You’ve graduated from university and are looking for your first job in your chosen field. It’s an exciting time, but one that can leave you feeling deflated if it doesn’t go to plan. Only a small percentage of graduates manage to secure an industry job in their first year. That’s why obtaining your first position takes the three P’s; Preparedness, Perseverance and Positivity.
By now you probably have an idea of where you want your career to go, and maybe even know what the first steps are. If not, don’t worry! A quick Google usually helps to map out a career path. The important thing to understand at this stage is that where you start is never where you end up. By looking at roles that are similar to your dream job, you’ll open yourself up to great opportunities and a wider range of experience.
First up, grab a notepad. You’re going to start by making a list of companies you would LOVE to work for. When you’ve got a good-sized list, think about why you are attracted to each of these companies. What are the common traits? This will help you define what really matters to you when deciding whether or not to join a business, and will stand you in good stead throughout the process.
Next, you should make a list of companies you really DON’T want to work for. Is there a common thread here, such as reputation or industry? Just like the companies you’re dreaming of, it’s important to understand what you don’t want from an employer. It’s temping at this early stage to take any job you can get, but you’ll soon find yourself back on the job market if it’s in an environment that you hate.
The last bit of prep before you start looking for graduate opportunities is to refine what you are looking for to kick start your career. Is it experience in a specific role? Are you looking for something generalist where you can learn a lot of new skills? Does a supportive environment appeal to you? Perhaps somewhere that offers ongoing training and development. Or you may fancy getting stuck in to a fast paced, dog-eat-dog culture because you thrive on the competition. It’s vital that you recognise your emotional and developmental needs before you start your search to keep your focus in the right direction.
Crafting your CV
We have LOADS of advice when it comes to writing your CV. And we’re willing to bet that you’ve had multiple chats with careers folks and teachers about it too. But what the academics tell you, and what people like us are looking for don’t always line up.
If you’re starting from scratch, you can grab our CV template below. It has plenty of prompts to help you get started. We’ve also written a pretty great blog (if we do say so ourselves) about the ‘perfect’ CV. Spoiler alert, the ‘perfect’ CV doesn’t exist, so don’t put pressure on yourself.
The focus of your CV should be on selling yourself, not your degree. Why would they choose you over the 100 other grad CVs they’ve received? Be confident, but not arrogant. No one likes a smart ass. If your CV looks light on experience, focus on skills and achievements instead. You can make the most of hobbies on your CV too, as they demonstrate transferrable skills. Tiktok famous? That shows you are social media savvy. Play sports? Obviously, you are a good team player. Love to paint? You must have a creative side.
If it’s relevant, why not create a portfolio? This can be as a PDF, printed or even a website. Portfolios provide a great way to show your skills and creativity, and if it is hosted online, you can link to it from your CV.
The biggest tip we can give you with CV writing is to always tweak it for each role you apply for. Look for key words in the job advert and make sure you cover those somewhere in your CV. The hiring manager will skim through hundreds of CVs every week, so you need to make sure yours stands out.
And finally, the controversial cover letter. You don’t always need them. Unless you are expressly asked to send a cover letter, we suggest that you focus on your CV and, if you are submitting it by email, to include an overview about why you want to work for their business within the email body. This needs to be bespoke to each role and company so go back to your lists. What qualities, opportunities or cultural values are they offering that appeal to you?
Applying for Jobs
Rule number one: don’t ‘spray and pray’ by sending out a ton of vaguely relevant applications. Keep your job search focused and organised. Run all opportunities you spot through your list of requirements. Do they fit the bill? Then go for it.
Keep track of what you’ve sent where, and who you’ve heard back from. It’s VERY easy to lose track! You don’t want to send your CV to the same business three different times, because, quite simply, it looks bad.
To get started, we always recommend going to your list of dream companies. Most companies don’t advertise their graduate opportunities because of the sheer volume of enquiries. So it’s time for a bit of social sleuthing. Are any of them hiring? Sometimes you can find grad roles on their ‘Work For Us’ page. If not, can you find any hiring manger information to contact them personally? Look for Heads of departments you’d like to work in, or an Internal Recruiter or Talent Acquisition person. If you can grab their email address, drop your CV into their inbox. What do you have to lose?
As well as looking for grad roles on the usual job websites, get a good relationship with a grad-specialist recruiter. Most businesses don’t pay recruiters so you’ll need to do your own work too, but having a recruiter on your side can also open up more opportunities that aren’t being advertised. Stick to one recruiter so you don’t get your applications mixed up.
Don’t pass up volunteer work or internships. Even if it’s only for a few weeks until you secure your first job, these can be a great addition to your CV and provide tangible examples of real-life experience.
Going the extra mile
Applying for jobs isn’t the only way to kick start your career. There’s so much more you can be doing to secure your first opportunity.
Join Facebook and LinkedIn groups, jump into Twitter Spaces and get stuck into Reddit communities. Go wherever the people in your desired industry are and get involved in conversations. There tends to be a lot of info sharing, and some businesses will post Grad opportunities to these places directly. Plus, social media accounts are ideal for demonstrating your expertise and passion, and show off your great work so far by building your personal brand.
But not all networking happens online. There are plenty of events across the UK that are industry-specific and free to attend. People who go to networking events love helping each other out, so start building your community early to get access to the best opportunities throughout your career. You could also look at joining an industry body, giving you access to personal development and online learning modules, networking events and even accreditations to boost your CV. Networking is a great way to find out about mentorships too. A good mentor can significantly boost your career progression; whether through advice and guidance, or sharing vacancies and introducing you to their peers who might be hiring.
Finally, don’t neglect the relationships you have already built. Maintain a good ongoing relationship with one or two of your uni lecturers, as they can be invaluable not only for references, but industry insights, and they usually have a lot of connections too. You might even find that other people on your course are able to put you in touch with the right people to kick start your career.
The best advice we can give?
Keep all your options open, never burn bridges and stick at it.
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