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Congratulations! You’ve passed your final exams with flying colours. You’ve had your graduation ceremony with your proud parents looking on – worn the stupid hat, got the corny photo and, yes, even bought the T-shirt, hoodie, mug, etc. You’ve got the framed certificate on your wall as tangible proof that you are now fully qualified to do … whatever it is you want to do. The only question is: how do you go about actually doing it?
I never thought that I would find it hard to get a job. Without wishing to sound like an insufferable show-off, I have a degree in English Literature, a Masters in Medieval History and even a PhD in French Literature. But, as it turns out, without knowing how to play the job-hunting game I was totally, well, unemployable.
Here are some of the things I wish I had known before I began the inevitable post-uni job-hunt, and which I have had to learn along the way:
1) You need to have some kind of career objective – a basic idea of what sort of job you would like to do – and target your résumé accordingly. But don’t be too specific. For example, if (like me) you would like to be a book editor and you’re applying to a publishing company, don’t make this preference explicit. You may talk yourself out of other positions they have going if you don’t get the role you apply for, and you can often ‘switch lanes’ later on.
2) Be proactive about job-hunting. There’s no use in waiting for your dream job to fall into your lap! Set yourself up on LinkedIn and create a profile on SEEK, or sign up with a suitable recruitment agency. Ask around to see if anyone you know works in your chosen industry and find out whether they would be willing to give you any advice. I eventually got my publishing job because someone recommended me for the role.
3) If you don’t know anyone in the industry yet, then it’s time to get out there and meet some of them. There may well be societies you can join that host industry-related events, which in turn provide perfect networking opportunities.
4) Identify your strengths and figure out how best to present them on your résumé. It is often a good idea to have a ‘key skills’ section in which you list your assets – communication, team work, attention to detail, time management, etc. – and then give brief examples of times when you have demonstrated these particular qualities. If you get an interview, you may well be asked to expand on your experience in each area.
5) Every application must be carefully tailored to the company and the role in which you are interested. Yes, this is tedious, because it means doing a lot of research and tweaking bits and pieces of your already-polished résumé. However, it will make your application stand out and might make the difference between getting an interview and getting tossed in the ‘hell no’ pile.
6) Just because you’ve finished your uni studies doesn’t mean that you have nothing left to learn. By doing some developmental training or taking on a distance learning course to specialise in your chosen area, you are simultaneously furthering your skill set whilst showing potential employers that you are serious about your career.
7) Wherever possible, find an internship/apprenticeship or voluntary work. I know it can be soul-destroying to work so hard without getting paid for your efforts, but if you take it seriously and show the company/organisation what you can do, it may turn into something more permanent. Not only that, but experience is invaluable in all industries and says far more about your capabilities than a piece of paper with a grade on it ever could.
8) Get a friend or parent to proofread your résumé. You wouldn’t believe the number of applications that are immediately dismissed because of poor spelling, grammar or presentation – it looks sloppy and unprofessional, and the interviewer automatically assumes that you will take the same attitude towards your position in the workplace. Even if you have a natural flair for this kind of thing, be aware that even the most experienced, detail-oriented writer can make mistakes at times.
9) If you manage to get an interview, don’t rest on your laurels. There are many helpful books that can walk you through what interviewers are looking to hear from candidates and how you can showcase your skills most effectively. Many also contain tips for nerves, advice on how to dress, and what to do after the interview is over. For example, a letter or email thanking the interviewer for his or her time and reaffirming your interest in the role never goes amiss.
10) Don’t give up. Even if you put your very best efforts into all of the above, you may not get the job you want for a few months. It’s easy to feel discouraged about job-hunting, but just try to learn something from every rejection and trust in the fact that perseverance will pay off in the end. Good luck!