If your time at university is drawing to an end and you’re worried about your chances of finding employment, applying for a summer vacation program could help you secure the job of your dreams at the end of your study.
Vacation or summer internship programs are paid work opportunities during the summer break, available to students in their penultimate year of study. Many companies in different industries offer vacation programs for students looking to gain some hands-on work experience.
However, with limited spaces and high interest from students, the application stage can be a long and gruelling process for recruiters to sort the wheat from the chaff. Here are some of the steps in the application process that will test your skills, personality and ability to stand out from the crowd.
All companies will require your resume in one form or another. Your resume provides a snapshot of who you are and the kind of responsibilities you have had in the past. It is very important that you include all your extracurricular activities and interests, which will help to show that you are a well-rounded and interesting person.
Include your recent achievements and employment history, no matter how irrelevant it may seem to the position. Companies are aware that it’s highly unlikely that you’ll have previous experience working in their field but you could include work experience in retail, hospitality, at a family business or extracurricular activities. And like any job application, make sure your resume looks professional and is error-free.
When you’re applying for vacation work, most companies will ask you to either answer application questions or submit a cover letter. Be aware that some may require you to do both. The application and the cover letter provide opportunities for you to convince the employer that you are the perfect candidate for their program. To do this you will need to show your passion for the industry, particularly for the company and the area you are applying for.
As the University Liaison for Unigrad, Adam Culligan has found that there are two qualities that all employers look for in their recruits above all. ‘We have found time and time again that employers are looking for passion and energy. Most skills can be taught – provided you have the basics down – but it is very difficult to encourage passionate and energetic behaviour,’ says Culligan.
Convey your passion through your application. While questions can vary from business to business, they generally aim to find out why you have applied and what you have to offer. As a student, companies are aware that your experiences may be limited to the lecture hall and your part-time job at the local supermarket, so impress them by showing how much you want the job. Employers will look at how you answer the questions and communicate your point of view rather than the exact examples you give.
As a part of the application process you may have to undergo psychometric or written tests to gauge your intellectual capacity and compatibility for the job. You will be asked a series of questions in various areas. These can include verbal, numerical and abstract reasoning. Aptitude testing is conducted online and you will have a time limit in which you need to complete the tests.
You will be required to sit the tests on your own and businesses may verify this by asking you to sit the test again at a later date. Read our tips on how to prepare for psychometric tests.
Personality tests help the company to gauge whether your characteristics and values align with the company’s culture and values. Personality tests are usually behaviour-based, with no right or wrong answer, and help the company to see how you will fit in.
Once you have passed the beginning application stages, you may be required to have a telephone interview before meeting the employer in person. Having good verbal communication skills is essential for bagging any job, whether it is for vacation work or a permanent position.
Telephone interviews are shorter than interviews conducted face-to-face and can be difficult because you can’t read the interviewer’s body language, nor can they read and respond to yours. However, use this to your advantage and keep a copy of your resume and application, as well as any notes you have about the company, on hand for reference. Telephone interviews will also give you a chance to learn more about the program and the company so make sure you have some questions to ask at the end. Read our tips on how to nail a phone interview here.
The assessment centre is usually the first point of face-to-face contact you will have with your prospective employers. While the name may seem daunting, assessment centres are just an assortment of activities that allow the company to see you in action, and allow you to meet other applicants.
Some companies may require you to attend a group interview or take part in group activities. These could involve role playing, problem solving or case studies. In group situations it’s important to take an active part without being overbearing or too assertive. Being able to work in a team and communicate effectively is highly important to prospective employers and assessment centres will give them a good idea of how you do this. Read up on more group interview tips here.
Face-to-face interviews provide the company with the opportunity to get to know you better. Interview questions are usually behaviour-based and require you to reflect upon your past experiences and provide some real-life examples of when you have demonstrated the desirable skills and behaviours.
One-on-one interviews can occur directly after your assessment centre session, so make sure that you are prepared and well dressed for both. Dress to match the company, industry and the position you are going for. Prepare answers for any difficult questions they may throw your way, such as ‘What’s your biggest weakness?’ and ‘How would your friends describe you?’. Make sure you know what you can bring to the team and can express how suited you are for the position. Most of all, don’t forget to show your enthusiasm and passion for the job.
If the knock-backs are making you feel discouraged, it’s important that you keep your spirits up. Don’t just apply for popular vacation programs based on a large company size. Many small or lesser-known companies have fantastic opportunities for students looking for vacation work. Culligan believes that networking and meeting recruiters can make all the difference.
‘Take the time to network at the vacation expos around your area. You may make a larger impact by meeting someone face-to-face.’
Signing up to sites like Unigrad will also alert you to any new positions or program openings for a range of different industries and companies. The last thing you want is to miss out on the application deadline for the job of a lifetime.
After applying for as many positions as you can, you may feel as though you have been put through the works all for nothing. However, if you manage to survive all of the rounds and come out at the end of it victorious, then consider yourself lucky.
Securing a vacation program gives you the chance to impress the company’s recruiters and managers so much they will be begging for you to return once you graduate. Don’t let this coveted opportunity go to waste, especially as it also provides you with the chance to learn and gain as much industry knowledge and experience as you will ever be able to as a student.
‘The biggest plus to landing that vacation role is the opportunity to start your graduate career with said company. It may be frustrating and difficult now, but the pay-offs far outweigh the hardships,’ says Culligan.