I’ll be part of the online Career Expert Panel at a live Q&A on The Guardian website this afternoon. The event is aimed at helping graduates with their career issues. We have all heard the sad UK statistics that 1 in 4 recent graduates are still unemployed and many of them have even gone back to live with their parents. I feel strongly about helping to change that! Here are some of my key tips for graduates who are keen not to be a statistic:
1. Volunteer (strategically) to learn key skills & to network
Identify the kind of charities where volunteering will actually help you develop some of those keys skills that you see requested in job ads again and again (leadership, team work, initiative, problem solving etc). Then approach them and offer some of your time. This at the same time also helps you tap into a network of people you might never otherwise have had access to. Did you know that many of the most sought-after graduate employers actually ask their employees to do some charity/volunteer work on a regular basis? A tip is to find out what charities and organisations those companies tend to help and support (they might mention this on their website or you could call and find out). You could be volunteering alongside your future manager before know it!
2. Think outside the box (and outside of graduate schemes/jobs)
Have you noticed how every single graduate seems to apply for the same 20 graduate schemes and then wonder how come they didn’t get selected? There are a lot of people fishing in the same pond (with very similar bait). Whilst graduate schemes are a fantastic option, they are not actually the only way to get your foot in the door of your target company. Or to get started in your field of choice. I made my way into Morgan Stanley in November 1999, 4 months after graduating (when all the schemes were closed) by applying for a temporary HR assistant vacancy. I worked my butt off, got to know lots of people and made sure the right people knew I was keen to stay. The result was a permanent position and a great start to my (former) HR career. Be creative and think of ways you can add value in a supportive role (even if it’s temporary – few permanent headcounts are given out in the current climate) in an area you want to break into (but try to avoid the classic secretarial roles, if you can). You might also cast your net wider and look outside of the big cities and/or even look abroad for subsidiaries!
3. Yes, you do have a network (or how to get one)!
I often hear graduates complain that their parents are not very well-connected (“my dad doesn’t play tennis with an MP and my mother is self-employed” a grad recently wrote on the Guardian website). Welcome to the new world of work! Getting a job is no longer just about who your parents know and what networks they can tap into and influence. In a way this is good, as it makes for a more level playing field. Also, don’t just think about connecting with other (unemployed) grads, think much broader. Volunteer (see point 1), join evening classes (available for subsidised fee at your local college) to tap into a much broader community and research where the kind of people (and by extension companies) you want to work with spend their spare time and go join them (even if you have to nurse just one drink all night). Once you’ve made the connection, then make sure you follow up by adding them to your LinkedIn or Twitter network and that you keep up the conversation. I even network in the supermarket queue, my local bakery and (of course) online. Just get started and build your own network.
4. Learn how to use social media to further your career
Social media is any platform that allows you to have a conversation/interaction with someone you might otherwise not have had easy access to before (Twitter, YouTube, facebook, LinkedIn etc). This could be HR staff, recruiting managers or simply people working in the industries and companies you are keen to get into. Remember that many companies now also use social media to advertise their job openings and that it’s an area they would expect you to be up-to-date with. They key to social media is that you get out of it what you put into it, as it’s all about live conversations and keeping up to date (and not being desperate and pushy (think first date!)). A quick Google search on ‘using social media for job search’ will give you the lowdown (I also regularly blog about it here and I tweet @CareerConcierge). You would be surprised how few graduates get this right or even bother to do it.
5. Don’t expect HR to ‘translate’ your CV
Many CVs are now are pre-screened by either machines or less experienced HR staff, so you really need to make it clear that you have what they want. The way to do that is to spell it out for them rather than expect them to ‘read between the lines’ or even for them to read your entire CV. You might think you have great leadership skills because you were a swimming instructor at the age of 15. However, since you put it in the last section of your CV under ‘additional information’ there is a big chance that they will miss it. However, if you actually put a ‘Key Skills’ section at the top of your CV (after your ‘Profile’ and contact information) and use the words ‘Leadership Skills’, you can mention your swimming instructor experience there as ‘proof’ of how you developed that skill early on in your life. This is so much better than just expect them to notice the information you put somewhere randomly on your CV and also to infer that being a swimming instructor equals leadership skills. So you both spell out for them what the skills is that you have and give them proof by mentioning exactly how you obtained/learned it. Remember to focus on the key skills the company mention/state in their job ads since what you think is relevant might not be.