Getting your first job

This is a guide for people in NSW who are looking to start their first job. It includes information about how to be job-ready, learning new skills, looking for work and what to do when you've been made an offer. 

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How to be job-ready

It can take a lot of preparation to build confidence and increase your chances of success when applying for jobs.

The Australian Government offers a range of vocational and education training (VET) opportunities designed to:

In addition, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) Worksite provides a guide to getting your first jobThe practical information, which is aimed at those in their final years of school or recent school leavers, is divided into 9 chapters and is available in PDF or e-book form.

Job Jumpstart

Job Jumpstart aims to help young job seekers better understand how to:

  • build work experience and skills to boost the chances of getting a job
  • research career options
  • connect with employers

By combining information on employment planning and recruitment insights from Australian employers, the scheme provides resources and activities to help you work out what jobs might suit your skills and interests.

    Understand your strengths

    Identifying your strong points and being aware of any gaps in your skills and experience can help you plan a direction you’d like your career to take.

    There are several online tools that can help shape your employment focus, including:

    • LifeLauncher - quizzes to match jobs and careers based on your personality and favourite school subjects
    • Job Outlook - a Q&A format to filter and create a potential career direction
    • myfuture captures your interests, skills, education and training experience to build a career profile and pathways to possible occupations

    Be aware of soft skills

    Soft skills typically refer to interpersonal qualities and abilities that can be applied and built upon in most workplaces.  They generally relate to:

    • adaptability and resilience
    • teamwork and collaboration
    • creativity and innovation
    • critical thinking and problem solving
    • communication and interpersonal skills

    Soft skills can make a positive difference throughout your career as well as being transferable across most roles and industries. 

    While they can be difficult to demonstrate on your resume, many employers and recruiters may look to find out your understanding of soft skills in discussions or an interview.

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    Gain real work experience

    Depending on your age and where you’re at in your job search, there are opportunities to get real world work experience. 

    This can, in turn, help build out your resume while also connecting you to potential job markets and employers.

    Internships

    A period as an intern can sometimes lead to a job offer. Like volunteering, you may not get paid but internships usually include specific learning goals within a structured work environment.

    Possible benefits of an internship include:

    • the opportunity to complement existing or learn new skills
    • making professional contacts
    • gaining an edge in the job market
    • a pathway or transition to more permanent employment

    Several job search websites like Seek or LinkedIn have specific categories for internships. Use that term in your search and filter by location or industry to find out what internships might be available.

    However, there may be a situation where an internship should offer payment, particularly if an employment relationship forms or is in place from the start. 

    The Fair Work Ombudsman lists the indicators of an employment relationship, which could help you work out if the placement you're doing is allowed to be unpaid.

    Volunteering

    Volunteering can provide many ways to improve your chance of employment, as well as pursue any personal interests, including:

    • learning new skills and gaining confidence
    • giving back to a community
    • building up work experience
    • broadening your network of friends and colleagues

    Additionally, any volunteering experience included on your resume can show potential employers how community-minded you may be and that you can take initiative.

    Work experience

    The Australian Government has a range of programs designed to give new job seekers real world work experience:

    • Employability Skills Training (EST) can help improve the chances of getting a job if you’re aged 17 to 25 via the Youth Jobs PaTH internship
    • if you’re registered with jobactive or Transition to Work, you could be eligible for the National Work Experience Programme, which provides 25 hours of unpaid work per week for up to 4 weeks to help you build the skills employers want
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    Managing your personal brand

    Many businesses want to know if an applicant's core values match their own when assessing job applications.

    To help them do this, they often explore the social media profiles of applicants to get a broader idea of the personality and interests of the person applying.

    While you might think Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, TikTok or Instagram can be safe, personal spaces to keep up to date with friends, avoid posting anything that you wouldn't want recruiters or future employers to see.

    One of the more popular platforms for job information and vacancies is LinkedIn. Even if you have little professional experience, creating and maintaining a LinkedIn profile can let you:

    • show employers what benefits and personal traits you can offer
    • connect with like-minded people 
    • find out about companies you may be interested in working for
    • join professional groups to be more aware of industry news and employment trends
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    Get financial support

    There are various payments, concessions and services at reduced costs to help first-time job seekers who are:

    • looking for work
    • wanting to upskill or complete training courses (also see How to be job-ready section)
    • thinking of starting a small business

    Government payments

    There is a range of government support services to help cover the cost of finding work or completing approved studies. These include:

    Additionally, there are dedicated services and support programs to find and maintain employment for:

    Starting a small business

    There are many government financial assistance packages and mentoring services to help you develop ideas and start a small business. These include:

    New Business Assistance

    If you are unemployed, not studying or training, and interested in running your own business, the Australian Government offers New Business Assistance with NEIS.

    NEIS is the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme. It provides eligible people with:

    • accredited small business training
    • mentoring and support programs
    • financial support options including an allowance and rental assistance
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    Add skills and training

    The market for jobs can be competitive, depending on the role you're aiming for and the industry you want to work in. 

    Learning new skills or building upon existing ones can help increase your confidence and chances of getting a job. Several providers that offer training in this area include:

    Vocational Education and Training (VET)

    VET partners with industry and government to provide people with workplace skills and technical knowledge to advance their careers.

    With an emphasis on hands-on experience, courses concentrate on those occupational skills and competencies that employers increasingly demand.

    Vocational Education and Training covers 8 of the 10 occupations predicted to have high jobs growth over the next few years. These include:

    • carers for children, the aged and disabled
    • software and application programmers
    • hospitality workers
    • advertising, public relations and sales

    In addition to short courses, fee-free traineeships and apprenticeships, VET's broader qualifications range across 4 levels of certificates (Certificate I, II, III and IV), as well as Diploma courses and Advanced Diploma courses.

    Smart and Skilled

    Smart and Skilled aims to help people in NSW get the expertise they need to find a job and advance their careers.

    The training courses are developed by industry, community and job market experts, and cover many types of workplaces and industries in NSW. They provide:

    • access to subsidised training across 4 levels of certificates
    • funding for higher-level Diploma and Advanced Diploma courses in priority areas of demand

    Eligible students pay only a portion of the training cost. Fee exemptions and concessions are also available for disadvantaged students.

    Appenticeships and traineeships

    Apprenticeships and traineeships combine work-based experience with an employer and formal instruction from a training provider. On completion, you gain a recognised qualification while earning money. This mixture of learn while you earn is: 

    • one of the best ways to get on-the-job training and qualifications
    • highly regarded by business and industry 
    • government regulated

    There are over 500 apprenticeships or traineeships available. In addition, there are fee-free introductory units that allow you to get a taste of a trade or industry. These can help if you're not sure which job might be for you or if you're not ready to commit to a full apprenticeship or traineeship. 

    Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP)

    The AMEP provides free English lessons and settlement skills to eligible migrants and refugees. 

    In time, this can help with getting a job and participating in Australian society.

    While the program is managed by the Department of Home Affairs, TAFE NSW is one provider of AMEP services offering study:

    • in day, evening or weekend classes
    • by distance learning
    • with a volunteer tutor
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    Looking for a job

    Being employed can take many forms when starting out in the workforce, including:

    • part time then going fixed term or full time
    • combining several casual jobs
    • an internship or graduate program
    • short term options like daily or weekly jobs as an in between measure until a more regular or permanent position comes along
    • temping, contracting or volunteering
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    Where and how to look for work

    Most jobs are advertised online. There are different types of websites you can explore to find vacancies.

    Job search websites

    Online job search websites such as Seek, Career One, JoraLinkedIn and others list available jobs as well as provide helpful advice on how to:

    • search more effectively for roles using keywords and filters
    • set up job alerts
    • create a profile or store a resume

    The Australian Government jobactive website and app also provides hints and tips to:

    • help your job search
    • make your resume and cover letter stand out

    Company websites

    If there are specific employers or companies you’d like to work for, visit the careers section of their website. 

    Even if there are no suitable jobs advertised, you can often:

    • register your interest and preferences
    • create a profile
    • set up an alert to get notified if a role that matches your criteria becomes available

    Recruitment agencies

    Employment or recruitment agencies are companies that find workers for employers. Some specialise in particular kinds of jobs or industries.

    Visit their websites to search for available roles and other job finding resources.

    If there are no jobs that match your skills and experience you can often upload your resume or register an expression of interest.

    Jobs in government

    There is a wide range of jobs, careers, professional development options, as well as training and education opportunities offered across local, state and national governments.

    You can find general information, application checklists, and more resources that can help you find a job with:

     

    For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

    Training NSW provides a range of programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders focused on:

    • workplace mentoring and support services
    • improving access to employment and training 
    • creating business opportunities

    In addition, the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA) is responsible for employment services in remote Australia under its Community Development Program (CDP).

    Through a range of activities, the CDP supports Indigenous job seekers to:

    • build workplace skills and confidence
    • address and overcome barriers to employment 
    • contribute to their communities

    For job applicants with disability

    People with disability, injury or a health condition may be able to receive assistance to prepare for, find and keep a job through several government programs.

    RecruitAbility 

    RecruitAbility encourages job applicants with disability to find employment in the Australian Public Service (APS), including Senior Executive Service roles.

    The scheme also seeks to improve the disability awareness of APS hiring managers, selection panels and agency recruiters.

    As well as supporting existing employees with disability, RecruitAbility can provide job applicants with disability:

    • multiple pathways into the public service
    • expanded career opportunities
    National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS)

    The School Leaver Employment Service (SLES) provides skills and confidence to help year 12 students move from school to employment.

    It offers individualised support for up to 2 years after finishing year 12 to help school leavers get ready for work and plan their employment pathway.

    Support services offered by SLES generally include:

    • work experience in open employment
    • job skills training
    • travel training
    Disability Employment Services (DES)

    DES providers support people with disability looking for work or who have a job through:

    • help with locating and applying for roles
    • targeted training and upskilling support
    • speaking to employers and co-workers about possible changes to workplace practices
    • co-ordinating physical modifications to a workplace
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    Writing a resume and cover letter

    Applying for a job can be a skill in itself. It involves learning how to sell yourself and demonstrate your skills and experience on paper and in person.

    A resume or CV and cover letter are your first opportunity to make a good impression with recruiters and employers.

    Even if your work experience is limited, a poorly presented or badly written resume could make it more difficult to progress your application or even get an interview. 

    The Australian Government's jobactive website has resources to help you get job-ready. Its find a job blog has:

    • templates and suggested examples of resumes and cover letters
    • career advice and tips on how to stay positive during your job search
    • an email subscription service so you can receive regular updates to help you get a job
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    Interviewing tips

    Job interviews can be stressful. Practising your interview technique beforehand can:

    • help reduce any nerves or anxiety
    • boost your confidence of performing as well as you can
    • highlight gaps in your knowledge so you can be as fully prepared as possible

    Another important pre-interview task is to research the company you're looking to join. 

    If you do this, you're more likely to be able to share information specific to the company and the role, which can show a future employer you have initiative and enthusiasm.

    It could also improve your chances of succeeding or at least advancing to the next stage of the recruitment process.

    Practising your interview 

    There are common questions that arise in many interview situations. Prepare your answers in advance and practise out loud how you’d respond.

    Initial interview questions generally relate to:

    • your experience - “Tell me about yourself” and “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”
    • reasons for applying - “Why did you apply for this role?”
    • career objectives - “Where do you see yourself in one/two/five years?”
    • how you identified and managed a challenging situation (if applicable) - “Tell me about a problem you had at a previous job or school, and how you solved it.”
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    Organise reference checks

    Depending on the role, you may be required to provide work or personal referees. This could be a past manager, boss, co-worker or even a friend (as a character reference). 

    You generally require 2 references. Contact them in advance to see if they will act as a referee.

    Once they’ve agreed to, explain the role and discuss how they can endorse those skills and attributes that relate most to the job by focusing on your achievements.

    A senior teacher or faculty member could act as a referee if you’ve recently graduated from high school, university, or completed vocational training.

    These referees are then contacted by your employer or recruiter and asked to validate or comment on:

    • what you may have shared in your interview or included in your written application
    • your skills and experiences that relate to the job
    • how any personal attributes may add value to the organisation

    Other pre employment checks

    In addition to referee checks, you may be required to undergo other assessments depending on the role and who you deal with, including a:

    • working with children check
    • national police check, which cannot be conducted without your consent
    • security clearance or general background check
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    Accepting an offer

    There are different ways you could receive a job offer, including:

    • a verbal confirmation over the phone
    • an email letting you know you were successful
    • an informal handshake

    But in most cases following the acknowledgement, you'll likely be provided with a formal offer document that covers:

    • terms and conditions of employment
    • the official start date and expected hours of work
    • any probation period
    • pay and leave entitlements
    • rules that may be specific to the award, enterprise agreement, employment contract, and/or workplace policies you’ve been employed under

    Review your offer document

    It is very important that you read any offer document carefully and understand your rights and obligations before formally accepting the offer or starting work. If in doubt about anything:

    • get a friend or someone more familiar with employment documents to review it too
    • ask the employer or recruiter for any clarity if there is something you don’t understand or want to question

    If changes are needed, review any updated version to check that the changes were added before you sign. It's a good idea to keep a copy for your own records.

    If you’re on a government benefit

    If you are receiving a JobSeeker payment or another type of government benefit, you'll need to let them know if you start work and earn an income as this may change what you receive from the government.

    To avoid any misreporting, use your Centrelink employment diary to help track:

    • your standard gross hourly pay rate
    • other gross pay rates like overtime or penalty hours
    • the total hours you worked at each pay rate
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    Starting work

     It's okay to be nervous. But it’s important on your first day of work to understand:

    • where exactly you need to go
    • who you will be meeting initially
    • what time you need to be there
    • what to bring (documents, tax file number or superannuation account details)
    • if there are any pre-registration security steps you need to complete beforehand (which generally require a photo ID)

    Tax, payroll and superannuation

    There is always a certain amount of financial paperwork or online forms to be filled in when starting a new job, including:

    If you do not have a preferred super fund, you can choose the default super fund proposed by your employer.

    Depending on your salary and employment conditions, you may be eligible for super contributions from the Australian Government.

    You don't need to apply for these. If you're eligible and your fund has your tax file number (TFN), the government will pay it to your fund account automatically.

    Your rights and entitlements at work

    Every employee is entitled to basic rights at work, including the minimum wage and the right to be safe in the workplace. 

    To understand your workplace rights in detail:

    In addition, the Fair Work Ombudsman has extensive information on:

    • employee protections that cover adverse action, coercion, undue influence or pressure and misrepresentation in the workplace
    • your rights to industrial action and union membership
    • how to get help resolving workplace conflict and issues
    • the importance of pay slips and how they ensure employees receive the correct pay and entitlements

    If you are employed in the NSW public sector or local government, the NSW Industrial Relations Commission has information on your workplace entitlements and obligations.

    Fair Work Information Statement

    Most employees in Australia needs to get a copy of the Fair Work Information Statement when starting a new job. It is a legal requirement for all employers to provide this before, or as soon as possible after, new employees start work. 

    It covers important topics about employees’ pay and conditions including information on:

    • National Employment Standards
    • the right to request flexible working arrangements
    • modern awards and other workplace details

    Find out more about the Fair Work Information Statement at the Fair Work Ombudsman.

    Safety in the workplace

    Work health and safety laws apply to every worker in Australia, including permanent residents and temporary visa holders. Those are rights to:

    • appropriate safety equipment
    • say no to unsafe work
    • a fair and just workplace
    • induction and ongoing access to information, training and supervision

    As an employee, you also have an obligation to protect the health and safety of others at work. It’s important that you:

    • ask if you are not sure how to safely perform a task
    • follow instructions and work safely
    • report unsafe and unhealthy situations and injuries to your immediate supervisor
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    Get mental health support

    The process of finding and applying for jobs can be a scary and emotional journey. In time, this could also trigger mental health issues.

    There are many wellbeing and personal support organisations across government and not-for-profits offering services that can be helpful if you’re experiencing any type of mental stress.  

    • Beyond Blue or 1800 512 348 for help with depression and anxiety
    • Head to Health for a range of mental health resources
    • Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800 offers free, confidential phone and online counselling anytime for young people aged 5 to 25
    • MensLine on 1300 789 978 - telephone and online counselling services for men
    • Headspace is the National Youth Mental Health Foundation for 12 to 25 year olds
    • NSW Mental Health Line on 1800 011 511 for professional help, advice and referrals to local mental health services
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