Employability Panel Discussion


In the midst of employment challenges brought on by COVID-19, VicWISE is ramping up efforts to support international students and graduates in their pursuit of dream careers in Australia. VicWISE held its first panel discussion on employability on 2 October with over 50 attendees at the online session. Moderated by Will James of Kaplan Business School, panel speakers, Quang Luu, Yugal Bhatia, Shivani Sethi and Joanne Dinh shared their personal experiences of navigating the job market as well valuable insights on taking the first steps towards building a successful career in Australia.

These were the key learning points from the discussion on issues that international students and graduates are concerned about:

Lack of experience when applying for a job

Work experience does not have to mean paid experience. It is very likely that you would have or are currently accumulating experience in your time as a student. Get involved in voluntary work, attend university-run events, join different university clubs and societies and apply for internships (paid or unpaid) as all of these will contribute to your overall work experience. In these on-campus activities, don’t limit yourself to roles related to your course of study but instead accept roles that may take you outside of your comfort zone. You’ll find that you’ll gain the most learning from doing things you have less experience and knowledge in 

Also consider working on freelance or contract basis as these experiences can add value to your resume. You could seek such work through international websites such as freelance.com. In fact, any project you undertake in your own time could reflect your readiness to join the employment market and should be included in your resume. Don’t forget to update your resume and portfolio regularly.

Even if you do not possess the sustained work experience indicated in a job listing, don’t give up. Demonstrate your commitment and willingness to apply yourself in the role through your resume. Ultimately, employers are keen to hire candidates who are committed to immersing themselves in the role they have applied for.

The value of networking

Networking is about building lasting relationships that are mutually beneficial. Start building connections through university activities, webinars and other events you participate in. Don’t limit yourself to people within your discipline because you can learn anything from just about anyone. Although not everyone finds it easy to network and build connections, it helps if you shift the focus away from your professional needs towards the person you’re trying to connect with. Be curious about the person you’re trying to connect with, ask questions and be willing to share your story to help them understand you better. They may then be able to recommend a particular role or key persons to reach out to. If you’re networking with someone who is already established in the industry of your choice, do not ask for a job from them. Instead, ask for help for information on the job you’re looking for, perhaps ask for their feedback on your resume. Be proactive after the initial contact and find a reason to follow up afterwards. This is acceptable. 

Visas, PR and Australian citizenship

Realistically, it is very tough to land a dream job right out of university. Many graduates usually achieve this only after working in other roles over a period of time. Fresh graduates should instead be more open to roles that are currently available to them and build the skills  and experience that will eventually lead them to secure their dream job. 

Employers are essentially concerned that candidates they hire are legally able to work in Australia and have full working right. Many employers or hiring managers, however, do not fully understand the conditions of visas that allow persons to work in the country. You could help yourself by making it easy for hiring managers. If you are on the temporary graduate visa for example, the best thing to do is indicate this at the top of your resume: “485 visa – Full working rights”.

For graduates who are not on the 485 Temporary Graduate visa, you’d probably be looking for employers who could sponsor you via the Employer Nomination Scheme visa. Be mindful that companies are subject to eligibility criteria in order to nominate employees for these visas. What is also a little known fact is that companies have a quota of Australian citizens to be hired. In some industries such as IT or accounting, where there are few Australian citizens applying for jobs, employers have greater flexibility to accept more international candidates.

Identifying the right employer for you

Permanent residency or citizenship status is not the only factor in the entire process of seeking employment. Employers also hire based on other equally important factors such as competency, commitment, character and cultural fit.

It is best to be flexible and widen your search of potential employers to give yourself as many opportunities as possible. Rather than focus on large organisations or the Big Four corporations that would also attract hundreds of interested applicants, seek out opportunities with small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) which represent 97% of Australian businesses. Consider companies that are more willing to take a risk with you and in return, be willing to commit to their growth by applying your skills and competencies to the best of your ability. Many businesses with fewer than 15 employees do not require their employees to have a PR or citizenship status.

Bring the right attitude to the negotiating table and consider what you can offer the organisation. Are you the solution that the business is looking for and in what ways could you leverage on your strengths and abilities to achieve their target outcomes? When you have clarity of your strengths and abilities, you will be better able to articulate your value proposition to the potential employer. 

Setting yourself apart through your resume

Think of your resume as the trailer to the movie that is You. The trailer needs to grab the attention of potential employers and interest them to invite you for further discussions.

In crafting your resume, bear in mind the person who will eventually read it. Is it an external agency recruiter or an in-house hiring manager? External recruiters will study resumes and consider the suitability of a candidate for different roles required by their list of clients. Internal human resource managers, on the other hand, will only consider the suitability of the candidate based on the role advertised. One tip for your resume is to avoid generic soft skills such as able to work in a team. These types of soft skills are always expected within a work environment and many hiring managers view these as fillers. Instead, put in specific soft skills that relate to the job you’re applying for such as emotional intelligence or design thinking.

Make it easy for hirers to choose your resume over the hundreds already on their desk. Use the KISS – keep-it-short-and-simple formula when crafting your resume. Remember that an agency recruiter will spend 7-8 seconds and an in-house recruiter will spend 10-11 seconds reading a resume before deciding if it goes into the “yes” or “no” pile.

There is no one-size-fits-all resume so you must tailor each application to fit the job description. Given that many recruiters use an applicant tracking system (ATS), a software application that enables the electronic handling of recruitment and hiring needs, use words mentioned in the job description as often as possible. Align keywords, title and content to the job description and make sure you include the phrase “full working rights”. Be mindful that often, the ATS often cannot pick up synonyms for the keywords, therefore, you should avoid decorating your resume with intricate or complicated synonyms. With only one chance to make an impression, ensure that you’ve put in every effort to make the best one possible.

Armed with these very useful tips, participants left with a deeper understanding of the employment landscape and how to go forward in paving solid career paths for themselves.

Stay tuned for more information on upcoming VicWISE events.