Maximising your experience

In job interviews, you’re likely to be asked to ‘describe a situation when you…’. Your Work-integrated learning (WIL) experience and other course-related work experience is a potential goldmine for answering these questions. For example, you may find yourself solving difficult problems during your experience where you will need to apply a range of skills.

On this page you’ll find useful information and resources to help you deal with some common issues you may face during your experience and use them to your advantage.

Engaging in reflective practice

Reflective practice is more than just holding your phone up to the mirror each day and snapping a selfie - it’s about taking a considered approach to your placement or project so you can maximise the benefit you get from it.

Reflection is often a key part of the assessment in WIL units and can seem like a pretty dry exercise, but try to do it in the way that works best for you. After all, a WIL experience is a rare opportunity to consider some of the big questions about your career without the pressures of an actual job getting in the way.

Four steps to a great experience

Before you undertake your placement or project, it’s a good idea to do a little bit of forward planning. Think of your experience as an investment and consider what return you want on that investment in terms of your own development. The experience itself is great, but often you can take it to the next level simply by being a little more focused on precisely what you want to achieve. Here are four ideas to get you started:

1. Do a Student Futures skills audit

Student Futures is an interactive online platform for student reflection that allows you to track your development through skills audits, before and after an experience.

If you identify particular skills that you want to develop through your experience, talk to your supervisor, mentor or teaching staff to work out a plan of attack.

Go to the Student Futures website and select Evaluate Skill to complete your skills audit.

2. Write a career plan

This is a broad overview of your long-term career goals. The plan should encompass where you see your career going, what types of jobs you see yourself in, and what types of experiences you think will be valuable. Your plan doesn’t need to be elaborate and doesn’t have to map your entire career until you retire - three to five years might be more sensible!

Remember, this is not about producing the ‘perfect’ plan, but simply giving it your best shot with the information you have at the time. At the end of your experience, you should be able to evaluate that experience against the career plan to see if it helped you move towards your career goals.

You may find that talking to others in the industry is a great way to get started on this. Check out the Career Connect website for ideas on starting on your career plan. Of course, you may find your WIL experience shifts the goalposts and you now need to tear up your career plan and start again, but that’s all part of the fun!

3. Talk to a career success coach

Through Career Connect, final year students at Monash have access to specialised Career Success Coaches relevant to their discipline. This is a great way to get personalised feedback on how to utilise a WIL experience to launch the next phase of your career.

4. Set SMART goals

SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound (meaning they have a clear date by which they should be achieved). Putting in place some specific goals around your experience will help ensure a great learning experience.

Make your goals simple and clear, assessing them against the SMART criteria. For example:

  1. Add 20 LinkedIn contacts with whom you’ve had a conversation about what it’s like to work in your desired field or industry.
  2. Improve your pitching skills (then work with a supervisor or mentor to decide how you’ll measure that improvement).
  3. Draft a successful project proposal or business case for a client.

If undertaking an internship, share your goals with your supervisor so they can give you targeted support and feedback.

Case study

Laura took a WIL placement with a large consulting firm, working in the finance projects team. She was excited but also nervous as this was her first placement. Before starting, she did a skills audit using Student Futures. The audit revealed she was less confident in her communication and teamwork skills.

Laura hoped to improve in these areas during her placement, but was worried about talking to her placement supervisor about it, as she didn't want to harm her chances of further employment with the company.

She sought advice from the unit coordinator about how she could approach the issue. Together they decided that setting SMART goals around further developing these skills would be a more positive approach, while also demonstrating initiative. Her unit coordinator referred her to Career Connect, where she got assistance from a Career Success Coach to craft these goals to combine a focus on her own development with a desire to contribute new ideas to the organisation.

Laura shared these goals with her placement supervisor as part of a one-page plan of what she hoped to get out of the experience.

This allowed her supervisor to tailor Laura’s WIL experience:

  • She would spend an hour each fortnight working with the project manager to go over the project status, then help to present a five-minute summary report from the project team to the managing director.
  • A weekly 30-minute feedback session was organised, for the project team to reflect on successes and challenges of the past week.

At first, the idea of presenting to the managing director was quite exciting, but on the morning of the first presentation, Laura began to worry she might get key details wrong or wouldn’t be able to answer questions. At lunchtime, she managed to bribe a couple of the other interns with chocolate to listen to her presentation, knowing they wouldn’t hesitate to offer honest feedback!

Next steps

Find out about building your skills portfolio.