Letter to an undergraduate: advice on vacation jobs in Australia in industry X

I received a query from an undergraduate student whom I’d agreed to mentor, asking what they could do to improve their chances of getting vacation work this coming summer, and mentioning that they’d applied to several very large and well-known companies.

I may re-draft this a bit later, but I thought I’d save my reply for my own later use, and anyone else’s, in case the same query comes up from other students. Hopefully it doesn’t sound too condescending – but in fact, I don’t think I have any better advice than what I’ve given.

Hi [name],

Since I didn’t work in [state] before starting my PhD, I don’t know exactly which companies operate in the [X] industry in [city].

However, one local industry body that may have some relevant information, and listings of companies, is the [local industry body], who have a website at [website address].

Beyond the same sorts of advice which apply to improving your chances of getting any sort of job – and which you can find in many of the job-seeking and career guides which are available at the university Careers Centre [website address] – I think the main advice I can give which would increase your chances is, “Don’t apply to the same places that everyone else is applying to”. If there’s an obvious and well-known company to apply to, with an easy-to-use online application process, then the chances are that thousands of other students, just as talented as you, are applying to the same place for the same positions. The less well-known the company is, and the less obvious the manner of applying for a job at it, the better your chances are.

This isn’t a reason not to apply to large and well-known companies, just a reason to consider broadening the scope of companies you might consider. There are advantages to working in small businesses – books on career advice will probably detail many of them, but here is one article on Lifehacker that listed a few:


I hope this is helpful, and look forward to hearing how your job-hunt goes.

Best regards,


Actually, there is one other bit of advice I’d give, but it never seems to go down very well, so I’ve stopped giving it: which is, Read books.

For some reason, many undergraduates in the STEM areas don’t seem to like reading non-fiction books that their courses don’t require them to. But I’ve found that, oddly enough, they contain lots of good advice. This includes not just books on career development or job-hunting, but also biographies of eminent people, or general essays on various fields of endeavour, even biographies of significant literary and philosophical figures completely outside of science. (Though the career advice you get from these may be a little dated: “resident tutor or secretary to a member of the nobility” isn’t really a viable entry into an industry, these days.)

Anyway. If anyone has any (brief) additions or changes they can suggest, feel free to offer them.