A few weeks ago, I wrote a post catchily titled, “Five ways we can help you” as an open invitation to make good use of all the (free!) services we provide. I promised a follow on post, and here it is. There’s just one difference: this time the focus is squarely on you.
Every year grads tell us they regret not using the careers service and wish they’d listened to all that well-meaning advice just a fraction earlier. I’m not sure inaction is necessarily a sign of apathy, but don’t sit at home waiting for career inspiration. It might never come. At some point, you will have to start your career journey even if the destination remains unknown! Getting experience, developing skills, building contacts and gaining insights are all critical to your (future) job search. What are you waiting for?
1) Get some experience
Ah yes you reply, I’ve tried to get an internship but my inbox is littered with rejections. Well, let me be the first to reassure you – internships are NOT the only fruit. Paid, structured internships are seen as the holy grail of work placements; a fast track to career success. And if you’ve one of the lucky few who manage to secure a paid internship, there’s a reasonable chance you’ll convert this to a graduate job offer before you graduate. But….we’re talking about a minority of students. Most of you won’t beat the numbers game (lots of applicants, few internships) and need to think more broadly. Be creative and find other ways to plug the experience gap on your CV. I quizzed some of our grad recruiters last term and posed the question on everyone’s lips: “Are you looking for relevant experience?”. Answer: experience yes, relevant not so much. Employers are looking for candidates who are work ready, have a good skill set and bags of enthusiasm. Relevant experience is valuable, but it’s not a deal breaker.
It’s always better to do something than nothing at all. If plan A doesn’t work, move on to B and then C. Experience can come through many different forms…
- Tap into the SME market. You might need to apply speculatively, be persistent and accept less money, but there’s a wealth of untapped opportunity out there and chance to make a great impression.
- Build experience through extra-curricular activities. Get involved with societies and you could soon be managing a budget, developing a social media campaign, writing press releases, organising large events and building relationships with key partners and stakeholders. Sounds pretty attractive to a potential employer.
- Arrange some work shadowing – it might start off as a observation only, but make the right noises and it could turn into something more fulfilling.
- Take a course! This is a great way to demonstrate commitment and motivation. Take advantage of the resources at your disposal (hint: you’re at university – where better to “upskill”?)
2) Broaden your career horizons
To know what’s achievable, you need to know what’s possible. Sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised by how many people define their career horizons in quite narrow terms. We’re all susceptible to influence and environment, and this shapes our understanding of career choice. You’ve probably experienced this phenomenon if you know a family of doctors/teachers/actors – it’s not just coincidence! We see it too: groups of students on the same course, living in the same house will often apply for the same jobs in the same companies. Now, it’s entirely possible that this is the natural expression of career interest and aspiration (and sometimes it is) but peer influence is pretty powerful and hard to resist.
If you’re looking for some concrete and practical ways to get started, then try these for size:
- Prospects Planner and TARGETjobs careers report – computer generated reports aren’t for everyone, but they can be a good starting point.
- Ask Warwick Alumni – got a burning careers question, or eager to explore possibilities? Then join this LinkedIn group populated by Warwick alums.
- What do Warwick Graduates do? – find out what grads from your course are doing now. A good way to challenge those stereotypes!
- Employer events – fairs, presentations, sector and alumni events. Yes, the finance folk are there – but so is everybody else.
- CareerPlayer and iCould – looking for careers inspiration? You might just find it by checking out these short films.
- Social media – take a 360 degree approach by harnessing the power of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to get informed and get connected.
3) Develop your brand
If skepticism is your default mode you may find this a little hard to swallow, but in today’s competitive and global job market, you need to create a compelling brand with a persuasive message.
Think of yourself as a content curator and try to find a niche or identity that represents your past experience and future potential. I think the key to branding success is authenticity, so don’t tie yourself in knots trying to be something – and someone – you’re not. You can’t be all things to all people, nor should you try. Some recruiters will respond positively to your brand, others won’t. Accept this as a feature of the job search and spare yourself some angst later on.
Branding is about the message and the delivery; it’s not just what you say but how you say. And with that in mind…
- Make sure your online presence is professional and consistent.
- Amplify your strengths and minimise your weaknesses.
- Choose the right platform to deliver your message.
- Don’t be afraid to let a little personality shine through.
- Show how you can add value.
- Find your USP and own it!