You’ve gained all the qualifications you need to work in your desired profession, you’ve set your heart on your dream job but when you start to apply for jobs, you don’t get the reaction you expected. You might not even get invited to interview.
What are you doing wrong? Whether you’re a school leaver or a PhD student, there are always ways to make yourself more employable. And with more people gaining academic qualifications than ever before, it’s often what you do outside of education that makes your CV stand apart from the crowd.
So, what can you do to improve your chances of landing a job? You don’t need to travel to the ends of the earth to discover the secret of impressing a prospective employer. In fact, making a small number of changes can make all the difference in transforming you from a wallflower into a tall poppy.
Here are a few:
1. Do as much work experience as you can. With the most in-demand employers, landing a plumb internship can sometimes be as difficult as getting a job so you may need to think laterally. Rather than asking to shadow the Creative Director, start with a week of work experience in the mailroom. Once you’re in the building you can start to network and make contacts. Employers will often be more impressed with strivers who start on the bottom rung and get themselves noticed. If you can’t get into that FTSE100 company, start with a local SME that operates in a similar space. Young people on work experience placements in smaller companies are often given more to do, greater responsibility and, as a result, their experience is better.
2. Volunteer. If you can’t find an employer that will give you work experience, do voluntary work in your local community or with a national organisation or charity like the National Council for Voluntary Service (NCVO), the Royal Voluntary Service (RVS), Oxfam or Save the Children. These groups are always looking for helping hands for work that is often highly rewarding. Spending your holiday time volunteering, learning new skills and meeting new people will do wonders for your self-confidence as well as impressing future employers.
3. Research. Learning about the company or industry you want to work in will improve your chances of employment no end. Being able to articulate why you want to work in a particular field, referring to evidence that you have sourced, will demonstrate your commitment as well as showing that you’re diligent and organised. Sending an email or a letter to senior figures in your target industry, politely asking to pick their brains, will not only improve your understanding of how things work, it will also extend your list of contacts. Going into an interview and being able to drop into conversation that you’ve discussed an important issue with the CEO of Consolidated Widgets will do your chances no harm.
4. Work on your CV. Your curriculum vitae is your first and, if it’s bland and uninspiring, your only opportunity to impress. Employers looking to fill a job for which there is a big demand will often have to sift through hundreds of CVs, most of which will be formulaic and unremarkable. Make yours stand out by giving it an unusual presentational style. Ultimately it will be the content of the document that will impress, so give some thought to what you can add. If you’re seeking to land your first job, there’s not much you can do about your lack of experience, but you can tailor what you’ve done to the role you’re going for. If you’re going for a job in science/technology, try to think of science experiments you did at school that might be relevant. If you’re going for a role that requires good communication, think of all the ways in which you’ve had to communicate effectively, in writing or speech, at school or university. What hobbies and extra-curricular activities have you taken part in that taught you new skills? Anything you can add that shows your ability to lead, for example as the captain of a sports team or leader of a Scout pack, will always be valuable.
5. Polish your social media presence. Before offering anyone an interview, most employers will pore over the social media accounts of job applicants. While your CV is a representation of how you’d like others to see you, your social media footprint is generally a better guide to who you really are. Posts you made long before you ever contemplated applying for a job in the Diplomatic Service, may come back to bite you. Mobile phone snaps of you drunkenly carousing at a student party in first year may have seemed hilarious at the time but when viewed by a prospective employer might not seem so clever. Of course, no-one imagines they’ll be employing a saint, but it’s worth going through your timeline and removing anything you feel might be damaging enough to prevent you from landing a job. A general tidy-up is recommended whoever you are and it’s always worth ensuring that whatever claims you make in your CV are not contradicted online.
Eddie Finnigan is Founder and Managing Director of Two Rivers Recruitment, specialising with the Aerospace, Engineering and Business Support sectors for permanent and temporary staffing solutions across the UK and overseas.