Success! The Eight Things That Will Land You A Job After Uni
For eight years now, Real World has been talking to graduates, career experts and entrepreneurs who have made their way into a job they love. And each of them has something to share, not least what they’d do differently if they had their time again. Here we’ve distilled these pearls of wisdom into the eight essential tips for a painless job hunt.
1. PLAN YOUR CAREER
Instead of thinking about your desired end product (a job), think about what you really want long-term. People tend to be asked to come to a decision about their career very quickly, but it’s much more productive to work out what drives them; what they find interesting; beginning with the subject areas of their educational history. Even if you think you know what you want to do – the challenge is to be sure. So, you want to work in marketing? Why? And what is marketing? And what area of it do you want to work in? And for whom? The more you can pinpoint your target; the quicker you will get there. "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 applic-ations or interviews, then what’s the point?"
Career expert Dr Peter Hawkins is the co-founder of the Graduate Into Employment Unit in Liverpool. He has founded an invaluable online resource www.windmillsprogramme.com which is available free to help graduates realise what skills they have and what they want to do. "The more clearly you define you goals and your ideal career picture, the quicker the future will come to you," he says. "If you only want an easy life, you’ll end up in a job you hate. The point is that you need to take control of your career – no one else will. Most people spend more time planning their two-week holiday than their career. Your aim should be to find your passion in a place that motivates you – and get paid to do it."
2.DO YOUR RESEARCH
What sets a company apart? When researching Britain’s
top employers, Martin Williams, of the Corporate Research Foundation, used the following criteria to determine the hottest companies to work for: the nature of the business, including back-ground, markets, company size/financial performance/number of employees; remuneration and benefits/progressive attitude/oppor-tunities for promotion/training, development and education/working atmosphere and environment. He also looked their values – what types of people would flourish there and who would not; equal opportunities including work/life balance and opportunities for individuals within the organisation such as promotion, development, training and overseas transfer. "One key question was to what extent did individuals get to manage their own careers, and how?" says Martin. "We also considered the future: where does the company want to be five, or even 10, years from now?" These are all questions which will help you decide first, whether you want to work for this organisation and second, how you can tailor your application to make it stand out. The "I’ll just send it off and see what happens" approach usually ends with a rejection. To be effective, you must tailor your CV to each job applied for. And 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 – making a huge set of claims with very little evidence… or they neglect to communicate the most interesting things in their studies or work experience. Think about what experience each employer is looking for, and focus on the skills you used, rather than the duties.
3. THINK BEYOND THE JOB AD
The majority of jobs aren’t advertised; so exclusively applying for advertised vacancies is a bad move. "The national press is full of vacancies for people with huge amounts of experience, usually based in a large city," says Steve Fish, director of Sheffield University careers service. "Graduates looking here are looking in the wrong place. They should be trying the speculative approach. And they should also seek advice on where the jobs for new graduates are advertised perhaps on their Careers Service’s vacancy bulletin." For example, Sheffield, with a number of other universities in the area, has set up Graduate Link, an online job board for graduate vacancies in Yorkshire and Humber. For more on finding the hidden job market turn to page 10 for the lowdown.
4. LEARN THE LANGUAGE OF EMPLOYERS
You have to convert all the things that you have done and responsibilities that you have undertake into a language that employers will recognise. You probably have more examples than you realise. Graduates frequently undersell what they’ve done, according to Carl Gilleard of the Association of Graduate Recruiters. "When asked ‘Have you had any work experience?’ the wrong answer is ‘Well, I have only worked in the union bar,’" he says. "Do not under value your work experience, any work experience! It all counts and even jobs you did purely for the money help you gain skills that can be transferred to a wide range of working environments. Successfully pacifying a drunken student who is demanding a last pint, five minutes after closing time, is quite an achievement." Try to quantify what you’ve done. Rather than saying "I helped out at my local school," break down what you did. "I held hour-long reading sessions with 32 children under the age of seven every morning." And don’t ramble on. Careers advisers suggest breaking down your answer into three chunks. About 15 per cent of that should be the situation or problem. The majority (about 70 per cent) explaining how you solved or dealt with the situation, and what skills you used to do that and how you evaluated it (communication, creativity, leadership). The final 15 per cent should explain the outcome.
5. UNDERSTAND WHAT CONFIDENCE REALLY MEANS
Showing self-awareness and being able to articulate and sell your abilities to an employer, not in a boastful way but by giving evidence of what you have done is a key skill, according to Carl Gilleard. He says this is the "X-factor" that employers look for. "It’s a cocktail of motivation, enthusiasm, commitment, passion and self efficacy," he says. Self-efficacy, despite sounding like a disease, is actually an individual’s estimate or personal judgment of his or her own ability to succeed, says Gilleard. "In a way, it boils down to self-esteem. If you believe in yourself then there’s a higher chance that others might also believe in you."
But confidence, it seems, is an acquired rather than God-given attribute. Psychologist Julie Unite agrees. "When people visit us for interview workshops I get them to list five strengths and underneath to write five examples of where they’ve actually demonstrated that. So it’s not just talk, it’s backed up with examples, drawing on the experiences you’ve had at university, such as positions of responsibility or group tasks. The same goes for weaknesses: you need to list what you’ve had struggles with in the past and be able to openly admit to those and be able to put this in a positive light, so you can say ‘This is how I’ve learned from the experience.’"
6. DON’T WING IT AT INTERVIEWS
We all get the basics, i.e. check the address, arrive early but not too early, don’t swear or bad mouth the employer etc. But what makes an interview go really pear shaped?
"The biggest reason that things go wrong are that graduates decide that they can wing an interview but you usually can’t," says Jenny Goddard, careers adviser at Warwick University careers service. "Sheer enthusiasm alone is not enough to get you through an interview. This is the biggest thing that students always say they’ve learned with hindsight but by then it’s too late." Lucy, now a senior recruiter, remembers being caught out at the very start of the interview. "I’d gone for the interview having done very little preparation. The recruiter asked me what I knew about the organisation, which was an IT consultancy. I told them ‘Well I was reading your webpage yesterday but I don’t know a lot’ expecting them to tell me about themselves. But they replied ‘Well, why did you apply for us then?’ It was downhill from there.
I was dead in the water but still had to drag on for the full hour."
Although it’s never clear what will happen during the interview, intensive preparation will set a candidate on the best possible footing for success. Good preparation is also the best thing to quell interview nerves.
7. GET EXPERIENCE
Start thinking about life after uni as soon as you can, advises Jessica Jarvis, an advisor for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. "It’s really worthwhile graduates spending time thinking about what they want to do and summer holidays are an ideal opportunity to get relevant work experience or a placement in an area that they are interested in," she says. "Find out what graduates are doing a couple of years ahead of you. Just don’t expect the university to hand it to you on a plate." Fiona Christie, a career consultant at Manchester University Careers Service has seen a lot of students trying to decide what to do. "Students have to do research and be prepared to volunteer and network," suggests Fiona. "If you want to work as a tree surgeon, then get some work experience and talk to tree surgeons. Are you prepared to get on the internet or pick up the phone to find out about the job? This is sometimes a test of how committed you are to that choice."
Volunteering is a great way to road test a career. Head online to websites www.timebank.org.uk or www.do-it.org.uk to check out opportunities.
8. ENJOY YOURSELF
It can all seem very scary. While employers are busily telling you how competitive the job market is and how few skills graduates actually have, your debts are mounting and the need to prove yourself in some way is a constant pressure. But ignore the noise. This is an exciting time of life, say many graduates looking back at their time at university.
"Just don’t look back and say "I wish I’d done that"," says James Bonsor, 24, who graduated in Maths from Trinity College Cambridge in 2002. He is now associate consultant for the PWC Strategy Group. "Uni is an amazing opportunity and you should really think about how you can get the most out of it."
David Bell, 22, graduated from Newcastle University in 2005 with a degree in Zoology and is working hard to establish a career in conservation. He advises: "If you don’t know what you want to does when you graduate then try to keep busy. Use your time: don’t just sit around and wait for something to come along. Try to get experience in anything that you want now while you are at uni – once you are in a career it is much harder to break free."
At what other time in your life will you be surrounded by so many opportunities for learning and development? Whether it’s clubs, societies, lectures or meeting new people the resources are all around you. You’ve just got to use them.