Get ahead of the pack – start your job applications now….

There’s no doubt about it – filling in job application forms is a time consuming process. It’s no wonder that many final year students decide they simply haven’t got time and defer this phase of their job search until after exams or graduation. This seems like a perfectly sensible, pragmatic approach – after all, your primary focus is to get that 2:1. Without it, your options narrow considerably and you may have to take a more circuitous route to get your career on track. But, you could spare yourself the pain of completing lengthy applications in the autumn term and avoid compromising your academics by using your time wisely…

There are still SIX whole weeks until the start of term, so use them to get a head start. If you’ve been following our blog you’ll know that some grad schemes are already open for business – maybe you fancy being the early bird?

Follow the recipe!

If you’ve applied for internships or work experience previously, one of the things you’ll certainly have noticed is how similar many job applications are….but with just enough variation to preclude the ctrl+v trick! Although most graduate recruiters use competency based questions as standard, the nuance or emphasis is often slightly different – even between companies recruiting in the same sector, for the same role.

When it comes to completing these online application forms, you will need to spend some time tailoring each response to ensure you have answered the precise question, not just the one you prepared earlier! Now, this may seem like a really onerous task but think of it like icing a cake: you’re just Ingredient for cookies with cherryadding the final touches to show your creative flair. The real substance is the cake itself. If you don’t have the right ingredients and don’t follow the recipe, the cake will be a disaster – you won’t be able to save it with a good frosting and a few sprinkles!  In application terms, this means thoroughly researching the sector/company/role (understanding the ingredients) and then finding the evidence and examples to demonstrate your suitability (following the recipe). Spend time getting this right, and you have the makings of a really good cake.

Research, research, research

You’d be surprised how many people simply skip over this stage and go straight to the application form, hoping that a few impassioned statements about their enthusiasm or motivation will win the day. I suppose there is some kind of logic at play here: doing something tangible – whether filling in forms or uploading CVs to endless jobs boards – can make you feel in control. Unfortunately, it’s entirely illusory – this isn’t really being proactive, it’s simply crossing your fingers and taking a chance. And in some cases, moaning when your applications (“but I’ve sent over 50….“) fail to generate any interviews, much less offers.

The research phase may feel passive – particularly if you’re more of a ‘do-er’ – but time spent reading and planning will pay dividends when you actually come to apply.  I doubt many of you are currently sat at home, watching daytime TV and eating Haribo, so you will have to fit employer research in and around your other commitments. Try setting aside some time each day or week to spend researching online – or talking to people – and make a note of the key points that differentiate your target companies. Keep a simple Excel spread sheet to track your progress, as this will save time later on when you come to fill in 5 different application forms, all asking ‘Why do you want to work for x”. If you’re not clear in your own mind why you’re applying, then you’ve little hope of convincing an employer – particularly one who is time poor, and has hundreds of applications to sift through. To optimise your time, concentrate your research on the following:

  • Company websites – don’t just focus on the ‘apply here’ section.  Read all the information available: mission statements, press releases, news, alumni, research, CSR, career profiles, organisational structure. To really stand out, you’ll need a pretty forensic grasp of the information available.
  • Professional/trade/industry press – if you’re not sure where to start, check the relevant sector pages on our website or search Total Professions for links to over 300+ professional associations.
  • Business databases – to give you that 360 understanding of company performance. This level of research offers separates the serious candidates from the also-rans.
  • Social media platforms – most companies will have a presence on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. Some will even have a careers or jobs related blog, that you can follow to glean useful tips or insights (have a look at the PwC People blog)
  • Career portals – our own website is a good place to start, but use it as a springboard, not a final destination.  For employer insights (& useful anecdotal info), try TheJobCrowd, Inside Buzz, Inside Careers and TARGETJobs. I also tend to venture on to the WikiJobs and Student Room forums  – it’s surprising what you can pick up.

Build your case

Once you understand what a company or organisation is looking for and have a feel for the culture and ethos, you can begin the next phase of your application planning: finding examples and evidence to match the job criteria.  Even if you’re not ready to complete your application yet, it is worth initiating the process so you know the layout of the form, the structure of the questions and the particular skills or competencies you will need to evidence. This will all save time late on. Be sure to make a note of all the questions, as your online connection to the form can time out – sometimes without notification.

Don’t worry if you haven’t quite got to the stage of short-listing potential companies, you can still use your time productively by drafting examples of core competencies. There are some skills that (nearly) all graduate recruiters – irrespective of sector – are looking for, so you can reasonably pre-empt questions based on these areas. If you’re fairly new to the application game, it’s worth checking out TARGETjobs guide to the “Top 10 skills that will get you a job when you graduate”. I think it’s safe to conclude if they’re included on this list, there’s strong chance you’ll need to evidence these skills in your applications. Develop a repository of good examples, by:

  • Conducting a skills and strengths audit –  if you’re worried you may have gaps, or can’t make sense of your experience come and talk to us. There are bookable appointments available during the holidays and term-time
  • Following the CARE/STAR framework – this approach can help you structure and evidence your skills and build up a good stock of examples ready for applications (and interviews).
  • Using the job competency database on the Kent Careers site for useful prompts – your examples don’t have to be really glamorous or prestigious to have impact. You might have missed out on that summer internship, but that doesn’t mean game over.

If you get to grips with the research and planning now, you’ll be surprised at the difference it makes when it comes to writing those applications. It will certainly make a pleasing dent in your final-year ‘to do’ list….

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