With only 57.4% of young graduates being employed in high-skilled* roles it is imperative that you conduct your job search and application strategy in the most productive and effective way to ensure you are ahead of the pack when it comes to securing your dream role. It’s time to take a look at your job searching strategy with our little help from our recruitment experts.
Searching for a graduate role
1. Don’t get caught up following the crowd
Your job search should be very personal to you, so a template ‘graduate’ approach is not likely to make you stand out from the crowd. Even though one CV or interview approach has worked for one of your peers it may not work for you. You need to think about you as an individual, take into account your personal strengths and weaknesses, draw on your own experiences and career aspirations, all the things that make you unique.
2. Look beyond the job title
Job titles can be very misleading. We know of several instances of “Head of” titles being the head of nothing, although the title sounds impressive it is unlikely to be a fulfilling position if you wanted to manage a team and set the strategy. Try to look past the title and get into the nitty gritty of the role and the company, if the role is not quite what you want but offers you a stepping stone to your perfect role within the organisation, it is certainly worth considering. Also consider what titles are appropriate for the degree and experience you have. Some roles are considered boring, especially those which are perceived to be largely admin based, these however can be long term career moves, in HR and compliance for example.
3. Use social media to your advantage
Social media is undeniably a great tool for graduate job seekers to use in their search. There is a huge amount of useful content out there and a vast number of ways to connect and network with some key people within a company or sector. The only downside is you can become so submerged in things you lose focus and become overwhelmed. So, as part of your strategy you need to think about which channels you’re going to use and what the objective is for using that social platform.
For example, if you’re looking for a job in law, LinkedIn would be a good social platform to use, especially by following the company pages of firms you’d like to work for, this is also true of Twitter and even Facebook, you’ll often see tweets and updates on roles available before they hit the job boards. On the other hand if you’re looking for a job as a designer then using Instagram or Pinterest would probably be more useful to you, especially as a way to showcase your talent.
4. The marmite of job hunting, networking!
Love it or hate it you’ll find networking is a necessary evil when it comes to landing a job, especially your first step on the career ladder. Your starting point is to network with your peers, you never know who your friends know! Attend graduate events and network with employers and business associates who have the power and connections to open doors for you. There are lots of graduate recruitment events usually offered directly by your university or some of the country’s top organisations so it is important to show your face and mingle with these influencers.
5. Be honest and realistic with yourself
You need to be realistic about what you can offer a new employer, although you have academic credentials you’re unlikely to have a lot of hands on experience at this stage. It can be tempting to run before you can walk and apply for really challenging and high powered roles from the offset but do you really have both the skills and experience to be able to offer value to an organisation? It does pay to aim high but it can be a risky strategy if you over promise and under deliver. That doesn’t mean you won’t get there but you need the right experience under your belt to take on the challenge and excel so apply for a suitable role in a company you want to work, once you have your foot in the door you can work your way up the ladder to where you want to be.
6. Using your peer and professional network
Yep, it’s that important we thought we’d talk about it some more. Many of the best jobs people find are the ones not advertised but found through networking or using current connections to get a foot in the door. Networking can not only help you find a job but can also help you with your interview research and preparation, arming you with insider information to help you really stand out.
There’s a great guide to networking from the Guardian to help you get started. And remember networking can come in many forms, it doesn’t always have to be at official networking events or formal business meetings, start with your existing network, your friends, family, work experience or interim placement employers and reconnect with them all in the digital or real world.
7. Take time for yourself
We know it can be stressful looking for your first job. It can almost consume your life until you feel you may have something lined up, by which time you’re too burnt out to give your best. It’s important when you’re job seeking to take time out to relax and find some respite with your family and friends.
Be strict with yourself, don’t let your job hunting take up more than a working day, take regular breaks, eat lunch, go for a wander and at 5.30pm turn off your computer and carry on with your life just as you would if you were in employment. The weekends are also off limits for job hunting, if you think about it the HR or recruitment agencies won’t be reading your application until Monday at the earliest so there really is little to gain. You’ll also have to fight to be seen amongst all their spam, the best time to apply for a job is on either a Tuesday or a Thursday around 10am.
8. Seeking the unadvertised job, take the lead
It’s estimated that almost 80% of jobs are never actually advertised so it’s understandable that advertised jobs get so many hundreds or even thousands of responses, especially from graduates who are all competing for roles at the same time. It’s time to take the initiative, stop waiting for jobs to be advertised and look at a more proactive approach.
Start by making a list of the companies you would like to work for, be realistic, we’d all like to work for Google but for the majority of us it will never happen. It needs to be a company where they recruit for the kind of roles your skillsets and degree suit. Follow and research these companies through their website, digital and social media channels so you get a feel for the organisation, job roles, culture and the management team. You’re then ready to pitch yourself, send your CV and covering letter directly to the HR manager or senior management team outlining your skills and experience, and why you think you’d be a good fit for the company, refer to their culture or some snippets you’ve learnt from following their channels, not in a stalker way, just to show you have a genuine interest in the work they do.
If you don’t receive a response or get a standard reply don’t throw in the towel be patient and keep watching the information they put out. If there is a press release announcing a new product line or a big new customer for them, this will be a time they’re looking to grow so you can get back in touch before they start actively recruiting.
9. Stand out – be different but be yourself
You want to stand out from the crowd, and the graduate recruitment market is very crowded, so what can you do to be different? Advertise on a billboard, sorry, that’s already been done, you need something unique and perhaps topical to make you leap frog over your graduate competition. This obviously depends greatly on the role you’re applying for but we’ve seen CV’s as infographics, made to look like the product a company makes, sewn CV’s and personal CV websites. There’s a great little app called branded.me that allows you to take your LinkedIn profile and turn it into a website, give it a go.
Yes, you may not get an interview straight away but you’ll have been noticed which is half the battle. Your aim is to get a foot in the door and be invited for an interview, and then you can really shine.
10. Use a specialist recruitment agency
Lots of recruitment agencies work exclusively with certain companies so they may be your best route in. It’s important to try and get to speak to and know the recruitment consultant who deals with your area of expertise. The send and pray approach won’t work here if you’re looking to stand out from all the other graduate CVs they will be receiving on a daily basis. Use LinkedIn to find and connect with the right recruitment consultants, try to speak to them and if possible go and meet them so you’re front of mind when a new job becomes available.
11. Network, network, network – we just thought we’d mention it again!
Some additions to your CV?
12. Using your skills and knowledge as a volunteer
If you’re struggling to find a lucky break in the sector you want then consider offering your knowledge and skills for free. It’s good for the soul and can have major benefits for your CV and job prospects. Employers are always keen to see you have ‘get up and go’ and can utilise your skills and remain busy. It looks much better on your CV to see that you are using your skills rather than huge gaps of doing nothing but watching daytime TV. You just need to pick something that suits your degree, knowledge and offers value to a charity or organisation, for example a designer could help with a charities marketing or a developer could help work on an app for an organisation.
13. Can you use your skills to freelance?
When you’re looking for your first job, the one that offers you a step on the career path you want to follow, it’s sometimes easy to become blinkered to the world and forget to look at the bigger picture and your longer term goals. By taking a more flexible approach to your thinking you can be earning money, adding to your CV and showcasing your talents by freelancing. You may like it that much you’ll choose to stay self-employed. It’s obviously not relevant for all degrees but freelancing is a great way to add practical skills and knowledge to your academic experience, there are other advantages, it keeps you busy, it’s a good way to grow your networking opportunities, it will look good to prospective employers and you can still earn an income.
If you’re looking to find freelance work, a couple of great places to start are Peopleperhour.com and UpWork.com (formally oDesk.com) these sites allow you to create a profile to showcase your skills. Organisations and other individuals can simply search for your skillsets and contact you through the website.
If all you really want to do is get into full-time and permanent employment just make sure the demands of freelancing don't get in the way of your real ambition. On the flipside, if you find you’ve created a nice little freelance business and you’re enjoying yourself and making money, congratulations you’re a graduate business entrepreneur.
A few pointers on interview technique
14. Yes, it’s great to be social but …
You’re students, we get it, you like to let your hair down and have a good time. That’s great but your potential employer doesn’t need to see that side of you, not until the Christmas Party!
It’s now reported that over 90% of employers use social media as part of their recruiting and selection process, so the content you share on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or any other social platform will help your potential new employer form an opinion of you before you’ve even met them for an interview.
You need to ensure your social media profiles are employer friendly, this is especially true on LinkedIn, and you’ll need a profile photo that positions you as a professional, not a party animal. Although privacy settings go a long way to protect your content, it’s better to be safe than sorry. As a general rule, if you wouldn’t show your Nan, don’t post it!
15. Having a positive attitude
There’s one big mistake that graduate job seekers seem to be making more and more, there’s a lack of positivity in their approach to interviews. An interview is a sales meeting, you’re selling yourself and the company is selling a role, it’s not a first date, you’re not there to learn a little more about each other. You need to be prepared to walk out of the room with the job, sale confirmed. The way to approach things is to be well prepared, do your research and show yourself as a formal professional who is there to land a new job. Confidence is key, not to be confused with arrogance.
16. Be prepared to show your qualities
It’s fairly common for interviewers, especially those interviewing graduates or students to focus on key competencies, basically the skills and the attitudes needed to be successful in the role. Interviewers are trying to follow a structure to allow you to show those qualities. The questions should be answered honestly using examples either from your study or background that highlight those competencies. It’s really important to have thought about this before the interview so you can have some ready-made examples on the tip of your tongue. You’ll need to go through your CV so you know it like the back of your hand and recall your achievements and areas of learning. You’re likely to be asked about what you have learnt from certain experiences, what you would do the same and what you would do differently so be prepared to shine.
17. The personal appearance of a newly qualified professional
We all do it, it’s human nature, we make snap decisions on people without giving them a chance to really show us who they are. An interviewer is no different so you don’t want to fall at the first hurdle, within the first 2 minutes of the interview, the interviewer will already have formed a judgement of you and your suitability for the role – make sure it is a positive one. You need to put your student ways behind you. You’re always better off over dressed rather than under dressed as the saying goes and even if the company has a more casual feel interviewers often want to see how candidates polish up on a good day – so get that suit pressed, and shine those shoes!
18. Body language
Research shows that over 50% of communication relies on body language. Many graduates shoot themselves in the foot during interviews without realising that they are sending out negative signals. There are several issues to avoid, we’ve covered some of the common one’s below:
Areas to concentrate on include:
- Walk slowly, deliberately and tall when you enter the room.
- Smile – show the interviewer that you are open, friendly and confident
- Maintain good eye contact
- Try not to cross your arms in front of you too much.
- Don’t fidget or fiddle with your hair, watch or earrings, it makes you look nervous.
The main point is to ensure that you are relaxed and confident and the best way to ensure this is thorough preparation.
19. Swap seats with your interviewer, not literally!
By looking at the interview from the other side of the desk, it is much easier to understand what the interviewer is looking for, and therefore to tailor your answers to what is needed.
The interviewer will have 3 main considerations:
Ability & suitability
There are plenty of graduates with the right qualifications and skills to do the job. On paper, the interviewer may have little to help differentiate between candidates. Look at the role that you are applying for and list all the technical skills and personal traits that are vital to the job. Then pick out specific examples from your studies or past experiences that highlight these qualities.
The key is to try and make life easy for the interviewer; specifics will always win over generalisations as they prove to the interviewer that you have what it takes to do the job well.
You may have the right credentials to do the job but the interviewer needs to know if you are the sort of person who will go the extra mile in order to help the team succeed. Have examples ready of when you went beyond the call of duty.
Any time a company or organisation is recruiting it’s because the employer has a problem of some kind that needs solving. Look at the job description and decide what problems will need to be solved by the person who gets the job. Again, go through your CV and prepare examples of when you overcame similar problems. Pay particular attention to your approach to the problem, your thought process in tackling it, how you went about solving it and the outcome of your actions and be honest if there are things you’d do differently, it’s good to show you’ve learnt from your experiences.
20. Finally, killer questions you can ask as the interview closes
Ask most people what is the worst part of a job interview is and they will tell you it's the bit where the interviewer says “so, have you got any questions?” You know you have, they are on the tip of your tongue, but you find yourself smiling and saying “No I think you've covered everything”. There are always questions you can ask an interviewer, however well they have covered things, and then there are what we call the killer questions!
- Why did you choose to work for this company?
Asking the interviewer what first attracted them to their role in the company will give you an insight into the organisation and its culture. They will be happy to discuss what appealed to them as after all they should want it to appeal to you as well.
- Will you be my direct supervisor/line manager?
In a perfect world everyone would be interviewed by their direct superior, but far too often this isn't the case. If it turns out the interviewer won't be your supervisor then ask them who will be.
- What processes do the company use to evaluate my performance during the probation period?
This is a great question as it not only shows you are really interested in the company you also want a heads up on how to excel. Managers didn't get where they are by not having a few tricks up their sleeve and by knowing from the outset what you are being scrutinised for gives you every chance of passing your trial and becoming a permanent employee.
- What training programmes will be I eligible for?
This questions tells them from the off that you want to better yourself and grow within the company. It makes you seem ambitious and enthusiastic, two big ticks in boxes when it comes to interviews.