If the search for your perfect job is proving unsuccessful, it could mean you need to change your strategy. John Lees is a leading Career Transition Expert and author of
numerous careers titles, and in his latest book, CAREER REBOOT (McGraw-Hill), he gives 24 tips for boosting your career in tough times.
As John explains: ‘Reboot just means re-energise and refresh and although the book isn’t specifically aimed at graduates, it’s relevant for grads who are getting stuck into their very first job search.’ John is well aware that it’s a difficult market out there, but says there are plenty of jobs still available — you just have to change the way you go about finding them. ‘People who are highly active in their job searches will do well, while people who sit back and wait for something to come along will find it difficult,’ he says.
‘Unfortunately, university life and the pressure to get a good degree often mean graduates don’t really think about their future career until a couple of weeks before their finals. That’s interesting, because when you look at continuous reviews of what graduates wish they had done differently while looking for a job, the one thing that comes up time and time again is they wish they had started applying for things a lot earlier.’
Your job search doesn’t need to take over your life, but getting early applications in and making connections are very important. Graduates often tell John they don’t know anybody, yet he says the world they have just come from is full of the most useful connections for them. ‘The problem is graduates don’t use the alumni service very well, they don’t use their network of tutors and lecturers for contacts within the industry, and they don’t use their career services very well either. They seem unaware of the wealth of connections that have been made available to them already.’
Another mistake graduates frequently make is starting their career search by looking at the degree subject they have undertaken. This means they are actively limiting the range of positions they apply for. ‘Funnelling of career by degree subject doesn’t really work at all,’ John states bluntly. ‘Increasingly, people are doing jobs that bear no relation to the subject they took their degree in. The work place changes so rapidly now there has to be more fluidity and flexibility, rather than saying there is a determined pathway you have to follow. The message is there is such a huge variety of things you can do you are going to have to make it up for yourself. I think that’s probably a good thing because it builds in a general flexibility in the labour market, but graduates find it quite daunting because it means there are 10,000 choices rather than just ten choices and how do you know what to look for in that situation? I think a lot of that is about personal matching and that is where making connections with people who have done your degree subject in the past can bring such powerful results, because you can see how people create unconventional career pathways for themselves. You can go on job boards and search via the web, but you get very poor results for your labour. It is always better to actually get out there and talk to somebody, even if it is somebody who graduated last year or someone recommended by one of your lecturers, because those are the activities that get the best results.’
According to John, much more important than looking at your degree subject is thinking about where you want to be in the future. If you want to move into a career with some status to it, then you need to get a job with a really large company early on. ‘That’s one thing graduates don’t always get. When I interview people in their early forties for boardroom positions, the first job on their CV was a graduate trainee position with a good, large company. Whether that is a formal graduate trainee position or some form of work experience with a large corporation of some type, it seems there is something defining about that kind of experience you get working for a large organisation fairly early on in your career. It has knock-on effects as far as the networks you build, but more effectively, someone else is paying you to do some sampling as you move around different departments within that organisation, finding out what you like and don’t like, and what best suits your skills. When you work for smaller organisations you don’t get the opportunity to do that much sampling.’
One way in which graduates can significantly boost their chances of getting a job is by taking a good, hard look at their CVs as John explains many of them have their CVs ‘upside down’. ‘They tend to put all the really interesting information at the bottom of the bag while at the front is all the irrelevant stuff like personal characteristics and the most recent qualification they have done. What they should be starting with is their skills and experience. Even if those skills and experience come from parttime jobs or holiday jobs, or things you did as part of your studies, those are the things that employers are really interested in. It’s very difficult to write about your own personality and sound really convincing because everybody out there is highly motivated and a team player and a self-starter! It’s all about claims and evidence — a lot of people make the claims on their CVs but then fail to show the evidence.’ Your CV should be a one-page advertisement selling you to a busy customer so make sure you are selling the best version of yourself possible!