How to get your first job after university

First Job

Finding your first job after university is really difficult for many students. Without experience, employers are less likely to hire you – but there are ways to make your resume look better and increase your chances of getting that first job.

Update your resume

No employer wants to know what your chores or first part time job was in early high school. They’re much more likely to focus on what you studied at university, what jobs and actual work experience you’ve had recently. Make it easy for employers by making headlines so they don’t need to spend much time on your resume.

  • Include your name and contact details so that the can get in touch.
  • Have your degree and major easily identifiable near the top of your resume.
  • Then list your most relevant experience – preferably in chronological order. If this is an internship at a competitor, then so be it. The employer will look from the top down, so make sure you impress early.
  • It’s great if you can include initiatives that you have started yourself. If you started a car wash, dog walking business that’s great! You’re demonstrating initiative.
  • Include volunteering, sporting or theatre commitments.
  • Don’t forget to list at least two – but preferably three – referees. And make sure that you have informed them that they may be called (and for what job). Don’t include family members.

Consider interning

Bad experiences for interns have been pretty well document in the last year or so. One intern having died  does not encourage employers or potential interns from undertaking an internship.

However, there are some good opportunities out there. Some employers are willing to give you the experience and train you properly.

If you are given the opportunity, it will give you that experience needed to get your first paid job. And if they are a reasonable sized employer, they may be willing to offer you a job straight after your internship finishes.

Finding the right employer isn’t easy – you will need to do some research. I would certainly stay away from Gumtree, though!

Lower Expectations

Don’t apply for the General Manager or CEO position. You’re starting work, and you will be on the very bottom rung of the corporate ladder. Even if you’re the smartest, most amazing person you will not simply saunter in to any business and start with any serious responsibility. Unless of course, you’re related.

Look for graduate positions and starting positions that are willing to accept those with limited experience. If a position advertises wanting 6 months or (up to) 2 years of experience, then try your luck. Should they have a weak pool of applicants you may be in for a chance. Obviously your chances are improved if you’ve done some interning in the industry.

Gaining that initial experience is what everyone has had to do over the years. It will hold you in good stead – even if you think it’s rubbish and meaningless.

Dress to impress

Like my mother always said – it’s better to dress up than dress down. If you’ve secured an interview, and you’re not sure what to wear, it’s best to dress in attire that is more formal than what you would expect. For guys, a suit is relatively easy. For girls, professional work attire is often required.

While it sounds obvious, be prepared before hand and make sure your shirt and tie is ironed (or your dress isn’t crumpled). You don’t want to be doing last minute ironing on the morning of your interview.

Some places there is simply no winning. One interview I had with a certain bank deducted points because I took off my suit jacket just prior to starting the interview (it was incredibly hot in the room). Needless to say, I’m not disappointed I’m not working there.

Different industries favour different attire. If you’re working in agriculture on a farm, then your clothes need to reflect that.

You will need to be looking and smelling sharp and clean too. Smelly, dirty people aren’t likely to be hired. At all. Make sure you have a shower, wash your hair (get it cut if necessary) and clean up well. These things matter – particularly in the corporate world.

Practice the interview

Practice makes perfect. Many of the interviews that you will undertake will have a similar set up. There should be a panel of at least two interviewers (best practice is different genders as well). In fact one interview I attended, there were six people asking questions, so be prepared to face a mini audience.

Research the most common questions that are likely to be asked. Some fields will ask some technical questions. Medicine and engineering apparently do this quite often.

Behavioural interview questions should be expected. These include “tell us a time when you demonstrated great levels of customer service” or “tell us how you have demonstrated leadership”. You need to have some answers prepared for these sorts of questions or you will look unprepared. A good idea (sometimes) is to have a look at the application forms and the Key Selection Criteria that are often provided.

Some employers like to keep potential employees on their toes and may ask some random questions. Try and relax and answer honestly. If it’s a surprise for you, then it should be a surprise for everyone else too.

Look for the future

Try and apply for a position that is in an area that you are interested in, and will give you opportunities for advancement in the future. Consider sacrificing some money in the short term, for doing a job that will give you greater experience, responsibility and enjoyment.

After you’ve got your first job, you will find positions in the future much easier. You will have that six months / two years experience that most employers want from their employees.

You’re entering a workforce that is rapidly changing, with greater emphasis on flexibility, focus on technology and far less loyalty between employers and workers. Make sure you enjoy the ride – you’ll probably be working for at least 50 years. It’s unlikely you’ll get the first job you apply for, so just relax with the knowledge that you will find the right workplace in time.

When not writing, Matt enjoys farming, films and friends. Not necessarily in that order.

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