As I enter my final semester of university, I am struggling with a dilemma that many students face: should I be focusing more on my studies or more on gaining experience? While focusing on receiving good marks may set you up for a successful future, without gaining experience on the way, it may lessen employment opportunities. But finding balance and prioritising can seem quite daunting, especially when heading into the final year of your course.

While QUT offers subjects like Work Integrated Learning – an internship-based subject allowing students to gain experience while still working towards their degree –  is this enough experience to stand out in an increasingly competitive market? For some, having to choose between one or the other is no longer an option. Many choose to complete full-time study and full-time work in their chosen field. This means students are building experience and contacts within the industry, while continuing to develop knowledge by consistently applying theory to practice.

But how do students manage such a workload? And how do they successfully land that job without a finished degree? To gain an insight into balancing work and student life, I spoke to Stacey Wacker, a QUT student currently studying a double bachelor degree of Business, majoring in advertising and Media and Communications. By day, Stacey works full time as a media accounts coordinator at ZenithOptimedia, and by night, hits the books to study.

Landing the Job

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So, how did she land the job? Well, it came down to her strong work ethic and mentality of not being afraid to ask questions. For starters, her tutor was a media director for ZenithOptimedia. Throughout the semester, she applied herself to the subject, leading to being offered an internship at the company. After a semester of interning, she was offered a full-time position as media and planner coordinator.

From her experience, her best bit of advice is to ask questions:

“Don’t be afraid to actually ask tutors, lecturers and even guest lecturers for their opinion on the industry you want to go into. Ask whether they know of anyone who may be interested in an intern/graduate for a position. They’re the ones with all the connections; why not pick their brains while you can.”

Through doing this, students not only show initiative, but create relationships with tutors and lecturers. Not only did this make her a memorable student, but her enthusiasm towards prospective careers allowed for Stacey to gain such an opportunity.   “Hard work and engagement within tutorials can be the difference between scoring future job opportunities and not.”

The Juggling Act

Juggling between full-time work and full-time study is all about balance. Working every weekday, Stacey spends weekends completing assessment.

 “I’m more fresh and willing to put in the effort on the weekend, and also it allows me to be ready for the week ahead. “

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Although she occasionally finds balancing the two challenging, Stacey claims that the only way to stay sane is to “take each day as it comes, since the days can be pretty exhausting”.

Networking

So, what should be the next step for you? Stacey believes gaining valuable connections is an important step in furthering career opportunities. A useful tool for networking is LinkedIn:

“Having an account, even while at uni, can potentially create connections that may lead to prospective opportunities…It’s a great place to add industry people outside your business and maintain a more professional profile, rather than getting too personal adding someone on Facebook.”

In an age where online networking is deemed critical for success, maintaining a professional profile online is imperative. Stacey believes having your connections visible for others to see can gain credibility and present your experience.

You’re probably thinking ‘I struggle with a social life with full-time uni and casual work’, but Stacey shows that it is possible to uphold a academic achievements while gaining valuable experience and maintaining a social life. Her doings show that initiative and asking the right questions can open the door to many opportunities.

Well she is three steps ahead of the pack… I guess I better start cracking.

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By Alice Pratt

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