You did it! Wrote the essays, passed the exams, emerged with a degree. Now suddenly you're in the brutal reality of today’s job market. Simply sending out loads of applications, cutting and pasting as you go, is unlikely to be successful. But don't despair - there's plenty you can do to help yourself get your first graduate job.
Ditch your assumptions
The perfect job, first time? Forget it. Think of your first job as a starting point to understanding how organisations work and how you fit within them. No experience is ever wasted.
Challenge yourself by asking:
- What is really important to me in a job? (money / status / doing good / leaving time for other interests)
- Is this really what I think, or does it come from someone else (friends, family etc.)?
- What skills have I gained from jobs I’ve done already? (answering the phone, dealing with customers, using software, organising events, managing a budget, working in, or leading, a team) - these are the things employers really care about
- What are my strengths? (Think about positive feedback you got from others about how you did a particular task)
- How’s my motivation? What will I / won’t I do to get a job? (For example, am I able / willing to do a trial period without pay?)
Be specific about what success looks like for you - not the ideal job, but the ‘good enough’ job.
Replace fantasy with fact
How much do you really know about what people in specific jobs do, day to day? How do people get started in the jobs which interest you? What attracts a prospective employer? Come up with a plan about how to fill in the gaps in your knowledge. For example:
- Write an article about how to get started in a particular job (even if you don’t actually get it published …) - research it by asking for meetings with people in the sector
- Identify people who can give you information (use LinkedIn, or your own network) then ask for a brief meeting to get their advice (people love talking about their jobs)
- Ask the right questions (“What are your three top tips for someone wanting a job like yours?” “What do you look for in your selection process?”) and record the answers. Remember that it’s not about you - it’s about THEM
- Use this information to identify the obstacles between you and your ‘good enough’ job. Accept what you can’t change, or influence, and identify what you can
Make a clear plan - stick to it - and look after yourself
Decide on a job-seeking strategy, with a timeline, and follow it. Be realistic - thorough research and quality applications take time. It's better to do a few properly than many superficially. Use every piece of information you gather in researching organisations, writing covering letters, doing assessment days and interviews to make your next application better.
Consider other approaches e.g. contacting key people within organisations you admire. NEVER ask for a job (the answer will invariably be no), ALWAYS ask for advice (‘just 15 minutes of your time’) - show curiosity and keep asking questions. If you think the meeting is going well, ask for short term internship on either minimum wage (or expenses only if you can). Unpaid internships can be appalling exploitation - but not if you are receiving valuable training and experience.
Try not to take rejection personally and always ask for feedback. Remember that you're not alone - buddy up with a friend and help each other. And finally, know when to seek emotional help - feeling unwanted can lead to depression and anxiety which becomes yet another obstacle to getting a job you enjoy.