. Contact information: Your name, phone number, email address, LinkedIn profile. 

2. Education: List all schooling from high school through to your highest level of education. Include the title of your degree/qualification, the year you graduated, and the name of the school. 

3. Work experience: In chronological order, list the organisations where you worked, the job title, the dates you were employed, and a dot-point summary of your duties and responsibilities.

4. Qualifications and skills: List a combination of hard and soft skills you’ve developed throughout your career. 

5. Achievements: For each achievement/award, list the name, year received, the organisation that gave it to you, and any pertinent information (e.g. how often it’s presented). 

6. Volunteering or professional associations: This can be anything associated with your high school, university or not-for-profit organisation, etc.

7. Referees: Listing two referees is ideal.

Step 3: Build up and clean up your social media 

Those not-so-timeless “like for a like” posts your friends left on your Facebook profile from your high school days. The public Instagram account that features one too many drunken, glass-shattering karaoke videos. Or, the Twitter feed that reveals your endless attempts at provoking Harry Styles into retweeting you. None of these have any place in your job hunt. 

For personal accounts, keep them private, or do a complete overhaul of the posts you wouldn’t want a potential employer to see. Protip: if you wouldn’t be comfortable with your grandmother seeing it, don’t post it.

After you’ve scrubbed your social media profiles clean, or made them private, create new accounts for your shiny, new professional self. Choose an @ handle that’s based on your name – no @livelaughlove_harry1D, please. If you’re someone like me who likes to keep their Instagram and Twitter profiles on public viewing, one of my biggest tips is to follow industry leaders, experts, changemakers, anyone you find interesting and informative. Share insightful articles about your field or retweet TED talks that hold meaningful messages to you. Show your future employers and everyone you invite into your social media what you’re interested in and essentially, what makes you, you. 

Another protip: always, always keep your tone professional. You can be witty, or serious and still give opinions on topics, but always be aware that anyone could be reading your posts. Don’t post anything you wouldn’t feel comfortable defending in a job interview.

Create a website or portfolio 

Are you a graphic designer? A journalist? A small business owner? Whatever your job profession or industry may be, creating a website or a portfolio allows you to show, and not just tell your story. A portfolio is a compilation of work samples and professional documentation that provides proof of your accomplishments or samples of your work. It’s also a fun, creative way to showcase your skills and experiences you would list on a resume or talk about in an interview. 

Depending on your work and your level of knowledge within the technology space, you may be a whizz when it comes to building your own website. But if not, don’t sweat it. You’ve got plenty of options when it comes to building your portfolio. Check out the below platforms to compare pricing, plans and more. My personal faves are Canva, WordPress and Format. 

Free plan Starting price/month Storage
Canva ✔️ $17 5G – Unlimited
Squarespace $16 Unlimited
Wix.com ✔️ $10 500MB – 50GB
WordPress ✔️ $5 3GB – 200GB
Format $7 Unlimited

Step 4: Network, baby

Social media is a powerful tool for creating new connections, but don’t neglect the web of people you know IRL. When I heard the term ‘networking’ in my first year of university, I instantly pictured a room in a trendy-looking hotel, filled with people in business formal attire, sparkling water in hand, rotating their business cards between one another. While I can say I have definitely witnessed this precise scenario, networking goes beyond having 500+ LinkedIn connections and a couple hundred email contacts. 

It took me some time to understand that networking is not about collecting the largest number of names you can get. Because when all is said and done, business cards are swapped, and you ask them for help, will they remember you? Or will you just be another number in their database? Good networking comes down to sharing, not taking. It’s about forming trust and helping one another reach a common goal. 

Coming out of high school or university, your school or program most likely has a career development office brimming with mentors in your target field that they can link you up with. Your school may also have alumni networks for you to tap into as well. Don’t forget professors and instructors, too. You have access to real experts in your field who are in a position to offer valuable insight into what it’s like to work in that field, or connections of their own that they can refer you to. 

Check out the below links for more helpful info on networking, including tips on how to prepare for your first networking event.    

Step 5: Practice your interview game 

Don’t have an interview lined up yet? Doesn’t matter! We’re blessed to live in a digital era that provides resources on resources when it comes to interview preparation. So take advantage of this and start rehearsing so that you’ll be good to go when the time comes. 

Start off by brainstorming and researching common interview questions and answers. If you find yourself struggling to give concise answers or even share your accomplishments without sounding overly boastful, I highly recommend using the STAR interview response method. Using this method allows you to provide concrete examples of your skills and any experience: 

Situation: Set up the situation. Describe the context of a job or challenge you faced at a previous job. It could be anything from a group project to a conflict with a coworker. This situation can be drawn from work experience, a volunteer role, or any other relevant event.

Task: Describe your specific role or responsibility in the situation. Did you have to help your group complete a project within a tight deadline? Did you resolve a conflict? Perhaps you hit a significant sales target? Use an example that best emphasises the role you played in it.

Action: Explain how you completed the task or challenge you were faced with. Focus on what you did, rather than what your team, boss, or coworker did. If the action was carried out by a team, then emphasise your efforts.

Result: What was the outcome or result from the action taken? Here, you should quantify your success by centering on what you accomplished or what you learned.

Interview Dos and Don’ts

Dos

  • Do: Your homework. Spend time researching the company and position you’re applying for.
  • Do: Rehearse interview questions. Saying your answers out loud is the best way to practice and hear how you’re going to sound! Ask a friend or family member to do a mock interview with you.
  • Do: Map out how you’re going to get to the interview location the night before. Then, plan to arrive 10 minutes early.
  • Do: Bring along important paperwork - CV, identification, portfolio (if applicable), etc.
  • Do: Offer a firm handshake and maintain good eye contact.
  • Do: Prepare smart, open ended questions to ask the interviewer at the end.
  • Do: Send a thank you email within 24 hours of the interview - this goes a long way!

Don'ts

  • Don’t: Speak poorly about your present or former employee.
  • Don’t: Falsify information.
  • Don’t: Speak over the interviewer. It’s important to be a good listener just as much as a good speaker.
  • Don’t: Dress too casually, flamboyantly, or in revealing clothing.
  • Don’t: Be late.
  • Don’t: Slouch, fidget or yawn. Or chew gum.
  • Don’t: Say that you don’t have any questions at the end.

 

The pandemic has unquestionably changed the lives, plans and expectations of 2020’s students, marking the end of a milestone for this unlucky cohort. But what differentiates the graduates of 2020 from those before them is that they are on the cusp of entering a world that needs them more than ever. Things will never be normal again, but they shouldn’t be. Graduates this year get to redefine the new normal, to find solutions to fix a broken system. The most valuable lesson I learned from graduating was that what you care about the most can help change the world. While this year’s graduates may not have had the same experiences as those before them, they have a chance to show everyone what 2020 has taught them to do – change the world for the better. 

If you’ve already fallen into a web of thoughts about what you’ll be doing and where you’ll be after graduating, remember to not get discouraged when things aren’t progressing quickly enough. The hard work you’re putting in now is making you, not only a stronger candidate, but a stronger person, so that when the right opportunity comes along, you’ll be ready to seize it. 

On behalf of myself and the team at Oiyo, congratulations on all of the wonderful things you have accomplished so far. We wish you the best of luck on the journey that awaits you and remember, you graduated in 20 freaking 20 – you did it. 

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Angelica Silva

Written by Angelica Silva

Angelica Silva is a contributing writer for Oiyo. Over the years, Angelica has worked as a journalist for a range of publications with her work appearing in SBS, Business Insider, and Brown Girl Magazine. She has a Bachelor of Journalism and Arts from the University of Queensland.

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