University graduation has come and gone and despite all the talk of it being the hottest job market in years for new graduates, you're still on the sidelines. You've sent out dozens of CVs and submitted countless applications. Still, nothing.
Panic sets in. You start to think all that study was for nothing.
With little real experience on your resume, what can you do to increase your odds of landing your dream position and to make yourself more attractive to employers?
Treat it like a job
“The best advice is simple, but job seekers rarely follow it,” said Ginger Porter, managing director of the Dallas and Atlanta offices at global communications firm Golin, in an email. “Start every day like it's your work day.”
Don’t lounge around in your PJs all day while binge-watching your favourite shows. Get dressed in the morning with the idea that you have somewhere you need to be: looking for a job.
Start every day like it's your work day
Porter suggests writing a list of every person you know, or can think of in your chosen field. These should be people you can approach who might be able to help with your job search. Ask each one of them for short coffee dates, or even a brief phone chat or email response. Don’t ask for a job.
“Talk to each of them about what you're looking for, and be specific: ‘I'm looking for a position with this kind of employer where I can use my skills in XYZ. Do you have any advice for me?’” said Porter. “People will make the time to give advice, and it’s better than booking their time to ask for a job.”
If you're meeting in person, present yourself professionally — after all, you're asking for help and possibly a personal referral. Arrive prepared with examples of how you’ve successfully used your skills in the past, whether it was for a school project or an internship. Your aim is to impress. Before you leave, ask the person if there is anyone to whom they might be able introduce you. Follow the same process with those people.
“It's an exponential effect,” said Porter. “You could potentially talk to 100 people this way, and I guarantee that out of that group of people, someone has the perfect job that fits your skills.”
Outside your comfort zone
If you are getting interviews but they are outside the field you studied and not really of any interest to you, take time to gain more work experience in your field, according to Prague-based Oliver Donoghue, managing director of the Nonstop Recruitment Schweiz AG talent agency. And that may mean taking a position slightly different than you hoped for.
“It doesn’t have to be anything game-changing. Even a brief stint at a relevant organisation will be enough to show employers that you’re serious about your career and want to gain some professional experience,” he said.
Presenting yourself on paper
If you did any internships while in school that were related to your field of interest, don’t just list them. Instead, showcase them through a portfolio of the work you did while at the job, suggested Payal Vasudeva, a managing director in Accenture’s Strategy division in the London office.
“Being able to demonstrate specific job skills, whether through an internship, volunteer work or extracurricular activities, increases your chances of landing that job,” she said in an email.
Employers will be looking for any signs that you’ve gone above and beyond the call of duty
If you need to improve your CV, consider volunteering or taking vocational courses that boost your skill set to match the demands of the jobs you’re applying for. “Employers will be looking for any signs that you’ve gone above and beyond the call of duty to improve your skill set, and gaining additional experience can make a world of difference,” said Donoghue.
There’s a simple way to do this: take training courses in digital and productivity tools, even if you aren’t going into a digital field. These tools are crucial now and into the future and therefore essential to master, according to Austin, Texas-based Sharon Schweitzer, an etiquette and cross-cultural consultant.
“We understand you know how to use Pokémon Go, but employers want to know if you have social media skills in other areas, such as Instagram, Tumblr, YouTube, and Twitter,” said Schweitzer. “Polish your technical skills.”
Once you’ve done so, show them off when it comes to your own online presence. “You are the digital natives who turn to smartphones and social media for everything, from talking to friends to shopping,” said Accenture’s Vasudeva. “As you enter this next chapter of your life in the professional world, check out job listings on career board apps. Use LinkedIn and other social channels to network and show off your expertise and industry knowledge.”
Lots of skills, little experience
If you don’t have any real work experience, consider switching to a skills-based CV, suggested UK-based Sally Walker, an international career coach with SW Career Coaching, in an email. Use the first page to lay out up to five transferable job skill headings relevant to the role for which you are applying. Under these headings, create bullet-pointed achievement statements which provide evidence of the skill.
If you are still coming up empty, consider careers on the “fringe” of your area of study
“Try to include the key action that you took as well as quantifying the results wherever possible,” said Walker. For example, under “Organisation and Planning,” you could include organising a charity event during university. Describe it in a way that highlights your achievements. For example: “Initiated and set up all of the organisation for [title of event] for 35 participants, which raised over £5,000 for charity. Involved preparing advertising materials, liaising with university grounds staff and arranging marshals.”
Networking never out of style
Networking is still a great way to get on the radar of potential employers, said Donoghue. But if you don’t have the time — or inclination — to attend in-person events, it can also be done online through platforms such as LinkedIn and Xing.
Make sure your profile is up to scratch before looking to engage with firms and hiring managers
But, be warned that there is no substitute for meeting someone face-to-face and you'll have to get out there at some point. If you do go the online route, ensure your digital presence matches across the board, from LinkedIn to your online CV.
“Make sure your profile is up to scratch before looking to engage with firms and hiring managers and that it covers your full job history and any additional experience or skills that you may have gained,” said Donoghue.
Expand your horizons
If you are still coming up empty after applying for jobs, consider careers that are on the “fringe” of your area of study. For example, at NonStop where Donoghue works, there are now team members with Master’s degrees who recruit in their fields of expertise, and there have also been recruiters with PhDs.
“The opportunities won’t always be directly connected to what you studied, and sometimes you need to take a step in a different direction to get ahead in your career,” he said.
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