Arduous, stressful, daunting, and competitive; these are just some of the words I find synonymous with internship and graduate applications. Given the importance and value of these experiences, I want to help you by demystifying the application processes through my own experiences and provide insight into some of the core aspects which recruiters look for in prospective candidates.
Before diving right in, let me begin by prefacing a bit about my background, which hopefully lends some credibility to my advice. I previously worked at the Commonwealth Bank as a Customer Engagement Specialist within the call centre for 2 years. I have also interned at both KPMG and PwC within the Enterprise and Consulting service lines, respectively. In terms of extracurriculars, I have played an active part in volunteering roles for both university clubs and external organisations alike. I also have a passionate interest in the power of data and leveraging it to unlock deeper insights to enable more informed business decisions. Pursuing this passion, I went on Summer exchange to Harvard University to study the programming language R. I am also an avid learner on DataCamp, Coursera and Udemy, seeking skill sets in data science. Above all else, I have a deep passion for helping others which led me to put together this two-part series in an effort to aid students seeking internship/graduate roles during a time where employment prospects are at the forefront of student concerns.
To be eligible for internships, candidates must be in their penultimate year of study. What that means is that you must be in your second last year of study. For a three-year degree, you must be in your second year of study. For a four-year degree, you must be in your third year of study and so on. For graduate programs, candidates can apply in their final year of study and remain eligible for up to two years post-graduation. The typical timeline for internship/graduate applications are as follows:
1. Online application
2. Psychometric testing
3. Phone/digital interview
4. Assessment centre
5. Final interview
When looking at some of the key areas recruiters assess your initial application on, I’ve found a helpful way of visualising this is with a circle containing four quadrants: Academics, Work Experience, Extracurriculars, and Achievements.
1st Quadrant - Academics
Depending on the company and industry you wish to break into, there will be variations in grade requirements. A general rule of thumb to follow is aiming for a weighted average mark (WAM) in the range of 60-65 as a minimum. We have all heard the age-old adage, "your grades do not define you". Inevitably, grades are just one facet in which recruiters look at when assessing candidates. In meeting the minimum grade requirements, it is often just a gateway to eligibility. However, there are instances in which grades may play a pivotal role in your success i.e. when other shortlisted candidates are on par in the other 3 quadrants. If you fall into the category of <60 WAM, fear not! This can be offset by having comparatively more substantial extracurriculars and achievements, predominantly work experience.
2nd Quadrant - Work Experience
This area is perhaps the most important out of the other quadrants. In the workplace, soft skills are paramount. There is no better way to develop these soft skills than through work experience. We can develop an understanding and appreciation for these skills through workshops and articles found via Google, but ultimately, they must be learnt and honed through real-life situations. If you do not have much work experience, or any at all, the first place to start in developing soft skills is through university via group assignments, presentations etc. Some of the most essential soft skills valued by workplaces include teamwork, communication, accountability, and leadership. Remember that practice makes perfect, we all have to start from somewhere. In my opinion, any sort of work experience is good experience. As long as you can reflect on the skills that you have learnt, and understand how it applies to common workplace situations such as dealing with difficult customers for example - these will contribute immensely to your future career success. Notably, during interviews, you will most likely encounter behavioural style questions which require you to draw on from your experiences.
3rd Quadrant - Extracurriculars
This is another area in which you can further develop and hone your soft skill set. Primarily, extracurriculars can take the form of involvement in university clubs and societies, to volunteering through external channels. It is also a way to learn technical skills and demonstrate an interest in a particular industry through more course-related clubs and societies like 180 Degrees Consulting and the Finance Students' Association. While being a part of a club or society, you should aim for executive roles like President and Treasurer, which will provide you with more opportunities to thrive through added responsibilities. Aside from clubs and societies, another valuable extracurricular to participate in is case competitions. You will deal with either a hypothetical or real-life case scenario and work collaboratively with your team to deliver recommendations and present it to a panel of judges. This provides you with opportunities to develop and hone both your soft and technical skills. Here are some excellent resources to explore extracurricular opportunities.
4th Quadrant - Achievements
Finally, let’s talk about achievements. They serve as a testament to your capabilities and potential, in addition to adding substance to your CV. It is also a brilliant point of conversation in interviews, especially when presented with potential questions such as, "What is your greatest achievement?". Achievements being reasonably self-explanatory, some examples include subject awards and specific work-related achievements like being named employee of the month for 3 consecutive periods etc.
An impressive accolade to add to your arsenal is the Leaders in Communities Award (LiCA) offered by the University. You may also want to try GradConnection’s Top 100 Future Leaders Awards. It follows the five-stage application process and provides applicants with a taste of what it is like when applying to companies with internship/graduate programs. If you manage to get past the video interview stage, you will have the honour of being inducted as a Top 100 Future Leader across Australia! Did I forget to mention that you will also be featured in the Australian Financial Review and flown to Sydney on an all-expenses-paid trip for the awards night?
And this concludes Part One of my guide to internship applications. Tune in for Part Two, where I delve into what you may encounter during each application stage and tips on how to succeed.
See you then!
Michael Luo, BCom student