Take the initiative. Make your mark.
It’s not easy getting started on a job hunt. The onus is on you to get out there and show employers what you are made of. Your perfect job won’t come on a plate so here’s your guide to making your mark
1) Target your job search. Repeat after us: "Millions of applications will not a job offer create". There’s no bigger waste of time than sending the same CV and cover letter to hundreds of employers. You might not know what you want to do yet, or what your capabilities are, so get some advice. Talk to your careers adviser, list what you really like doing and spend some time really thinking about it. According to research, most of us spend more time planning our social lives than planning our careers. "It’s really difficult to persuade students to spend time planning their career or even just thinking about what they’d like to do," says Valerie Metcalfe, director at the University of Westminster’s careers and student employment service. "We live in a very busy world, but it’s so important to give yourself that space to think about what skills you have and what will make you employable," she advises.
2) Browse the trade press, read newspaper archives to bone up on what the company’s public profile is. Check the website – it’s where the organisation will often have profiles of current employees. And ask people you know whether they’ve heard of the company (see 3). If you still have questions, contact the organisation and ask for information and details on what the selection process is. As one applicant says: "If you’re in any doubt, phone them up and ask whether they’ll consider you, before you spend six hours filling in one of those bloody application forms." But be sure about what you want to ask, this is your first chance to make an impression, and be aware that not all companies will deal with direct calls.
3) Network. That awful word, reminiscent of the 80s, power dressing and sweaty, big-haired salesmen "working the room, baby". But actually it’s got nothing to do with all that – it’s very simple. Talk to your family and friends, talk to careers advisers and to lecturers. Tell them what you want to do, ask if they know anyone in that company who is doing that kind of thing. Remember the ‘six degrees of separation’ theory that anyone on the planet can be connected to any other person on the planet through a chain of five acquaintances? Well that’s networking. If you’re in luck you’ll find a sister’s boyfriend’s brother’s best friend who works for a company doing the kind of thing that you want to do who will put you in contact or give you some cracking insider advice. Remember, many sexy little companies don’t use the national press. And it’s estimated that up to 80 per cent of jobs are never advertised.
4) Write a great CV. Unfortunately, having a degree is rarely enough of a selling point on its own. Luckily, there are many formats of CV you can use to sell yourself further: two of the most common formats are chronological or skills based. A skills-based CV is useful to focus attention on what you can do or what you’ve achieved, particularly if your degree doesn’t match the job you’re after or if your results aren’t as strong as the other skills you’ve gained. Remember that everything you put down is a selling point. Don’t assume that an employer will automatically pick up the messages you convey – always state the obvious and don’t try to be clever. And use the free advice on offer! Check out the online site of your uni careers advisory service: if you don’t think your uni is much use, check out Real World or some of the other university sites at www.pathfinder-one.com.
5) Blag but don’t stretch the truth too far. Stacking shelves all summer does not mean that you have demonstrated "exceptional leadership skills". What it might mean, however, is that you may be able to demonstrate that you have developed skills in time management or team working. Remember that you will be expected to give evidence to back claims you’ve made in your application. "Whatever you write may be used in evidence against you," warns Steve Norman, careers adviser at the University of Edinburgh careers service. "The employer may ask for further clarification of claims you made or you may be asked to go into more depth or come up with other examples." Use your research to target your application letter properly. Sell yourself. Aim for one page, unless they ask for more and be succinct. Employers often look for very specific competencies.
6) Be Accurate. Any errors will ensure that your CV will hit the bin before it has so much as been read. Make sure you’ve got the job title right and the company. Check names, spell check, read backwards then read out loud. Get your mum/dad/housemate/careers adviser to check it. At the moment, sloppy spelling is a top gripe for employers. You may not be Shakespeare, but a bit of time and effort can ensure that you at least can spell and your sentences make sense. Recruiters say they are constantly amazed at the mistakes that come through on CVs. "I’ve had one application from a candidate who believed they lived in Oxfordshite," said one recruiter. "Come on. It can’t be that hard to spell correctly the name of the county you live in."
7) Prepare Answers. Interviewing is hard for both the applicant and the employer. Make it easy on the interviewer, don’t force them to work for decent answers. Prepare and practise your questions. What would you say if the employer asks you: "Can you demonstrate that you can influence people?" Think up examples of times when you have demonstrated leadership skills, business skills, people skills, integrity and being proactive. If you find yourself trawling back through your days as a cub scout or a Brownie, it’s time to get out there. Do some volunteering, even for a day, and gain some skills (www.timebank.org.uk). It will boost your confidence and give you something to talk about. If you have something that you’d like to raise with the employer such as a disability, then prepare a business case, advises Valerie Metcalfe, at Westminster’s career and student employment service. "Explaining the reasons why your disability or religious belief, for example, will actually benefit the business is a great way to present an issue in a positive way," she says.
8) Feedback. Rejection is tough but shouldn’t mean the end of the line. You deserve some decent feedback. Send a polite email to ask why you didn’t get through to the next round. You won’t always get a useful response but the more polite – and the less aggressive – you are, the more likely you are to get some decent feedback.
9) That’s Not Right. There may be a time when you feel that you have been discriminated against. If you feel that it has been both obvious, and unlawful, it helps to know your rights. "Depending on the nature of the discrimination, there are various bodies who can help and advise graduates, for instance the Commission for Racial Equality or the Disability Development Agency. Citizens Advice Bureaux can also help," advises Paul Gaunt, who is diversity co-ordinator with the Association of Graduate Careers Advisers’ (AGCAS). He suggests that if a graduate feels they have been unlawfully discriminated against they should strongly consider a formal complaint/legal action, which may go before an employment tribunal or county court. "It is important to be as specific as possible about the nature of the discrimination, for example comments made by an interviewer or a discriminatory interview question," he says.