La Trobe employability expert reveals the biggest challenges facing graduates and how you can overcome them

Written by Deputy Chair of the La Trobe University Excellence Academy Alumni Chapter Committee, Matthew Thomas, and committee members Michael Ward and Jim Keller.

Enhancing employability and navigating the job market is often an exciting yet daunting exercise for students and graduates. As alumni of the Student Excellence Academy, many readers will be in excellent positions to promote themselves as valuable candidates to prospective employers. Nonetheless, finding the right job and promoting yourself can be a challenging procedure, particularly in light of the impacts of the pandemic.

We were very fortunate and grateful to be able to consult employability and careers expert, Rana Bishwas from the La Trobe University Careers Team. Rana has been involved with the Careers Team for many years and has provided invaluable support for students in enhancing their employability, and sourcing industry opportunities from a diverse range of sectors.

We posed the following questions to Rana about his thoughts on this topic.

Could you please briefly describe your role on the Careers team?

I’m part of La Trobe’s central careers service and we are branded as the Employability & WIL (Work Integrated Learning) team.

Within Employability & WIL there is:

Within industry engagement, we offer:

  • The Career Ready Industry Mentoring Program
  • Students opportunities to participate in short authentic industry projects, internships & experiences
  • Several (over 50) opportunities to connect with industry representatives through our Career Options series and Careers Showcase events throughout the year.

We also organise several bespoke employer presentations and field many incoming industry queries.

Remember, all our events and workshops are always listed on Career Hub. Participating in any will earn you points towards the Career Ready Advantage Award which is listed on your official transcript!

What have been some of your observations on how the job market has changed for La Trobe graduates since the beginning of the pandemic?

Some of the best ways to stay up to date with industry trends and understand what skills and attributes employers are seeking in students/recent graduates are by:

  • Participating in our virtual Career Options events
  • Having an active LinkedIn profile
  • Subscribing to reputable professional associations within your area of study

I’d advise students to realise that the job market is always changing. Admittedly, the pandemic has expedited changes, and transformed the way we work and the way employers recruit.

There are increasing demands for graduates in IT, Business Analytics, Cybersecurity, and Health related disciplines. But I’d say that increases in demand for these disciplines have not been at the detriment of others.

I believe students should focus their attention on accurately positioning themselves for roles and understanding the power of articulating transferrable skills. No matter how the job market changes, the fundamentals of landing a role remain unchanged.

For support in articulating your student life, experience and journey – remember to drop in at the Career Ready services.

What are some ways graduates can promote their qualifications and experiences when applying for jobs?

The power of tailoring applications to the role should not be underestimated. This is the single most effective way to promote one’s qualification and experience when applying for jobs.

Recruiters and talent acquisition specialists are adept at identifying applications that are well planned and presented amongst others that may not have put in equal consideration.

Other tips include:

  • Having an active, Professional LinkedIn account. This is an effective way to showcase more than what fits in your resume.
  • Calling the hiring manager and speaking to them about the role in question. Conduct some prior research and ask thoughtful questions.
  • Spend time on a quality cover letter. This is your opportunity to showcase what you can bring to the role and how your qualification and experience will be an asset.

What do you see as some of the biggest challenges for graduates seeking to secure a job after graduating?

I am going to take a step back from where this question wants me to go (post-graduation) and say that the biggest challenge is students not starting their career management early enough.

Often students begin their ‘serious’ job search in their final year, or semester! The graduate recruitment market is extremely competitive, and it pays to begin early. A huge part of our work is to encourage students to be proactive in their career management very early on, and I mean from year one.  

To achieve a competitive advantage over other applicants with similar qualifications, you must acquire a portfolio of experiences during your time at La Trobe.

On the bright side, solutions to this challenge are readily available:

  • Actively participate in student clubs/societies, or better yet – lead them
  • Begin researching vacation and graduate programs, cadetships, early talent engagement programs
  • Look at La Trobe’s sector leading Work Integrated Learning programs

How can graduates make the skills they learned in their degree transferable to other areas of the workforce?

La Trobe’s Career Ready framework is underpinned by three sets of transferable skills:

  • Communication and literacy: [Digital literacy | Communicating and influencing | Cultural intelligence & Global mindset]
  • Inquiry and analysis: [Critical thinking & problem solving | Research & evidence-based inquiry | Creativity & innovation]
  • Personal and professional skills: [Adaptability & self-management | Ethical and social responsibility | Leadership and teamwork]

In addition to these identifiable transferable skills, I would encourage students to realise they need to pay attention to their personal attributes – which is perhaps more important and sought after by recruiters.

Students that demonstrate high degree of attributes such as resilience, passion, empathy, and curiosity tend to be successful with graduate recruiters.

For assistance in understanding personal attributes, I encourage students to delve into our Career Ready Advantage Award, as early as possible.

To find employment opportunities, how important do you believe networking is and how do you suggest making a start?

This is a great question! Networking is not easy, but it can be learned and perfected over time. What better place to start, then in a low-impact University setting while you are still learning as a student!

You don’t have to go to large professional events to try networking. Start small and with your immediate peers in class, your lecturers, and La Trobe’s professional staff. Networking really is about having meaningful conversations.

From a recruitment perspective, networking is critical because 80% of jobs are filled via networks before they are formally advertised!

In this current pandemic environment, start online by investing time into building a professional LinkedIn account. Network online, connect and follow individuals and companies to create a virtual network.

Don’t be afraid to go out of your comfort zone and remember to seek support from La Trobe’s experienced career advisors.

Is there any other advice would you like to share with graduates on enhancing their employability?

In summary, I’d say, adopt a continuous learning mentality and remember to up-skill strategically.

Seek a mentor to guide you through your journey and finally, go easy on yourself.