How to land the job you want after uni: 3 tips from PLAs

What can you do to be more employable by the time you graduate? We talked to four La Trobe Peer Learning Advisors, or PLAs (past and present!) to find out how they’re each achieving their goals.

Keep reading to learn how to tailor your extra-curricular activities, volunteering and even casual work to tell a story that employers will want to hear.

1. Be strategic with volunteer opportunities

Tenzin, Bachelor of International Relations (Hons)/Bachelor of Science

Bundoora student Tenzin was promoted to a Peer Learning Advisor (PLA) leadership role after impressing the Learning Hub with his demonstrated passion for helping others. He says it’s important to seek out opportunities to gain transferable skills that go beyond your set coursework.

“A lot of the time, the work you do at university is very different from what you’ll end up doing in the workforce. Uni work is very broad because you are gaining a wide skill set. For example, from an Arts degree, you could jump into anywhere from an administrative position to something that’s very interactive and interpersonal, from advocacy to a corporate setting. My advice would be to narrow your focus, think about the actual type of work you want to do, and then volunteer in that area.

“I’ve volunteered with a refugee advocacy organisation, Monash with Refugees, because I want to end up in that kind of space. I’ve also volunteered with the La Trobe English Conversation Club which is a very interpersonal, interactive setting, as opposed to just studying International Relations as a degree which is very heavy on essay writing.”

Vi, Bachelor of Health Sciences (Health Promotion and Public Health)

Vi is studying at the Bendigo campus and recently joined the PLA team. Like Tenzin, Vi tries to make sure her volunteer and part-time work aligns with her values and career goals.

“Be very selective about your volunteer work. Don’t get so caught up about the quantity. Instead, think about your career progression, and what kinds of skills, knowledge and qualities are required.

“At the moment I’m involved in the Regional Education Support Network. It’s focused on providing free educational support services for students from regional, remote and rural backgrounds. So, for me, I do have a passion to work in public and rural health in the future. Even though I’m not specifically working in rural health now, I’m still addressing a determinant of health, which is education. I also love working with people, which is part of the PLA role.

“I’ve also been working in one-on-one in tutoring sessions online through a non-profit called The Self Made Project. I help students with numeracy and literacy, as well as providing them with reassurance and mentoring throughout their journey.”

2. Network to find casual or part-time work in your field

Megan, Bachelor of Applied Science/Master of Speech Pathology

Megan says she was always a bit dubious about using LinkedIn to promote herself to employers. But then, a small private practice contacted someone from Megan’s Speech Pathology course via LinkedIn with an offer of a casual role as a paid therapy assistant.

“Unfortunately, my classmate was moving away from the area, so she messaged us and said, is anyone looking? So, in that way I got the job via word of mouth. After I’d been working there a few months, they asked me to join their practice full time as a graduate next year.

“I think we’re really lucky in allied health because there’s a huge demand for speech therapists and physios as well. A lot of places are looking for therapy assistants, where a fully qualified professional can do the assessment and the goal setting and the therapy plan, and then give that to the assistant to execute. In some ways working as an assistant is an even better experience than clinical placement because it’s actually much more independent.

“I’m in my fourth year now, but even in second or third year there are opportunities to gain experience. At the practice that I work at, there have been some students from earlier years who have asked to sit in and observe the speech pathologist with the client, or do admin or create resources. It’s all relevant experience and a really good foot in the door.”

3. Gain real-life experience through extra-curricular activities

Emily, Bachelor of Laws (Honours)/Bachelor of Commerce (Accounting) and Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice

After graduating from La Trobe last year, Emily was offered a position at Australia’s leading social justice law firm, Maurice Blackburn. She now works as a paralegal in the Medical Negligence Team, and says that her extra-curricular activities and volunteering work were key to her success in gaining the role.

“One of my favourite extra-curriculars was competing in moots – or mock trials – through La Trobe’s Law School. I worked with a partner to develop a legal argument based on a mock set of facts and then presented that argument in a mock courtroom. My partner and I made it to the Grand Final of the competition we entered and competed in the Federal Court. As a result, we then represented La Trobe at a National level. It was a super fun experience and it taught me a lot about how to formulate and articulate a legal argument well. It really affirmed my interest in advocacy. 

“I have also done a few voluntary legal placements. One highlight was being part of a judicial mentoring program through one of my law subjects. I was paired with a County Court Judge and was able to shadow and work alongside her and her Associates for two weeks. It was an amazing opportunity to get behind the scenes of the court room. A conversation with one of the Judge’s Associates actually got me interested in personal injury law, which is where I’m working at the moment. Prior to that conversation it wasn’t an area I’d given much thought!

“Another highlight was a short-term study trip to China. I studied Chinese Law at Shanghai University with a bunch of other La Trobe Law Students for two weeks. We did heaps of sight-seeing, and it was there that I befriended my future moot partner!

“These experiences have given a real-life depth to what I’ve learned throughout my studies. They’ve led me to meet some amazing people and to learn heaps more and have heaps more fun than I would have had I just completed the subjects required for my degree.”

Need help?

For more inspiration and advice on navigating your uni experience and mapping out your goals, come see a PLA!