It starts when you’re due to hand your dissertation in. Then you push it back to after your exams. And then all of a sudden you’ve graduated and you really need to start looking a job.
When you’re faced with the great unknown it can be tempting to fire off a CV and cover letter to everyone and anyone who might be hiring.
Add the pressure of social media rubbing in just how well your friends are doing, and your parents pushing for you to take anything that will pay – no matter how unrelated to your degree it is – applying for gazillions of jobs can seem like the answer.
But put that pen/keypad/tablet/carrier pigeon right back down. While ‘I applied for fifteen jobs today’ might get mum off your back, it won’t get you a job. Fact.
Hold fire and take a breather
Everyone knows getting a grad job these days is competitive – so much so it might as well be the depressing mantra of our era. However, just because the market’s become more crowded doesn’t mean you should scattergun your CV from Penzance to John O’Groats.
Employers are looking for people who really stand out. They want people who understand the company, the role itself, and how you fit in. They’re not going to see that in a quick half an hour rush job.
Before you even start your job hunt, make sure to dedicate some time to work out what you’re looking for. It’s OK not to know exactly what field you want to go into, but even general areas or lists of things you enjoy doing will help narrow down your search. Let’s face it, there’s a hell of a lot of jobs out there.
It might help to sit down and chat things through with someone, or to make lists of about what parts you enjoyed about your degree and any extra-curricular activities. Conversely, if you know where you want to be in twenty years’ time, do some research to find out what career paths will get you there.
You might feel like you’re wasting time, but knowing what jobs will work for you and which won’t will help you sift through role descriptions effectively and help you put together a better application.
Ask yourself if the role works for you
Once you’ve started to pick out jobs which look appealing, it’s time to scrutinise and research. Sure, you know what you want, but do you know if this fits?
Take time to look into the company, its work and its culture – not just checking if the job description. Look up previous employees who held the role – what are they doing now, and how have their careers progressed?
Having all this info doesn’t just help you to decide if you want to apply – after all, there’s nothing worse than ending up in a job you hate – but it will allow you to expertly craft your application. Put your newfound knowledge to good use and explain exactly how your skills and ambitions fit not just the job description, but the company itself.
Heck, if you want to know more about the role there’s nothing wrong with asking. Ads can only tell you so much after all – so if there’s things you still need to know that you can’t find out from your research, get in touch with the employer.
Depending on the role and the company, you may be able to find a contact the head of department or someone currently in the role who could give you a bit of day to day insight. Alternatively, finding the contacts for someone in recruitment will not only get you the info you need, but highlight you as a super keen bean.
Spend time crafting your application
If you’ve pinpointed something great, it’s time to get to work on the application itself. At the very least you should be crafting a unique CV and cover letter for every job.
It’s fine to have a template or a standard way of setting things out, but make sure to fill each CV with bullet points or paragraphs with experience that directly relates to the job description or company ethos.
Some jobs will require a bit more effort, asking for answers to set questions or a portfolio. Again, take your time. Make a draft, take a breather and double check it before sending. Sure, it’ll take longer, but the extra time spent really stands out.
Save copies of everything you submit to any job – if you’re applying for similar roles it will help you work out what worked well and what didn’t, as well as provide inspiration for future applications.
Make yourself stand out
Always make the effort to go above and beyond.
Sure, the job description might not have asked for a portfolio, but why not add one in, or put a link to your website where they can find one? What about a short video CV explaining why you’d be great at the role? Perhaps you’re a dab hand at design (or know someone who is) and could make your CV with their branding instead.
At the very least find the name of the head of recruitment or the manager you’d be reporting to and address your cover letter to them.
These extra touches will take time – but they will also make your application infinitely better. And employers will notice.
Jem Collins is a freelance journalist in London whose work focuses on politics, education and careers.
Feature image © CreateHERstock
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