A Grad Perspective: Leveraging Experiences To Progress Your Career (Part 1)

What do you hear when the word internship comes to mind?

To me, it was the perfect vision of sweat dripping down the right cheek of my face, rushing back to a city office with the boss’s coffee. Had I ever had an internship before? Well, no… But I’d seen the movies! My point is, starting out at University, not everyone really knows what to expect or how to go about shaping their future. In fact, it’s only when I reflect as a Graduate that a clearer picture comes to mind. In the beginning, I didn’t even have the slightest idea on how this vivid image of a corporate coffee run would ever translate into a career. I wasn’t even sure if internships were the way to go…

As such, I figured that this was a great platform to write about many of the experiences I’ve had throughout my time at QUT and the key takeaways that come associated with them.

The world keeps growing and so should you

Perhaps one of the most important things I learnt at the beginning of University was the need to constantly grow. How did an early Jacob discover this? Well, after being told that the one participation award I received in high school didn’t belong on my professional CV (Imagine the heartbreak!). So, as my finger quivered above the “Delete” button on my keyboard, I came to the realisation that there is a distinct need to leverage past experiences to obtain new ones before it’s too late. Now, while this sounds great in theory, there are so many misconceptions surrounding the best ways to progress at University, outside of class.

Internships? Reading? Participation in challenges?

You find out later on that the answer is all of the above… Though, like many, I didn’t know how to get access to these things so I turned to networking. That’s how my pursuit to get ‘involved’ at QUT started and it’s the same philosophy I used to leverage my way into a dream role.

The Elusive World of Networking

Following twelve months of being a reserved and recluse first year student, I was fortunate to grow (just about) comfortable enough to start networking with people. So, what started as a simple “Hello” to the person next to me, grew into a growing group of friends and what started as a nervous “Thanks for class”, grew into a connection with multiple academic staff.

Why was this important?

Well, it acted as a gateway to attending multiple networking nights hosted by an array of student societies such as AMPed and their ‘Business After Dark’ event. This event in particular works using a roundtable structure that allows students to personally meet and interact with multiple industry professionals (Plus you can expect to share a few ‘Bevvies” afterward).

What did this lead to? Well, several things!

  1. A new found passion for connecting with people to better grow both a personal and professional network.
  2. Various like-minded friends who were there to support me during critical times throughout my studies
  3. Industry connections who posted job openings and internship opportunities, ripe for the taking
  4. Academic staff who acted as essential assets when trying to personally develop and generous referee’s when applying for internship opportunities.

See, networking may not always feel like the most essential thing to do, but dive a little deeper and you’ll discover how powerful it really is. Starting out can be quite scary but after a while it becomes almost second nature. It may be out of your comfort zone now, but it’s a sure-fire way to grow and uncover opportunities that you never knew existed. Events such as Business After Dark, are a great place to start!

“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”
~ Brene Brown

Taking Advantage of External Opportunities

One of the biggest questions that arose while navigating the world of networking came in relation to other students and their beaming success.

“She’s completing her third internship!”

“He’s getting flown overseas… For free!?”

Opportunities that I knew existed but seemed so incredibly unobtainable. Some were competing in Canada while others were already working in industry alongside their studies…

When you hear these things you can start to grow a big fear of missing out. So, what’s the best thing to do? Well, ask how they got involved and where their journey started. In my case, this meant a few simple emails, a handful of questions, and numerous application processes that eventually landed me on a case competition team and a shiny new internship. Did I know what to expect from either? Well, no… But that was part of it. In fact, more often than not, there was a strong sense of ‘Imposter Syndrome’ that needed to be overcome. The point here is that you may never know what to expect from these experiences or where they’ll take you. At times it can feel a bit like walking in the dark but it’s just important that you take the first step. Here’s a little bit about both experiences.

The Case Competition:
Stumbling onto a Case Competition team happened almost exclusively on impulse after receiving an email detailing the elusive opportunity to visit Paris. Needless to say, wanderlust set in, I applied, and found myself competing in the L’Oréal Brandstorm Competition (2019).

We were tasked with developing innovations that aimed to invent the future skincare experience for health-conscious consumers, competing against more than 34,000 students across 63 countries. So, after quite a few sleepless nights and the realisation that pitches don’t write themselves… Our team was selected to attend the Australian National Finals – scoring a trip to L’Oréal’s Melbourne office.

What came next was potentially the most valuable experience of my life. Real-world feedback on idea formation processes. Networking opportunities with top talent from around the globe. Exposure to exclusive industry insights that often aren’t reached through theory alone.

What else can I say…? They had me at hello.

So, while we didn’t end up in Paris, each participant went home armed with a powerful new skillset and an experience like no other. It also acted as a way to get our team shortlisted to participate in the 2020 Edition of Brandstorm… Though this time our team didn’t make it through to the pitching stages.

Regardless of both outcomes, I was introduced to a new world that I knew I had to be a part of.

You can read all about the competition here.

The Internship:
Surprisingly, landing an internship happened just as spontaneously as my involvement with Brandstorm. After countless people exclaiming the importance of ‘jazzing up’ my LinkedIn profile, the day finally came when I gave in. So, I uploaded a headshot, spent a day rewriting everything, and hours connecting with local Brisbane CEO’s (because it seemed like a ‘businessy’ thing to do).

As it turns out, I had requested to connect with one, Sally McPherson, who happened to be the CEO of a company called iSeekplant (who also happened to be looking for a marketing intern). Long story, short. I applied and the rest is history (though this is probably the part where I say this internship came after having my application rejected from three other companies).

I spent two days a week working alongside my three part-time jobs and full time study, getting paid in Uber Eats vouchers (true story). Though, to my surprise, I didn’t fetch one coffee. What I did do however, was learn the ins and outs of digital marketing and gain access to mentors across a rapidly growing technology company.

While at the start, I didn’t hold much practical marketing knowledge at all, a willingness to learn, lots of hard work, and the investment into networking with people from the company proved to be my greatest asset. What I consider to be a few defining moments at my internship include:

  • Volunteering to work back to complete simple data entry tasks allocated to members of senior management, affording them more time to focus on the ‘important’ things.
  • Completing an assignment the night it was due on a train using my mobile hotspot, so that I could make team drinks and hopefully make a name for myself.
  • Asking for help and advice from those around me when I needed help to show a strong willingness to learn.

After my internship finished, I received a call from the CEO offering me a permanent position on the team as a Marketing Executive and never really looked back.

From there, I continued to focus on developing my professional skill-set and building a strong network. Twelve months later. I was offered a full-time position as Head of Marketing at a company called VIGYR, after being recommended for the position by someone else in my network. The important part to note here is that my first internship started with the genuine belief that I would be nothing more than the household coffee boy. My first case competition, from the blind hope of going to Paris.

Sometimes it’s ok to not know where exactly you’re heading, as long as you believe it’s in the right direction. QUT Students are also extremely lucky to be surrounded by a leading teaching staff who are always willing to shed some light (they’re a resource that I underused many times).

Put in a lot of hard work, be persistent, ask for help when you need it, and you’ll be on your way in no time!

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Next Chapter…

Though it’s easy to sit here and write about a world that seemed to eventually fall into place, not acknowledging the ever-changing nature of an individual’s journey would be wrong.

Everybody faces different obstacles.

In fact, one of the biggest obstacles a student cohort has ever seen came in the form of online classes during the midst of a global pandemic… That complicated things quite a bit as you could imagine.

While online University is one thing, what about those looking toward the next chapter of their life? We’re talking about Graduates!

Well, if you’d like to hear a little more about what it’s like to graduate amidst such a crisis and the process of applying for one of the world’s leading companies during that time too, you can (virtually) walk on over to Part 2 of this blog.

It’s a lot of words, I know (Ugh!).

But, it could provide some really good insights on what you can learn from times of change and how to go about landing your dream role!

You can read Part Two here!

Bachelor of Business (Marketing, Public Relations)

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