Luke Holtham studied a Bachelor of Biotechnology at Flinders University and completed his PhD in Biotechnology at Adelaide University in 2009 and 2015 respectively. In Luke’s view everyone finishes with the same piece of paper so your ability to get a job quickly comes down to everything else you have been doing whilst you have been studying.
To position himself for a job, Luke regularly did the following during his final year of his undergraduate degree:
- Attended networking events;
- Got to know all of the key players in the industry;
- Volunteered for organisations which would give me skills, credibility and relationships which would lead to a job;
- A small amount of social volunteer work (this is important for many companies. Luke coached a children’s basketball team); and
- Attempted to be the top of his class (which he was a University Medal recipient.)
Knowing what he knows now Luke says he would have started this all from day one from day 1 of his degree. Why? Because every job Luke has ever had has been through relationships. As they say it is always “who you know” not “what you know.” But Luke admits that this is a long term game not a short term one. Of course there were many moments when it felt like he might end up unemployed when he finished his degree but this just spurred him on to keep working harder.
Luke was fortunate enough to skip cold emailing resumes and cover letters. He never fell into the random application process as many do. The reason was two-fold: first, he had good advice from family and mentors, and second, the field he was about to enter was very specialised so there are not many jobs you can just send random CVs out to every day.
Luke started to network and built relationships first. He tried to provide value to the people he wanted to intern for & volunteer with, whether it be providing connections or sending a useful article he thought might be of interest to them. This was rapport building. Then he simply asked if he could come do some work for them on a project.
At Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics Luke started with a summer scholarship doing lab work which led to a paid casual job, a full time contract, and then a PhD scholarship offering. At South Australian BioAngels he assisted at board meetings and helping to get drinks and food sorted, although maybe not exciting work, this lead to lasting high level industry contacts and work referrals. At AusBiotech, Luke organised and coordinated events which lead to contacts and networks, more work referrals. Finally his stint at UniQuest was doing project based internship work. One of the positive of working for free here was again substantial work experience, contacts, and again a full time job. Further the non-job related volunteering provided referees to help provide credibility for securing jobs.
Among the other advantages, Luke recommends the approach of job related volunteering to get your foot in the door, get to know people, get to know the internal processes and build relationships with the team. By doing this you are miles ahead of anyone who would then be trying to apply for a job cold externally. Even if there is not a job available, sometimes they will make a new position just to keep you or they will keep you on a casual basis until one is. Luke is certain every graduate will benefit from this different type of approach, even in industries that are hell bent on graduate intakes and grad programs such as accounting.”
Luke’s niche field a good example why this approach is worthwhile. A colleague of his also studied a PhD and has been looking for a job for more than one year after finishing his degree. Although he finished his PhD a little faster than Luke, Luke had 2 years work experience advantage. In Luke’s words “clearly this approach puts you much further ahead and sets you up with a huge career advantage.”