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How to get a graduate job in transport or logistics

Allan Ruddy

If you want to stand out from the crowd you’ll need more than just an undergraduate uni degree.

Transport and logistics are industries where you’ll be given lots of responsibility early on and the opportunity to advance quickly. It’s not uncommon, for example, to go straight to running a small warehouse after completing a grad program then be running a distribution centre with hundreds of staff a few years after that.

But first you need to get your foot in the door.

Get some work experience 

Compared to those studying subjects such as law and medicine, those wanting to get into transport and logistics have the advantage of being able to access paid employment relating to their future career relatively easily. For example, a casual job in a warehouse will give you an understanding of the process of getting goods from A to B and the issues faced by the type of people you might be managing one day.

Possibly because they’re not seen as sexy industries that lots of people want to break into, internships aren’t yet common in the transport and logistics sector. That said, some of the larger players, such as DHL, do run highly structured student internship programs. As with getting a paid position, scoring an internship will usually involve doing a lot of online research, submitting lots of CVs, filling in some online assessments and doing some telephone interviews, as well as possibly demonstrating your mettle at an assessment centre.
(While searching for either an internship or grad position, it’s worth keeping in mind that most graduates enter logistics, transport and supply-related roles via a grad program with a large company such as DHL or Linfox.)

Showcase your skills

As with looking for an internship, looking for a grad program to apply to will involve reviewing the websites of a wide range of employers. When you locate what looks like a promising opportunity, start by checking you meet the criteria (e.g. possessing a civil engineering degree) for the scheme you’re applying for. Then make it clear on your application that you do.

As well as wanting you to have certain qualifications, employers will want you to have particular strengths. One employer may be looking for those who can solve complex logistical problems without breaking a sweat. Another may want candidates with excellent people skills who know how to manage others. And a third may be seeking those able to anticipate and deal with supply chain problems effectively.

The three skill sets that you won’t go wrong emphasising are:

1) General skills:

  • Problem solving, particularly the ability to think on your feet and make good decisions fast.
  • Analytical and strategic planning skills of the kind that will allow you to meet goals and prepare for the unexpected.
  • People management skills to get the best out of staff who will be reporting to you.
  • Project management skills to make sure tasks progress as planned.
  • Communication skills, particularly the ability to talk to anyone from clients, to senior management, to workers on the factory floor.

2) Logistics skills:

  • Commercial acumen. To assess the likely consequences of certain actions on the business.
  • Financial management. Particularly the ability to source goods and equipment without allowing costs to blow out.
  • Numeracy and IT skills. These are useful given the amount of arithmetic and automation now involved in the transport and logistics industries.   
  • Marketing skills. You won’t just be moving things around, you’ll also need to sell ideas to colleagues, managers and possibly clients.

3) Transportation-related skills:

  • Persuasion, so you can convince people to consider (or reconsider) the way they use transport.
  • An understanding of the public’s demand for transport and the ways it’s supplied.
  • Consideration of the needs different members of the community, such as disabled people and the elderly, have.
  • Technical knowledge so you understand the requirements for transport systems, equipment and infrastructure.

Prove your case 

Always read the job description, including the ‘necessary requirements’ section, carefully before applying. Don’t just state you meet the requirements, prove it. If the role requires “Well-developed interpersonal skills with a genuine customer focus” go into detail about the emotional intelligence you developed working in hospitality part-time while you were at university. Use the STAR technique to keep your answers to the point. Describe the Situation, the Tasks you had to complete, the Actions you took and the subsequent Results.

The chances of your application being successful will be enhanced if you make it clear you’re flexible both in regards to your working location and shifts (transport and logistics are 24/7/365 industries).

Acing it at the assessment centre

If your application makes the cut, you’ll probably be asked to attend an assessment centre for an assessment. This will last one or two days and involve a series of tests, group exercises and interviews.
Aside from brushing up on your course notes, there’s not a great deal you can do to prepare for an assessment given you’ll be required to think on your feet and evaluated for character traits you either have or don’t. One thing to keep in mind is that as well as shining individually you’ll need to perform strongly in group tasks. As a trainee transport, distribution or supply chain manager you can find yourself leading a warehousing workforce or helping to run a centre for receiving perishable goods. That being the case, it’s vital that you can maintain positive working relationships. So, don’t undermine other candidates; listen to and praise other people’s good ideas and build on them if you can. Rather than barking orders at others, work collaboratively.

Be prepared for the big interview(s)

Either during your time at the assessment centre or a later date you’ll be required to sit one or more interviews, possibly with the person or people who will be supervising you if you are accepted into the grad program. All the usual rules apply – make sure to thoroughly research the company, dress well and be appropriately engaging and self-confident. You’ll also need to be prepared to showcase your achievements and any industry experience you have, as well as demonstrating you can think logically, make important decisions quickly, pay attention to detail and organise yourself and others.

Are postgrad qualifications necessary? 

Transport and logistics don’t appear to be in the grips of the credential inflation rampant in some other industries. A recent Prosple Australia survey found that almost three-quarters of those in grad programs only had a bachelor degree. Ten per cent had an honours degree and 16 per cent had some sort of postgrad qualification. Unless you're the academic type, it’s probably best to get a few years’ industry experience under your belt before opting to hit the books again. By that point, your employer will probably be happy to pay for you to undertake further study.