Landing your first job can be a challenge. You may not have years of experience – but there are ways you can make yourself appear more attractive to employers. If you’re coming to the end of your studies, here’s how to improve your chances of getting that first big break.
Make the most of work placements
Many university courses offer the opportunity to take up a work placement. If your course involves a stint with an employer, do everything you can to impress. According to research by High Fliers, more than a third of recruiters planning to hire graduates in 2013 expect to employ those who have already worked for their organisations – either through internships, industrial placements or vacation work.
‘If your course doesn’t include a formal work placement, approach companies you would like to work for and ask if you can complete an internship in the holidays,’ suggests recruiter and careers coach Aimee Bateman of Careercake. ‘Make a good impression now, and that temporary work placement could turn into a full-time position.’
Expand on part-time work
Many students need to earn money while they study. Whether you’ve worked 20 hours a week during term time, or just worked during the holidays, be sure you make the most of the experience.
‘Employers like to see concrete evidence of skills and achievements – so do more than mention job titles on your CV. Talk about problems you solved, skills you used, a time where you influenced or made a meaningful contribution to the team,’ advises John Lees, career coach and author of “Just the Job!”.
Even a few months doing data entry or working in a supermarket can provide valuable experience – you just need to express it the right way.
Volunteer – in your chosen industry
Work experience doesn’t have to be paid, of course – volunteering offers many opportunities for team building, influencing and learning about the world of work.
‘Volunteer for a role associated with your course or desired industry if you can,’ says Aimee. ‘Working in your desired field is a great way to develop your skills, gain real-world experience and give something back at the same time.’
Many companies run corporate volunteer programmes – so if there is a particular employer you have in mind, it doesn’t hurt to see what projects they are involved in. Who knows, it might give you the opportunity to network with professionals they have relationships with.
What to put on your CV
Writing a CV when you’re just leaving full-time education can be daunting. You may feel you don’t have many skills, or aren’t sure what an employer finds valuable. And while you probably have a good idea of your personal strengths, you may not know how to communicate these skills to an employer.
‘Most school, college and university leavers write an upside down CV – all the important messages are at the wrong end,’ says John.
‘Too many CVs focus on recent academic success and don’t say anything about skills, know-how and achievements until page two when a rather thin-looking work history is presented. This shouts out ‘I am a student who has had the occasional job’ rather than showing that you’re ready to hit the deck running.’
Highlight transferable skills
Some academic subjects may, unfortunately, be off-putting to a potential employer – rather than just give the subject title, think of a way to sell the course so that it’s relevant to a modern workplace.
‘Busy recruiters don’t have time to make connections unless they’re obvious,’ says John. ‘Get an employer to see not just skills, but transferable skills – and they only become transferable when you communicate them in terms an employer can buy into.
‘For example, if you write that you produced a 6,000-word dissertation, you will get minimal response. If, however, you talk about the problems of gathering data, interviewing people, keeping up with the latest developments in your subject area, and working under pressure to achieve the project by a fixed deadline, then your interviewer starts to get interested. You have started to talk the same language.’
Think about activities and hobbies outside study, too. Have you organised large-scale sporting or social events? Have you played an important role as a member of a society or club?
‘Turn the experience into an identifiable skill and state your level of competence – then give examples of what you have done with these skills (e.g. leading an expedition of 10 people for a 20-mile trek).’
What have you been doing since graduating?
If you’re lucky enough to land an interview, most employers will ask what you’ve done since leaving university – so make sure you have a good response.
‘Talk about the vocational courses you’ve started or enrolled on, the careers fairs and industry networking events and seminars you’ve attended – and how those relate to the position you are applying for,’ suggests John.
An interview is your opportunity to shine – so don’t give the impression that you’re going for the job simply because it was the first to come up. Demonstrate that you’ve researched the company you’re applying to and take every opportunity to express your enthusiasm for the industry as a whole.