Michael Ho completed a Bachelor of Computing Systems at Unitec, but his road to employment wasn’t easy – with a tough job market and a lack of work experience. He talks to us about the steps he took to eventually find work, what he’s doing today, and his tips for other students looking for work.
Michael graduated in 2020 and entered the job market mid-COVID. He applied for multiple jobs without much luck.
“It was a particularly difficult time – not just for me but for all graduates. Companies were looking for people with two or three years’ experience, which was frustrating, because how could we get that experience if we couldn’t find a job?”
Michael eventually decided to take an unpaid internship with a start-up company to get the experience he needed, but the role wasn’t what he’d expected.
“I found myself in a situation where I wasn’t earning, I was working really hard, and I felt trapped. I was forced to get another job in the weekends just to earn money. I think the line between volunteer work and unpaid labour can be very thin.”
Michael eventually approached Unitec’s Career and Employability team, who helped him reset his approach and get on the right path to employment.
“They helped me tidy up my CV, organising it to show my skills and experience in the best light. Because English is my second language, the grammar needed some work too! They also gave me a lot of advice about how to look for a job when you have limited experience, the right channels to go down, and how to prepare for an interview. It gave me the confidence I needed to get back out there and apply for more roles.”
Michael is now a software developer at Synergia, where he’s been since November 2021. He says, despite being knocked back a few times, he’s learnt a lot from his job-hunting experience and believes there are a few key things students can do to improve their chances of finding work.
1. Seek legitimate work experience
You don’t need to enter an unpaid internship just because you don’t have experience. Authentic internships should either be paid or directly related to your studies. The right opportunities can teach you so much and are a great way to decide which direction you want to take your career in.
Volunteer work is also a good option. Try official websites such as Seek Volunteer or Volunteering Auckland. Or, chat to the Unitec Career & Employability team to find the best job search methods and connect with genuine opportunities.
2. Make your own experience
Experience doesn’t necessarily need to come from a job – particularly in the IT industry. Since studying at Unitec Michael has built his own development projects to gain experience.
“There are so many online resources you can turn to – such as Udemy (which has over 180,000 cheap online video courses), Coursera, or even YouTube channels where you can complete your own projects. I studied programming languages and eventually built my own mobile app and website app. I was then able to draw on this experience in job interviews.”
3. Talk to Unitec’s Career & Employability team to get your CV and interview skills lined up
Before you start your job hunt, it pays to visit the Career & Employability team. Michael approached them after leaving his internship and says the advice they gave him was invaluable.
“They helped me understand my value and gave me the confidence I needed to communicate it with potential employers. They also suggested different approaches I could use to try and find work. They really got me on the right track and in the right mindset to re-enter the job-hunting market.”
4. Learn from the jobs you don’t get
Michael says he treated each unsuccessful job interview as a learning experience.
“Being unsuccessful in getting a job isn’t always a bad thing. Each interview I went to taught me so much about what I could do better next time: what’s expected from you in an interview; what questions might be asked; what tests you might be given.”
One of Michael’s unsuccessful interviews even led to a post-interview coffee meeting.
“We caught up after the interview and he shared some helpful tips on what companies are looking for, what I needed to learn, and what I should focus on going forward. So, even when you fail, there’s always a positive!”
5. Most employers aren’t just looking for work experience
Employers are generally looking for people with the right attitude and a willingness to learn. You can demonstrate this through your studies, through volunteer work or even through a sports team you’ve been part of. Seek references from coaches, teachers, or tutors. If they can vouch for you, an employer is much more likely to give you the chance to prove yourself.
6. Attend as many events and make as many connections as possible
Unitec holds loads of events connecting students and graduates with the industry, including Unitec Connect – a chance to meet, greet and learn about potential employees. So, reach out, attend as many events as you can and make as many connections as possible.
“The more people you know, the more chance you have of finding employment. New Zealand is a small country, so you never know when your connections might come in handy.”