Is your degree enough? The answer is ‘No’. Everybody has a degree these days. Good grades might get you an interview, but they won’t get you the job. What else can you offer to stand out from the crowd? The earlier you get clued up on what employers are looking for, how to develop those skills and attributes and obtain relevant experience, the better. Don’t leave it too late and waste precious time that is available to you as a student. I did, when I was at uni the first time round, because no-one told me this stuff, and as a result I had to work my way up to where I am now.
Let’s face it: university is a bubble, it’s not real life. And if you spend all your student days in the safety of that bubble, you’re going to get a real shock when the time comes to find a job. So what can you do about it?
Aside from working a part-time job, one of the best ways to get real life experience – and, ideally, experience in your chosen career - is through an internship. Internships are essentially stepping stones bridging the gap between student and working life. They give you a taste of what it’s like to work in a particular field (whether one that you’re dead set on, or something you might not even have considered), and expose you to real-world settings including working cultures and environments, ?relationships and office politics. Internships are beneficial in many ways: they enable you to gain crucial hands on experience whilst using and enhancing classroom knowledge, developing marketable skills, learning from interesting and inspiring people, broadening your perspectives and networking opportunities, clarifying career goals, and gaining feedback and professional references.
I recently completed an internship via The Aurora Internship Program which organises placements for students and graduates nationally in native title, policy development, social justice and the Indigenous sector more generally. I wanted to learn about native title as well as experience working for a not-for-profit before going back to commercial practice. I was placed at the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council (SWALSC), the Native Title Representative Body (NTRB) for the Noongar people, the Traditional Owners of the south west of Australia. I supported the Legal Team in facilitating the landmark native title settlement across the south west. If successful, it will be the largest agreement of its kind in Australia and will provide the basis for securing Noongar culture, heritage, language and society for generations to come.
Having worked in commercial firms for many years, it was really refreshing to work with both Noongar and non-Aboriginal staff towards a meaningful outcome, and inspiring to meet lawyers who care about making a difference and have chosen the road less travelled. Learning about Aboriginal history and culture was fascinating and, surprisingly, I felt very invested in my work at SWALSC despite spending only five weeks there. Everyone’s hard work and commitment to securing a good future for the Noongar people has definitely left a lasting impression on me. I would highly recommend an Aurora internship to anyone: the experience is invaluable no matter what subject you are studying.
My advice? Get as much experience as possible, as early as possible and as broad as possible. Even if you decide not to pursue certain avenues, you will have developed transferable skills, made valuable contacts, gained confidence in your abilities and been shaped by unexpected experiences along the way. And if you make a good impression on placement, it could even lead to a permanent job. Or at least, when you finally score that all-important interview, you will have something engaging to discuss that will give you an edge on the competition.
The Aurora Internship Program supports the recruitment of people in native title and Indigenous affairs and has streams for Law, Anthropology and some Social Science placements of 5-6 weeks with two intakes per year over the winter and summer breaks.