Sometimes the recruitment process just doesn’t work out as we hope. So what do you do when you hear you haven’t got that dream job? Don’t immediately hit the panic button and assume all is lost. This doesn’t need to mean the end of your career dreams, but it will require some honest reflection about your application. You need to be sure that you understand where you might have gone wrong before you try again. Get it right next time!
Did you make some mistakes?
Fish out your application form and read it through again, slowly and carefully. Did you make any typos or spelling or grammatical errors? If so, this could account for your failure to impress; large graduate employers have so many applicants that it is easier – initially – to reject, than select.
Lots of jobs demand accuracy and attention to detail, so an error-strewn application will raise the red flag. If you can identify the problem areas, then learn from your mistakes. Your next application needs to be well researched, carefully expressed and correct.
Did you answer the question?
Perhaps you have reviewed your applications and still feel confident about style and content. In this situation, I would strongly recommend you seek further advice. There could still be a glaring omission or misinterpretation in your application. Sometimes we are too close to the source and don’t spot the mistakes. Ask a careers consultant to check it through and make a note of any helpful comments. If you didn’t solicit help with the original draft, then this is a great opportunity to find out how and where you can improve. Did you answer the actual questions they asked or did you answer the question you hoped they would ask or, worse, the question another organisation asked? If you copied and pasted in an answer, did you leave the wrong employer’s name in place? It happens!
Employers set all the questions on their application forms for a purpose. If you failed to answer the question, then you haven’t evidenced a key skill and it is highly likely that your application will not progress.
Did you evidence commercial awareness?
If you applied for a job in the City or in a big commercial organisation, you’ll need to have shown a pretty forensic grasp of commercial issues. Are you certain you managed to write convincingly and with sound knowledge of relevant markets? If you are asked about recent news, you can’t legitimately discuss the financial crash of 2008! Use a SWOT analysis to help you dissect the challenges facing business and use appropriate professional terminology to convey your understanding. If you want to take it a step further start reading the Student Gateway newspaper and the move on to the Financial Times and The Economist. You might also want to revisit some of the blogs here which talk about commercial awareness and look at the business databases in the library. Your librarian will be delighted to show you how to access these.
Did you show that you really understand the market you want to enter?
Lots of organisations ask what challenges you think they face. In some areas profits are not back at 2008 levels. Service providers like lawyers and accountants find that their clients have become much more costs-sensitive and their loyalty cannot be relied upon. How are profits maximised in this environment? You need to know about some of the initiatives being taken. You might even need to know about the profitability of an organisation’s off shore operations. If you are applying to the City, expect to be tested on your understanding of financial instruments and how they work. If you want to work in pharmaceuticals, do you know what happened when Pfizer bid for Astra Zeneca? Whatever area interests you, you’ll need to have done thorough research if you are to be taken seriously.
Did you clearly demonstrate why this particular employer?
Within sector areas it’s often difficult to distinguish between what different firms and companies offer and very tricky to express this in a few words in an application. Perhaps you didn’t manage this? It’s always good to be able to talk about your contact with the organisation at any and every event and how you were particularly impressed by something said by a named individual. You could also comment on the precise details of their training policy or your excitement about being involved in a particular subject or specified geographical location.
So what now?
If you are in your final year you need to think about your options. Application windows for most jobs are still open but many employers recruit on a rolling basis so you’ll need to keep working on that job hunt.
You might also want to reassess what kind of employer is for you. Don’t automatically assume that the competition will be less intense if you apply to smaller organisations. Some small specialist companies have even more applicants for each place than the biggest players! Competition may be less intense if you are prepared to consider a more “out of the way” location.
Perhaps you are now thinking of a year out between finishing university and getting the job? How are you going to use the time? Come up with some plans for how you might enhance your employability. Backpacking around Asia probably isn’t going to cut it!
How about considering alternative routes into work? Could you work for an SME? Is there some volunteering which might make a difference? How about looking at graduate schemes in alternative areas? Be creative as well as realistic!
So the key thing is not to wallow in self pity. Take a cold hard look at your applications and aspirations. Reassess what you want and go for it! One last thing. You might also want to look at another one of our posts looking at the same problem, it’s always good to get different perspectives!