Let’s face it - higher education doesn’t exactly bridge the gap between academia and real world demands. These days, thousands of millennials are drowning in student-loan debt or feeling highly under-utilized in the workforce. In order to combat that excruciating catch-22 “you can’t get experience without having experience,” lots of fresh graduates hope that even more education will help them figure out what they want to be when they grow up.
It wasn’t too long ago when I was a fresh-faced graduate straight out of university. At this time the prospect of finding my first job was as exhilarating as it was daunting, and I was impatient to get my foot on the ladder. I’d worked part-time jobs since I was fifteen and had undertaken 6 internships, but I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, let alone how to actually go about finding my dream job.
A few years later and I’m pursuing a career in an industry I love, as a Content & Community Manager at a market leading Digital Recruitment agency in London. As with most things in life, there are several things that I wish I’d known when I was starting my job search, so I thought it was only fair to share my top tips for starting your career that they don’t teach you in school!
1. Get As Much Experience As You Can
Take control of your career by getting a broad range of experiences early on. Part-time jobs, internships and volunteer positions can help you discover what career would suit you whilst developing some useful technical, soft and transferable skills. As soon as you’ve gained some experience, add it to your CV or resume, and be sure to highlight any notable achievements during your time there. These things might seem insignificant to you, but to an interviewer these details can provide a more rounded picture of “you” and what you have to offer than your academic qualifications.
Employers are much more interested in real-world experiences than fluffy, speculative statements, so if your goal is to get as much experience in your field as possible try to find a role or internship that gives you a wide range of exposure.
2. Be Strategic When Looking For Your First Job
The first step is to identify the best possible first jobs for you. Don’t worry about choosing your long term career at this point – think about your first job as a means to accomplishing a specific goal. If you graduated with a general degree and aren’t sure how it relates, that’s ok.
Approach this first job search through a self-exploratory lens to help you better understand your likes and dislikes. What duties and responsibilities do you enjoy and naturally gravitate towards? What entry-level job would help you develop specific skills that you’d need for your future dream job?
Whilst researching all of the new and exciting jobs out there, you might want to consider whether any of The 10 Most Promising Jobs of 2015 would be a good fit with your strengths and aspirations. Don’t worry about whether you have the required experience. At this point your skills set is much more malleable than you think and your interviewers will be basing their hiring criteria on potential, enthusiasm, adaptability and determination to learn.
3. Don’t Commit To More Education Before Mapping Out A Career Plan
Don’t invest in more higher education until you’re sure it aligns with your long-term career plans. Believe it or not, your degree usually doesn’t translate into the dream job you envisioned at university, so it’s best to hold off before committing to more years of school. Once you’ve done that, write down your goals, and be honest with yourself: Is a higher degree required in order to take you to your final destination or could you get there sooner with online courses, night classes or certifications?
4. Seek Out Experts To Guide Your Career Journey, Not Just Mom and Dad.
Despite their best intentions, family and friends don’t make the best career counsellors. It’s unlikely that they’d be able to consider the entire range of positions on the job market today, and will therefore only suggest you pursue one of the ‘traditional’ careers such as lawyer, doctor or teacher. Because your parents will naturally want what’s best for you, their advice will come from a place of emotion rather than logic and will be completely biased.
Take control of your career decisions by seeking out experts for advice. Do some research, get on LinkedIn, and start networking! If you find an expert or thought leader who works in the field you’re interested in pursuing, ask them how they achieved their success.
You should also submit your CV to a few graduate recruitment agencies that recruit for clients in the industry you would want to move into, and make sure you check out their website and LinkedIn Company pages before sending over your CV or responding to a job ad. After speaking with a few recruiters, select one of two that you trust and seem to truly understand who you are and what you’re looking for. Recruiters can be excellent career coaches, so feel free to ask for advice relating to your CV, interview and longer-term career objectives.
5. Spring Clean Your Digital Profile
In addition to networking and getting face-time with as many career mentors and potential hiring managers as possible, you should think carefully about your digital footprint and what it says about you. This is the time to cleanse your Facebook, Twitter and Instragram accounts of those slightly risqué photos and posts and create an allstar LinkedIn profile.
Bear in mind that cleansing your social media profile doesn't mean removing all traces of your personality. You want employers and recruiters to gain a well-rounded picture of you and what you can bring to the table, which includes your interests, values and individuality.
For graduate hires in particular it's 'who you are' that is generally more important that 'what you've done', so this excercise is about showing them the best possible image of 'you'.
6. Don’t Get Despondent When The Offers Don’t Come Through
Armed with my degree in English Literature from a world-class university, I was naive to think that the perfect entry-level job in Marketing would fall into my lap. It didn't, and it was only after a year of working in Recruitment that I was able to further develop my commercial acumen, communication skills and understanding of the job seeking process in order to find a more effective way to change career paths and return to my original long-term aspiration.
If you’re not getting any interviews, think about how your CV might be letting you down. Did you tailor the CV to the role and employer? Was there any experience you forgot to mention? Does that pesky summary section need re-writing? If you’re not getting the job offer after the interview, try to find out how you could have interviewed better. If you maintain a pragmatic approach to your job search, you’ll get better and better at selling yourself to potential employers until you get that offer.
Remember, it's ok to be unsure what career you want to pursue. It's ok to worry you'll never find that dream job. Everyone has been there before! But if you follow these six strategies you should not only find it easier to find that golden opportunity, but you should also learn a lot about yourself and what you want from your career and be armed with the know-how to find success at every step until retirement.
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