After graduating from university I believed my English Literature degree would land me a job straightaway. Like my career was already laid out for me, a brightly lit corridor leading me to the right places.
It has now been three years since I flung my graduation cap in the air and sipped prosecco out of a plastic flute. Since then, I have come to realise that you have to stake out your own path. There are no signs stopping you from getting lost. But there is a way - you just have to carve it out for yourself. Here are seven tips that will help you get over the most difficult hurdle; landing your first job.
1. Apply for internships or entry-level jobs
Many graduates reach for the top when they apply for their first job. You’re not going to get a managerial position - or perhaps even an assistant’s one - before you’ve learnt how an organisation works. Internships are a good way to do that - if you can afford it. If not, look for shorter forms of work experience or entry-level jobs. In some industries, like media or business, you can shape your role in a way that makes the most use of your skills. Before you know it, you’ll be experienced enough to move on to something more challenging.
2. Work on your CV and cover letter
The importance of your CV and cover letter cannot be stressed enough. They, if anything, constitute the key to the metaphorical corridor mentioned earlier. Did you spend hours, days even, writing an essay about the concept of time in To The Lighthouse? Good, spend as much time on your CV and cover letter. Be honest - exaggerations or lies will be discovered on the job. Then ask someone you trust to proofread it.
And don’t forget that you need to customise your cover letter to every job you apply for. Yes, really! Be specific. You need to ask yourself what the employer is looking for and construct an argument, highlighting your capabilities and why they are relevant for the role. Check out this and this article if you would like a more in-depth guide on how to write a good CV and cover letter.
3. Follow-up emails and calls
Now you’ve sent your application off. All you’ve got to do now is wait… Or is it? If you haven’t heard back after a few weeks, give the employer a call. Or at least send them a follow-up email. If your application has been rejected, ask why and what you can do better next time.
4. Apply, apply, apply
It’s unlikely that there is a job at the end of your very first job application, so don’t let the rejection get under your skin. This happens to pretty much everyone and it’s hard and frustrating and also nothing personal. Keep pushing and learn from your mistakes.
5. Ask around
It’s easier getting your foot in the door if you know someone on the inside. Ask around among friends and family. Has anyone heard of a job? What are they looking for? Social media makes this even easier than it used to be. You probably have lots of contacts - you just don’t know it yet.
6. Start a website
Are you looking for a portfolio-based job? A website or blog is a great way to present your work or write about the industry you’re interested in pursuing. Platforms like Squarespace, Wordpress or Tumblr make it easy to customise your own, personal page and design it like a professional. A website provides a great and interactive online CV. It also makes it possible for people to contact you rather than the other way around.
7. Prepare for the job interview
You have been invited to your first job interview - well done! You’ve reached the finish line… well not quite. A job interview requires lots of preparation and research. A good way to approach it is to write down all the questions you think the employer is likely to ask you. Why do you want to work for us? How are your background and experiences relevant to our organisation? What would you like to achieve during your time here? Then write down the answers and rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Get a parent or friend to act the part of the employer and ask the questions you’ve prepared for as well as anything else they can think of. It will prepare your for most interview scenarios and make you more relaxed on the actual day. And don’t worry if you don’t know the answer to a question straightaway. Remember, the employer has read your CV and cover letter and is already acquainted with your skills and background. Now, they would like to get to know you as a person.
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