Student guest post: How to apply for vacation work

In between study, work and extra-curricular commitments, finding time to apply for vacation work is no easy task. To save you time, our Master of Engineering (Chemical with Business) student Justin Moscatelli reveals his tips for applying for vacation work:

Vacation programs are a great way to gain practical work experience in an industry of interest and provide an opportunity to apply university knowledge to real-world projects. However, in an increasingly competitive environment, this can be a challenging process – with thousands of students seeking a limited number of positions. As a penultimate year Master of Engineering student, I have been looking to find a vacation internship program over the 2015/2016 summer break. Here are some experiences and tips from my application process.

Step 1 – Experiences, Achievements and Academic Results

Justin-MUCESS-Pre-Industry-NightTIP: Make sure you get involved as early as possible, as much as possible!

For me, the process began a lot earlier than simply the application opening dates for these vacation programs. I knew I needed to submit a resume, cover letter, academic transcript and, if I made it to an interview or assessment centre, I needed to sell myself and my interests. As such, over the past few years I’ve focused on developing my experiences and improving my academic results.

In the current engineering market, companies are not only looking for excellence, but well-rounded engineers who are committed to their own professional development. So, academic grades are important, but it’s the extracurricular involvement that employers are also looking for. Focus on working hard to achieve a respectable (WAM) average, as most employers won’t consider anything below a 65%.

Make sure you are involved! As a University of Melbourne student, no doubt you’ll have an exceptional technical ability. However, you’ll also need to be involved in experiences that show off your soft-skills such as your ability to communicate effectively with a wide range of people, leadership skills, team working ability and time management. This means leading teams, participating in group assignments, holding leadership roles, dealing with conflict and presenting to audiences. Employers seek students with broad experiences, those that put themselves outside of their comfort zone and are able to adapt to foreign situations. With these experiences and extracurricular activities, you’ll be able to develop a significantly stronger resume and overall application.

Step 2 – Resume and Cover Letter Preparation (Mid-Semester Break)

TIP: Make sure your resume is up to date before beginning your applications. If you have LinkedIn, make sure this is up to date too.

Justin-linkedinPNGWith a little foresight, the mid-semester break provided a great opportunity to get ahead on the application process. I was able to concentrate on building a solid resume and an adaptable cover letter, ready for when applications opened at a later stage. My resume needed a decent update to include all my new activities and experiences over the last semester. I also needed a better format. One that I liked the look of was the STEM resume provided by the Melbourne Careers Centre. This site also listed some handy tips on developing a professional resume that best highlighted my experiences. Another service to consider is the resume and cover letter ‘Drop-In Sessions’ held at the Science Student Centre for proofreading and second opinions.

I also prepared a cover letter that briefly outlined my skills, achievements and motivation for applying for a vacation internship program. This needed to be individually tailored depending on the company and industry I was applying for. The general approach I used included an introductory paragraph outlining my motivation as a penultimate year student seeking a vacation internship, followed by a paragraph detailing my interest in the company and industry I was applying for. Finally, a paragraph explaining my skills and experiences. An easy way to adapt the cover letter to each company is simply to include key words from the job listing. For example, if the requirements include ‘candidates with a can-do attitude, who are willing to show initiative and can work collegially within a team’, make sure these key words are included in your cover letter!

Step 3 – Applications (July/August)

The next step, now that your resume and cover letter are up to scratch – is the actual job seeking part! Most vacation program applications are open around July to August, however there are still some outside of this period. For your applications, you’ll need to consider the following:

  1. Which fields or industries interest you? Would you be interested in industry, consulting, research or business? You’ll need to tailor your cover letter to include your reasons why this area interests you.
  2. Where are you looking to work? Often vacation programs can involve travelling to different states, so it’s important to consider your interests and any costs involved in travelling for a vacation position.
  3. Are there any companies that stand out as interesting/exciting/challenging/reputable places to work? Top Intern Programs is a great way to get an idea of the best internship programs as voted by undergraduates.
  4. Start compiling a list of companies that offer vacation programs. Melbourne University Careers Online, GradConnection, SEEK and other job sites are the best places to look initially. Careers fairs held on campus, industry nights, student clubs, lecturers and your peers are also a great source of information about companies that hire engineering students in vacation programs.
The Institute of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) provides a list of companies offering vacation work to Chemical and Environmental Engineers
The Institute of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) provides a list of companies offering vacation work to Chemical and Environmental Engineers
  1. Most vacation programs require a cover letter, CV and academic transcript. However a large majority also require you to answer a number of questions to provide more information on your work experience (industry related or part-time roles), volunteering, leadership roles, specific reasons for applying and what you hope to achieve from a vacation program. I found that compiling a list of questions and answers, which I had submitted, was helpful as I could recycle or tweak answers to save time in other applications!
  2. Further options for vacation work include submitting expressions of interest to companies and their HR departments. Some may not actively advertise vacation work, while other companies may have work suitable for students over the vacation period (while not formally providing vacation programs).
  3. Keep in mind the closing date for applications. Get in early as some companies close their recruitment process once they receive a certain number of applications. This means you’ll also need to manage your time between your applications and studies. Juggling applications with studies can be tricky so it’s important to be prepared before semester starts.

Step 4: Responses (September/October):

Justin-networkingTIP: Whenever you receive an email stating that your application has been unsuccessful, don’t feel bad – apply for another vacation program or company instead!

If you’ve made a real effort in your applications, hopefully around September/October you are starting to hear back from a few companies. You may start to receive links to complete online abilities tests or web interviews. Make sure you set aside a time to complete these and are able to fully focus on the task – some online tests are very challenging!

After passing these stages, you may make it to an interview, often in person, but sometimes over the phone. Make sure you prepare for these as recruiters can gauge if you haven’t done any preparation, ramble or don’t fully answer the question. I found Glassdoor helpful as it lists experiences, interview questions and tips from previous job seekers. Often these are directly related to the vacation program you are applying for. Typically, interviews involve a range of technical questions, such as how you would approach or deal with a specific technical problem. Behavioural questions are also extremely common and examples include an explanation of a time when you displayed leadership characteristics, worked collaboratively within a team or resolved conflict. Many companies also have a specific structure in which they would like you to answer, focussing on the situation, actions you took and the result you achieved. You can often find more information about this requirement on the company’s website.

It’s also helpful to have a genuine interest in the company and industry. Make sure you research the company, location/industries they operate in, their current developments, past internship projects and anything else that would be considered useful. This is a proactive step and shows a passion and interest to your interviewers, signalling that you are enthusiastic about the company and industry.

Step 5: Outcome (Summer Vacation Period):

Finally, if you make it past the applications, online tests, interviews and references checks – congratulations! Your hard work during your studies and extracurricular activities as well as the application process has paid off. You’ll work hard, challenge yourself and develop your skills over the summer, but don’t forget to enjoy yourself and take in as much as possible. Treat your vacation work program as a three month job interview, if you do and are considered suitable, you could end up with an offer for a graduate position!