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Bitter experience

Advice, CV advice, General advice, Interview, Job hunting September 16, 2007


Bitter Experience

What are the worst job-hunting mistakes that students and graduates make? Real World lists six ingredients that will leave a sour taste in your mouth.

1 – Lazy Bones.
Not spending enough time on the application form. The "I’ll just send it off and see what happens" approach usually ends with a rejection. Laziness also means not checking applications for spelling mistakes or blatant cutting and pasting from one online application to another. Similarly, not taking enough time to research the vacancy is a classic error.

2 – Looking in all the wrong places.
Think about where you are looking for jobs. The majority of vacancies are not advertised, so you should consider making speculative applications and ask people you know if they have heard about any vacancies.

"Graduates should look for vacancies in a variety of places," says Steve Fish, director of Sheffield University careers service. "And they should also seek advice on where the jobs for new graduates are advertised such as their careers service vacancy bulletin." For example, Sheffield, with a number of other universities in the area, have set up Graduate Link, an online job board for graduate vacancies in Yorkshire and Humber.

3 – Not talking the talk.
You have to convert all the things that you have done and the responsibilities that you have undertaken into a language that employers will recognise. Just listing what you did isn’t enough.

4 – One CV will do.
It won’t. To be effective, you must tailor your CV to each job applied for. Again, a CV isn’t just a list of what you have done. Many graduates will say that they are great team-players and are highly motivated etcetera, making claims with very little evidence… or they neglect to communicate the most interesting things in their experience. Think about what each employer is looking for, and focus on the skills you used.

5 – Low motivation.
"The most common flaw among graduates is lack of motivation," says one graduate recruiter. "They haven’t thought about why they want to work for this particular organisation. Motivation is key: part of what makes you successful in a job environment is that you really love what you do – if you don’t get that sense from a candidate in applications or interviews, then what’s the point?"

6 – Rushing ahead of yourself.
Instead of thinking about your desired end (‘a job’), think about what you really want long-term. People are told to come to a decision very fast, but it’s much more productive to work out what it is that drives them; what they find interesting; beginning with the subject areas of their whole educational history. Even if you think you know what you want to do, the challenge is to be sure.What are your aspirations? So you want to work in ‘marketing’? Why? And what exactly is marketing? And what area do you want to work in? And for whom? The better you can pinpoint your target, the quicker you will get there.

Are employers faking it?

How to cut through the corporate blurb.

A few years ago, Real World interviewed a graduate with a blue chip on her shoulder. Vick Povey, a former accountancy trainee, had quit only a few months into her first job. "It left a lot to be desired," she told us. When [I was] in the office all I did was photocopy or write the occasional covering letter without having any real responsibility. In the milkround they talked about hands-on client contact but in my time there I didn’t meet a single client."

This was a classic case of a company overselling its opportunities. But sometime at the start of this decade graduate recruiters realised the real problem facing them is not attracting graduates. It’s getting them to stay. "We were getting maybe about 10,000 applications a year," Accenture told us." Quite often they were from people who didn’t really know what management consultancy entails. Then in the marketplace there was very little differentiation between employers: you’d find they’d say ‘we offer steep learning curves’ or ‘we’ll fast track your career. We decided to say ‘this is what it’s really like’." But not every employer is so enlightened. "I don’t think students totally believe our marketing material anyway," argues one graduate recruiter. "If we started being more realistic about the level of responsibility graduates initially get, they’d think it was even worse than that."

So don’t think that you’ll be able to obtain everything you need to know from the recruitment blurb. Nearly every company is an Investor in People and nearly every company has great sounding corporate values. But in practice there is a wide range of corporate behaviours, many of which might not suit your needs.

The best way to cut through the fluff is to use the inside track – to get work experience or talk to a friend or family member who has worked with the organisation. Also look at alternative sources such as trade magazines and some of the top 100 or best company lists, which will tell you graduate turnover. Then use any face-to-face interaction such as job interviews or employer presentations as an opportunity to ask probing questions.

Make sure you ask realistic questions that haven’t already been answered in the recruitment literature . And think long term: what will this job offer you in six months time?

Comments are closed.

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