People will go to great lengths to get in early. Sometimes that’s sleeping on a footpath to get a new phone. At the other end of the scale, it means not waiting around for an invitation and getting a head start on something important. We look at some times when ‘first in, best dressed’ is the most true—though maybe not for the reasons you’d think.
MAKE MORNINGS COUNT – THE WAYS OF THE EARLY BIRD
This isn’t a simple case of getting up before the sun does and suddenly being a success. Hands up night owls who hate being asked rhetorical questions at 7.30 am like ‘not much of a morning person, are you?’ as you struggle to focus your eyes and speak using complete words. Likewise for early birds who have to insist to friends that being tired at 10 pm doesn’t mean they ‘hate fun’.
The truth is, everyone peaks at different times of the day. Health and sleep researchers have acknowledged this by defining ‘chronotypes’—different groups of people who, on average, are more likely to get up early (or stay up late).
Throw a school or work day into the mix, and it starts to get hard for the late-risers. “Social jetlag”, they call it: that feeling of tiredness and dissociation night owls get from waking up hours before what feels natural to them. It makes it hard to recommend early morning rituals to people who are probably already struggling in the morning.
TRAIN BEHAVIOURS, NOT ACTIVITIES
Dr Shamika Almeida concurs. She researches and teaches human resources and employee wellbeing at the University of Wollongong. She thinks that some of the underlying behaviours of early risers are the real treasures.
“It’s more about what early risers are not doing: they’re not procrastinating. And rather than trying to do ten different things, they’re focused on what they are doing right at that point in time. This is a key concept of mindfulness and presentism, which is very important to my work in wellbeing.”
And there’s the thing: you don’t have to be running 10 km before school to be like an early bird. Whenever you do get up, if you start your day straight away (even with little rituals: the cup of tea, the five-minute workout, the news headline catch-up) you could be happier right now—and more employable later.
EARLY BIRD GETS THE … JOB?
“Australia’s moving away from manufacturing industries to service industries,” says Dr Almeida. “These are businesses where innovation, creativity and risk-taking flourish. At Google they’re not telling people to clock in at 9 and leave at 5. They don’t care, as long as employees achieve their KPIs and get things done.”
The good news for night owls is that Dr Almeida thinks more institutions will move away from traditional schedules in the future—but maybe don’t hold your breath.
“It will be a cultural change to move away from narrow-minded traditional 9-to-5 thinking. But trying to put everyone into a box, that’s not how the young generation works. They need flexibility and trust to do their jobs.”
WORK EXPERIENCE – THE EAGER BEAVER
What’s the difference between your job and your career? Your job is what you’re doing right now, and your career is everything you’ve done beforehand—and where you’re headed next. As far as careers go, there’s no such thing as starting too early. That’s part of why more and more universities worldwide are including ‘practical learning opportunities’, that is: the chance to chalk up some experience applying knowledge to real situations.
The Graduate Careers Australia’s annual report on graduate recruitment practices sources employer perspectives on the calibre of candidates. The October 2014 survey found that of the 240 organisations who responded, 1 in 5 employers ranked work experience as a key selection criterion, with 1 in 2 ranking communication skills as the most important criteria.
Director of UOW careers service Martin Smith is an industry veteran, with a long history in the careers counselling game. He’s strongly behind work early work experience as a way of getting employers’ attention.
“Here at Wollongong we now have an internship subject for credit, part of a conscious effort to strengthen internship opportunities at UOW. A recent graduate of this subject told us it was the most important and valuable subject they had done at UOW, which really bears out what Graduate Careers Australia says about work experience.”
NO SILVER BULLETS
Recruiter Hayley Goldspring qualifies this praise with practical advice: experience alone won’t get you a job if you can’t sell it to a future boss.
“How useful an internship depends on what the candidate has taken from the program. If an individual has the right drive and is able to articulate the experience at the interview, then those programs can be a real positive.”
“But I’ve seen a range of individuals over the years, and no matter how experienced someone is: nerves and preparation play a large role in interview performance.”
EARLY UNI OFFERS – TOO IMPORTANT TO WAIT
Many Australian universities offer early offers schemes where matriculating high school students can secure a place in a course before everyone receives their ATAR and places are allocated in the main offer round. The University of Wollongong Early Admission program works this way, making offers based on student’s senior high school performance—they go into the HSC knowing they have a place at uni. So what’s the catch?
Other than having to put together an application, there isn’t one, really. Early Admission students tend to fit in as well as people who come through main round, with the added benefit of a more relaxed, more focused HSC experience. UOWs’ Associate Professor Rodney Vickers has seen plenty of Early Admission students come through his faculty and do perfectly well.
“As a cohort, Early Admission students are prepared for university study. Looking at our students, my data shows that a higher ATAR means a higher weighted average mark at university, but that’s not always the case.”
That’s why when looking at Early Admission candidates, assessors look deeper with an interview, and as in job searches, it’s important to give it your best.
“If a candidate doesn’t have stellar marks, that’s where the interview can make a big difference. We’ll ask them if there’s something they’re particularly proud of, anything that demonstrates their engagement. I remember back in my uni days, you could tell the mechanical engineers—they’d be the ones with a disassembled motorbike in their rooms! The electrical engineer was the one with the homemade stereo on the shelf. We’re looking for that mix of aptitude and passion.”
WHAT DO THE NUMBERS SAY?
At the University of Wollongong, Early Admission students in A/Prof. Vickers’ faculty in 2013 and 2014 had slightly higher average marks and slightly better subject completion performance than students who came through main round offers. The differences—1.85% higher marks and 27% better completions on average—aren’t staggering in themselves, and can’t be directly attributed to early offers, but they do bear out what UOW says about Early Admission: that people who do well in relevant subjects in high school are ready to perform at uni.
STRESS LESS, DO BEST
Second-year law student Hannah Woods can attest to the psychological benefits of less stress in the HSC—in her case, it meant better marks (because she wasn’t stressing about marks).
“I think I went a lot better in the HSC than I would have otherwise, just because I had that confidence. I wasn’t in the exams thinking ‘Oh my God I need that mark’. I could focus on what I was doing instead of worrying about university places.”
“Come ATAR day I didn’t have a care in the world—and I actually did much better than I thought. I really noticed the difference in my HSC exam results. They were much better than my assessment results I’d been getting throughout the year.”
WHAT’S THE TAKEAWAY?
As far as academic performance at uni goes, there’s good evidence that Early Admission students are on equal footing with students who come through main round offers. Anecdotally, Early Admission students report lower levels of stress (and sometimes higher performance) during their HSC exams, as well as better planning focus in the weeks that follow.