Updated 25 May 2020
If you’re a graduate trying to discover useful advice that will improve your chances with job applications, it can be a minefield to find the best tips. So we thought we’d help you out by asking experts in graduate recruitment what they would recommend you should do to get ahead.
Here’s what they said:
Step one is to make sure you’re on the right track. Have you spent time considering what you’re passionate about, and which job is likely to give you the most fulfilling career?
Eileen Stephan, a Harvard Business School Career Coach and advisor for the HBX CORe Program, recommends sitting back and thinking hard. “Spend time reflecting to determine what matters most – work/life balance, job function, industry, location and compensation are just a few of the key features to evaluate at this stage.”
Rosalinda Randall, a trainer and author on workplace etiquette, believes that making a list can help you zero in on what matters most to you in a job. “Whether in your head or on paper, make a list of your top five must-haves in a job,” she advises. “Realistic, of course. I don’t mean an exorbitant starting salary, a luxury company car, or a three-day work week.
“A more realistic list would be: Do you mind a long commute? Do you prefer to work for a start-up or an established company? Is the company’s product, service, or mission statement important to you? Does the job require dealing with clients - and if so, how are your people skills? Are there opportunities to learn and broaden your skills?”
When doing this, as Randall suggests, realism is important. If you focus on roles that are unattainable, you run the risk of rejecting a perfectly good starting role. Rasheen Carbin, Co-founder of nspHire, A Tinder-style job app, agrees:
“My best tip for graduates job-seekers is to not focus on finding your dream job now. Entry-level positions are generally dull, but they are still opportunities to earn a paycheck and learn valuable skills. What's most important is that you get into the workforce and start acquiring the expertise and connections that will make you attractive in your next job.”
Don't exclude good opportunities simply because they're not your dream role.
Once you’ve honed in on an industry or role that looks like a great fit for you – and is attainable – it’s time to do some hard research. “Learn as much as you can about the field you want to break into, says Charina Flores of HR outsourcing firm Barbelo Group. “How it works, the market, who are the key players (organisations & people), culture, who do you know in that field, what kind of people thrive in that environment.”
At that point, there’s one extra important step. You need to ascertain how your skill set compares to what the industry expects from that role. “Compare your current KSA (knowledge, skills & abilities) to what the field is looking for or requires from individuals,” says Flores. “See if any of your current KSA or experiences are transferable. Determine if you need to get further education, training or experience.”
Most of the experts we talked to cited networking as the area where graduates fail to invest sufficient time and effort, and yet it can open doors you may never have realised were there for you. Joining professional organisations, contacting former colleagues, and asking your peers for an honest appraisal of your CV are all worth doing.
Flores asserts that when it comes to contacting people who work where you want to work, you’ve got to get proactive. “Reach out to people you know in the field or ask them for an introduction,” she says. “Ask them about their personal experience in the field, how they got in, how to be successful, what kind of people, skills and training are they looking for, what their typical day looks like.”
Aaron Basko, Assistant VP of Careers Services at Salisbury University, believes that what he terms ‘the informational interview’ is your best networking tool. He says: “It is tough to ask for a job, but it is easy to ask people advice. Look through your contacts for people with expertise in your desired job area. Offer to buy them coffee and ask if you can get their advice on breaking into the field. Have a list of good questions and bring your resume along for them to review. If the conversation goes well, ask them to refer you to other experts. Often you will uncover jobs through their network. Worst case, you will get great advice and new leads."
Equally, Basko urges graduates not to forget their university peers once they have left university. “All that time spent at your alma mater should pay off in more than just a degree,” he says. “Search LinkedIn for fellow graduates in your field of interest and ask for their advice and help networking. You will automatically have some common ground and they will be more inclined to assist you.”
Steve Morgan, Marketing Manager at Computer Recruiter, remembers a time when he saw a graduate being helped into a networking circle: “I was at a business networking event and someone brought a visitor along, explaining that they were a recent graduate and that they were looking for a job. The person who introduced the graduate was known by the group and they wanted to help him out, so a few of them spoke to the graduate afterwards to see what they could do. I'm not sure of the outcome, but sometimes simply showing up is enough to get onto prospective employers' radars.”
If you know someone who could bring you to their networking event, why not ask? Nothing ventured...
Networking well could give you a big advantage in your job hunt.
LinkedIn and Facebook in particular are powerful tools for graduates, since they can instantly give you access to a network of professionals that would be very hard to reach offline. Facebook may seem less obvious – but the secret here is to use groups, as Morgan explains:
“I once saw a graduate - who wanted to get into web development as a career - introduce himself on a Facebook group dedicated to the startup scene of the local area. He listed his skills and asked if anyone could help. Within hours he'd had a ton of interest: people asking for his CV, or suggesting that he did something extra-curricular to boost his CV (e.g. teaching people how to code). All it took was one quick Facebook post – but importantly it was to the right group of individuals.”
Morgan has another tip if you want to stand out from your peers: create a blog, publish your expertise, and perhaps even run your own networking events if the blog takes off:
“A guy I know started a blog covering the Welsh tech startup news scene. He's run events as an off-shoot, which gets dozens of people along. I was blown away when I found out that he was still a student, and that he's doing it all alongside his studies. He's building up his profile and getting known in the industry already, not waiting until after graduating – so when he graduates, he's already built up a portfolio and also gotten known by people who can help him get a job (or employ him themselves).”
Once you’ve landed yourself an interview or two at companies you’d love to work for, your work is only half done. Adequate preparation is essential if you’re to come across as sincere, well-informed and genuinely after the job. As Basko says:
“Often the questions you ask as a candidate give an employer more insight into your motivation and work ethic than the questions you answer. Take the time to prepare a good list of questions, focusing on what it takes to be successful in the job. Ask questions like ’What does success look like for this position?’ or ’What is your top priority for the person in this position for the first month in the role?’ Write your questions down and have the list handy for when you are inevitably asked, ‘Do you have any questions for us?’”
WikiJob has a raft of useful articles that will help you to prepare for interviews and assessment centres, including: