Embarking on a career

Identifying your ideal job and landing a position requires preparation, passion and, above all, perseverance. In other words, hunting for a job can be a job in itself

Job-hunting is a time-consuming task. According to a survey conducted by the Berlin-based Trendence Institute, on average, graduates in the UK sent out 34.4 applications before getting their first job.

As noted elsewhere in this book, there are numerous resources to call on during your search to make the whole process more effective. However, with increasing competition for each vacancy, ever fewer “jobs for life” and employees’ working lifespans getting ever longer, your most important tool is to have great job-hunting skills. And, since you will probably need these skills several times over the course of your career, it is well worth taking the time to hone them and to become familiar with all the options.


It’s all about you

The aphorism “know thyself” is the first step in choosing a career, yet it can be the most neglected aspect of job-hunting. In fact, many people apply for jobs they are not suited to and which they would find unfulfilling. So, while there are many reasons for looking for work – from necessity, to the comparative luxury of career development – knowing your interests, abilities and plans is vital to give purpose and meaning to your job search and to ensure that it results in a successful career.

It can help to view your career as a journey encompassing many crossroads, with opportunities to change direction and develop new interests and talents at life’s different stages. Invariably, there are a number of steps best undertaken at the start of such an odyssey, not least of which is the compilation of a “map” to aid planning and decision-making. So, prepare a list of your “dream jobs”, then research them to find out how and where to start. But be realistic – many television producers and directors, for example, were first employed as PAs or runners at local broadcasting stations.

The dedicated graduate recruitment website Prospects (www.prospects.ac.uk) is a good place to start, particularly its Career Planner facility. Along with sector overviews, the site also includes a thorough Careers Advice section that provides excellent CV-writing and interview tips.


Beginning the hunt

Once you’ve compiled your list of possible careers, it’s time to begin the most daunting part of the process – the job hunt itself. But remember, there are many different avenues that students and graduates can (and should) explore to maximise their chances of rising to the top of the proverbial pile.

Careers services: “If you don’t do anything else, use your university’s careers service,” stresses Chris Rea, Employer Business Manager at Prospects. A vacancy database is usually the first port of call for most student job-hunters, but don’t forget that a good careers service will offer all sorts of other resources, from careers libraries and individual advice sessions to recruiting events, industry seminars and even interview practice. Your careers office may also provide skills assessments, personality tests and employment action plans, all of which can help with your decision-making process. There will also be advice available on relevant internships and work experience, as applicable, so it pays to establish contact with your careers service office as early as possible, preferably prior to graduation.

Graduate training schemes: Graduates with little or no prior experience in their chosen field may nonetheless find success with companies that run graduate training schemes. Such schemes are becoming increasingly scarce, but there are still placements to be found in the armed forces, retailing, media companies, recruitment, accounting, engineering, and the public and financial sectors. Naturally, they are much sought after, so research the minimum entry requirements and closing dates for applications as far in advance as possible to stand the best chance of being accepted onto a scheme.

Further to your written application, you may also be interviewed by telephone and asked to carry out online tests before being invited to the organisation’s offices for a face-to-face interview. The format of the schemes varies from company to company, but generally encompasses an introduction to corporate structure and culture, on-the-job training across various departments or disciplines, mentoring support from senior management colleagues, plus potentially further tuition culminating in attainment of a professional qualification. Graduate training schemes can last for 12 months or more, at the end of which you may be offered a permanent position within the organisation.

Internships: An invaluable means of developing those all-important “employability skills” while networking with key people in one’s target industry, the internship is becoming an increasingly important recruiting tool for both employees and employers. Companies surveyed by independent graduate recruitment research group High Fliers Research expected to fill around a third of their available entry-level positions in 2015 with graduates who had already completed a work placement with them. So, those graduates without internship experience could be at a serious disadvantage.

For potential intern positions, it’s worth checking the Graduate Talent Pool online database (graduatetalentpool.direct.gov.uk).

Job advertisements: Jobs fairs, noticeboards, university publications and student forums are all prime hunting grounds for initial leads, while specific job advertisements may be found listed on websites, in national newspapers and in trade publications. Remember that these ads are designed not just to attract the best candidates, but also to act as filters to reduce the number of unsuitable applicants.

In other words, focus on understanding the description, responsibilities and nature of the role. If your skills don’t match their requirements, then don’t apply. That said, it’s always worth reading job advertisements as they may flag up an interesting company, suggest roles or locations not yet considered, or help narrow down what you don’t want – or are not qualified – to do. Read around the ads, too, researching industry trends as well as specific company news – good or bad, you’ll need to know what to expect.

Newspapers: Although the printed editions tend not to specialise in particular job sectors on certain days any more, most broadsheets still run extensive recruitment ads online. The Guardian (jobs.theguardian.com), The Times and The Sunday Times (appointments.thesundaytimes.co.uk), The Financial Times (www.exec-appointments.com) and The Daily Telegraph (jobs.telegraph.co.uk) are all worth checking. For an extensive list of local newspaper and media websites, see www.localmediauk.org.

Speculative applications: Of course, you may decide to dispense entirely with formal advertisements and approach companies directly. But make sure you do your homework first. There is little point in sending out hundreds of identikit applications to every company in one’s target sector. However, if there is a specific company whose profile really complements your skills and experience, a carefully focused CV and an engaging covering letter could easily open some doors. If nothing else, they might keep you in mind should a position become available in the future.

Online resources: The internet is the jobseeker’s friend, perhaps even the best one. Use it as a tool to search for job advertisements on dedicated careers sites as well as for other, informal sources of industry-related information, such as networking sites and discussion forums. You can also search for trade-specific sites, where consultants specialise in particular professions and industries and can be of great help to graduate jobseekers.

There are also many large, all-embracing job websites that allow candidates to post and update their CVs and to receive market updates and job news. In addition, many inform candidates of new vacancies and offer valuable information on everything from what to wear to interviews to CV structure and content. But remember, CVs should always be carefully tailored to match each job.

Networking: Rather gallingly for all those jobseekers spending their days scouring vacancy adverts, it’s estimated that the vast majority of jobs aren’t widely advertised. The “hidden market”, made up of word-of-mouth recommendations and internal advertising, makes up a large proportion of vacancies. The media, for example, is often seen as an environment where personal contacts are more important than qualifications.

But in any sector you should never underestimate the power of networking. With fewer graduate jobs available today than before the recent recession, now more than ever it’s a case of who rather than what you know. The basic principle is simple: stay in touch! Every single person you meet is a potential source of employment, so the more relationships you develop, the better the chances of nabbing that dream job.

Granted, this may conjure up a distasteful image of coolly exploiting one’s contacts to further a personal career agenda, but effective networking could not be further removed from this. Instead, think of networking as getting in touch and staying in touch – it’s about building genuine, lasting relationships with people. It’s also about being able to offer something, rather than calling in favours. In work terms, this translates as marketing your skills and strengths to people who may become prospective employers. Networking is a mutually beneficial process and can be done anywhere, from a careers fair to a crowded bar.

Online networking: This is a growing industry, with many websites, chat rooms and forums dedicated to helping people stay in touch. Used in conjunction with social networking sites – particularly business-related sites such as LinkedIn – these can help to expand a networking base and are an excellent way to improve skills, as the pressure of face-to-face interaction is removed. Basic precautions should be followed, though, when using the internet to network. Divulging personal details or CVs to unknown persons can be risky, not least in terms of identity theft, so use each site’s privacy settings judiciously and ascertain what data, if any, might be sold on to third parties (see www.safer-jobs.com for further information and advice).

Recruitment agencies: Signing up with recruitment agencies – which are paid by employers to help them find suitable candidates for vacancies – might well prove a canny tactic, particularly if you focus on the organisations that specialise in the area in which you’re interested. Even then, don’t think that submitting your CV to a handful of different agencies means that you can sit back and wait for a job to come to you. The vacancies they fill will almost always be outnumbered by the qualified jobseekers on their books. To get the most out of the service they’re offering, you should tailor your application materials to suit their requirements.

Agencies come in every shape and size – and with dizzyingly divergent standards and services (directory and information sites www.agencycentral.co.uk, www.highfliers.co.uk and www.rec.uk.com can help in whittling down your options). Certain agencies may offer exclusive access to many of those “hidden” jobs mentioned before, perhaps because they have client companies on their books that use these agencies as their sole recruitment resource. Be careful, though, when choosing a recruitment agency or consultant – jobseekers should never have to pay an agency to be matched with a company, for example. Additionally, a good consultant should never attempt to talk you into a role, so be prepared to walk away from any consultancy that tries to exert pressure.

Good recruitment consultancies interview potential candidates in depth and face-to-face. They will also clarify the services they offer and spend time discussing each candidate’s aspirations and expectations. Many consultancies also ask candidates to undergo a variety of tests, such as psychometric or skills-based exercises, before accepting jobseekers on their list. Reputable recruitment consultancies may also provide training or liaise with their corporate clients to ensure training for new graduates. Registering with several consultancies will give you a greater chance of finding employment than relying on just one. Having made contact, and after the initial or introductory procedures and tests are over, be proactive and avoid the “out of touch, out of mind” syndrome.


Job-search essentials


1. Get focused

Make sure your job search has a clear direction (or directions). Decide what sort of areas you want to work in and focus on those. Don’t waste time applying for jobs you are not qualified to do, are unsuited to, or – most importantly of all – in which you have no interest. The key piece of advice is this: know thyself, and then tailor your job search accordingly.

2. Get on with it

Don’t leave it too long to begin your search, or you’ll be running to catch up. This particularly applies to graduate training schemes, the best of which are highly sought after, with places filling up quickly. Begin your job search well before graduation and take full advantage of any job fairs, employer presentations or workshops offered by your university.

3. Get your CV sorted

Take time to work on your CV, your main lure for snaring an interview. It should be clear, well laid out and concise (no more than two pages of A4). On average, recruiters spend just 20 to 30 seconds looking at a CV, so make sure yours works as hard as it possibly can. Don’t rely on a “general” CV – carefully amend and tailor it for each job you apply for.

4. Get experience

Of course, the main problem with graduate CVs is the great gaping hole where the “experience” section should be. One of the best ways to get this filled up is to undertake an internship or work experience placement. These can help build up an array of useful skills and contacts and may even lead to a permanent position. Voluntary experience can also help your CV stand out from the pile.

5. Get some help

Remember, you don’t have to do this all on your own. There are plenty of resources out there to help you find that perfect position, beginning with your university careers service, which can furnish you with advice, contacts, skills assessments, computer access and interview practice. Recruitment agencies can also be used to help scour the market on your behalf for the most suitable positions.

6. Get networking

With the majority of positions not publicly advertised, building up an extensive database of professional contacts is perhaps the most useful thing you can do to secure yourself a job. And this is something you can do anywhere – friends and family can often provide just as many links as more formal networking opportunities such as careers events, internships, and online forums and groups.

7. Get online

The largest, most information-packed resource there is, the internet is an abundant sea for anyone fishing for a career. Explore all of the possibilities, from job boards, discussion forums and individual company careers pages to recruitment agencies, dedicated graduate sites and social networking opportunities. Obviously, you can also use the web to research the background and future plans of any potential employers in your area.

8. Get the papers

In the digital age, this may seem like a slightly old-fashioned way of hunting for jobs, but newspapers are still one of the main places where jobs are advertised. In this particular jungle, The Guardian, The Times and the online-only Independent are the big beasts, but it is also worth hunting through the local press. And to save time (and money) you can always use the papers’ online job sites, which allow you to tailor your searches.

9. Get some practice in

Your CV may be world-class and your business suit immaculate, but if you can’t confidently sell yourself in an interview, you’re going to struggle to land a position. So get practising. Interview practice will help you prepare your answers to all those standard “What are your career goals?” type questions. You can get your friends and family to help out – it’s even an idea to film yourself being interviewed, so you can work on your body language. Don’t forget to mug up about the company you’re interviewing for, too.

10. Don’t get despondent

Keep at it. You may be taken on in your dream position by your number one company within the first week of beginning your search, but chances are your quest may take a little longer than that. Stay focused and persevere. And keep track of what you’ve done – all the jobs you’ve applied for and all potential leads and job-hunting avenues.