Looking for your first job after university can be a nerve-wracking experience. There’s hundreds of other students just like you, possibly looking at the same jobs, at the same time. You’ll probably ask yourself, ‘How can I stand out from the crowd?’
After four years teaching at university and working alongside students going through this transition, I’ve learned that many just don’t play to their strengths when applying for that all-important first job. So here are my top five tips to help you get your foot in the door.
- Internships and unpaid work experience
If your industry or profession provides opportunities for internships or unpaid work experience while you’re studying then make sure you take advantage of those opportunities. It might be difficult to juggle this with your paid work, studies and the rest of your life but I promise you it will be worth it. In today’s competitive market, employers are looking for graduates who can hit the ground running with practical skills. Internships and work experience in the ‘real world’ will give you an edge.
I’d also recommend that you complete this work for a diverse range of organisations. This will increase your flexibility, skill set and provide you with a broader perspective on the opportunities available in your industry. This is a time to keep your mind open and not restrict yourself.
Once you get an internship or an unpaid position, give it everything you can. Go the extra mile. Show up early, work your backside off and be a sponge – i.e. listen, listen, listen. Then ask questions. If you impress your employer then they’re more likely to consider you for a paid position or recommend you to others.
- Talk to people
A lot of people like to throw the word ‘networking’ around. But to me that seems like such a shallow term and very inauthentic. Instead, I recommend that you talk to people. If your industry runs social events, attend them. If there’s a professional association you can join, then join up and attend the events. Talk to your lectures and tutors about their experiences.
I’d also recommend that you’re always, always yourself. Be your fabulous and genuine self whenever you talk to people. Get to know them and share a little bit about yourself, where you want to go and what you want to contribute. Pretending to be someone you’re not because you want to impress is just not sustainable. Be you.
By talking to people you will learn more about your profession and the people who work in it. And they will learn about you. It’s a win-win situation that will help you to build connections and learn about unadvertised opportunities.
- Develop an awesome resume
Make sure your resume looks professional and don’t lie about what you can do because you will be found out eventually. I’d also recommend including all your relevant volunteer, internship or work experience.
I often see students place little or no value on their part-time jobs when they write their resume. But this is a mistake. I promise there will be elements in your part-time work that are relevant to your first professional job. For example, if you work in a call centre doing customer service then you are using systems, managing confidential information, negotiating and trouble-shooting with customers, and demonstrating your capacity to work flexible hours. It’s all about breaking down the actual tasks in your part-time role and understanding how these can be used in your next role.
Your resume should briefly summarise each of your previous roles and highlight your achievements.
- Make your cover letter count
When you see a job you want, read the key points carefully and make sure you address all of them in your cover letter/application. You will need to include examples of when you have demonstrated the skills they’ve highlighted. Be specific and succinct. A good cover letter is tailored to meet the specified requirements of the role. Try to use the key terms they’ve used in the advertisement in your letter/application as this will signpost relevant information for the employer.
- Apply for jobs you actually want
It can be easy to get a little panicky and simply apply for any job you see, even the ones you’re not really interested in and not really qualified for. This approach is not helpful and will simply mean you waste a lot of energy focusing on the wrong things.
Instead, consider and research the organisations you’d like to work for and the types of roles you’re interested in. Then realistically assess your current skills and experience and apply for the jobs you actually want. Don’t be afraid to start at the bottom (that’s where you’ll learn the most). I’d also recommend calling the organisations you’re interested in even if they don’t currently have positions advertised. This will enable you to make personal contact with potential employers, demonstrate your interest and help you to gain information about their recruitment processes and expectations.
If you found this information helpful, don’t forget to check out this week’s post by Bec Smith, Personal Stylist on getting through your first work week in style. It’s part of our weekly Monday series called Revamp your Career.
If you need help with your resume or styling for the workplace, Bec and I are offering 10% off Resume Revamp and Styling Packages until 30 September 2016. We’d love to hear from you.