It’s the season for job hunting! As a student, this time last year was the busiest semester especially for final year students. Personally, I was finishing off projects, doing extra curricular things and also applying for my next chapter, post-education.
I know how daunting it can be planning the next steps of your life. Up until this point, we are all so used to being told what we need to do – this is just what the education system is like. Sure, some students leave their parents’ homes whilst going to university but as students you are still left with a label that keeps you nice and safe in the world of education. “The real world” is totally new, and can feel scary!
It’s coming up to almost a year since I graduated from university and it’s not that bad, in fact, being exam free is still the biggest win for me right now. 😝Life after University is a topic for another day, but today I wanted to write about my experience in building that bridge towards the other side. i.e. the real world.
When should you start looking for a job?
There is no right time to look for a job!
I know some of my friends who were looking at the start of the Autumn semester of their final year and some who started a week after their final exams… it really depends on you. Obviously the earlier the better! There is nothing better than securing something early and being able to focus on smashing those final exams.
Personally, I was looking throughout the year to increase my chances of securing something before graduation. You have to also be mindful of things like graduate schemes that recruit mainly throughout September – January or March – May.
October also seems like the optimum time when companies start attending all sorts of recruitment and careers events, so this is something to bare in mind!
However, if you miss this time period – don’t worry! There are other graduate schemes that open up in the Spring as well as other jobs that aren’t necessarily graduate training schemes.
Alternative opportunities will be covered in a separate post.
My key advice on job hunting
I don’t claim to know it all!
But as someone who was struggling with looking for jobs last year and has had a fair share of failures, I thought it would be beneficial to share what I learned throughout the long process. I hope that it is helpful!
1️⃣ Sit down and reflect
Before you apply to anything, set some time aside to do a bit of a self-reflection session with yourself.
Up until the start of my final year, I was lucky enough to have just come back from a successful placement year with a fantastic career manager who drilled this into me (I think that is how I’ve become so good at it now!)
This entails these main things:
- What excites you? You can base this on previous experience from work to extra curricular activities.
- What drains you? Again, you can base this on previous experience from work to extra curricular activities.
- What are you good at? You can use feedback – both informal and formal from your parents, friends, colleagues. What people have said about you can really help point you in the right direction.
- What aren’t you so good at (but can improve on)? Honestly can sting, but is essential in positive self-development.
- If you could pick a realistic role or dream industry to pursue, what would it be? This ties in with the first point! It can be based on your current interests or something you’d like to do one day.
I’ll give you a brief example taken from my notes over a year ago:
- What excites you? Emerging technologies (e.g. VR/AR to new frameworks), the growing online world (wow, people can make money from their laptop now?!) and being able to make an impact in a person’s daily life.
- What drains you? Dealing with difficult team mates, lab work
- What are you good at? Social media/Digital comms, understanding technical stuff (even though it may be the first time I see it), writing posts, speaking in front of people.
- What can you improve? Presentation skills (can always be improved), working with people different to me.
- Dream industry or role – something to do with tech and the digital world.
This can show you something blindingly obvious that you may not have thought of before!
2️⃣ Create a Skills Matrix
This ties into the point above.
Many application processes now require you to write down examples of when you demonstrated either technical or soft skills. It can be handy to have a document with a few examples ready! This not only speeds up the whole process when you’re applying, but is a great self-reflection activity.
You can expand on each skill with an example written in the STAR technique approach.
3️⃣ Keep online stuff updated
I have spoken about this on numerous occasions, but I can’t stress enough how much of an impact having a good online presence is nowadays. By online presence, I don’t mean you need to have thousands of followers and sponsored posts but just generally having a good profile goes a long way.
- Keeping your stuff up-to-date – adding any new experiences both work and extra-curricular on LinkedIn. This will allow recruiters to find you and what you’re looking for easily!
- Putting any social media accounts that you don’t want employers seeing on private. You don’t have to go all public, it’s all up to you.
- Regularly engaging with industries you’re interested in, for example, I regularly shared tech news on my profile to show those looking at my profile what I was looking at.
I’m currently writing a series throughout the year around improving your online presence, this will go into more thorough detail on the digital world so I won’t go into it too much here. You can check out my latest one about LinkedIn here.
4️⃣ Tailor each of your applications
Trust me, it is so obvious when you don’t tailor your applications.
I thought that it wasn’t at one point, and sent a generic covering letter / application to hundreds of employers… And surprise, surprise, I got back nothing or an instant rejection.
What you should do:
- Read each job description
- Look at your skills matrix and self-reflection notes, do they all complement the description?
- Write a covering letter or email that takes each point on the job description, and show how you’ve demonstrated it (the skills matrix will help with this)
This will take longer, yep, not going to lie to you! But it is part of the process.
It is good to note that even though I’ve said to tailor each application, you can always use the same overall structure as a starting point each time. Starting from scratch can be disheartening at times, but if you’ve got that template, you’re already up and running!
5️⃣ Exhaust your search
You can find jobs on company career portals, job listing sites such as Monster or Indeed, at careers fairs, your contacts and networks, LinkedIn Jobs etc… But have you ever thought about sending out a tweet on Twitter?
Here’s the infamous tweet Matt sent out over a year ago now that managed to reach thousands! This tweet made use of his social media presence and his network, and proved to be quite a successful way of reaching the right people.
👋 Hi!— Matt Burman (@_mattburman) January 11, 2018
I am graduating in June & looking for opportunities!
💪 4 years JS experience
🌟 Founded @HackSheffield – learnt a lot about management & communities
🌎 I’ve gained skills from Hackathons around the world 🇬🇧🇫🇷🇺🇸🇨🇦
RTs appreciated 💥
Make use of every single one of your options!
6️⃣ Persistence is key
Out of all the advice, this is the one that is the most important.
There were so many moments when I was looking for jobs where I was on the edge of giving up completely. Every failure felt like a punch in the stomach, I kept thinking that even though I worked super hard to get to this point I still wasn’t good enough. That is a dangerous mindset to be in, but it most likely going to happen!
You have to remember that everyone is on the same boat. Everyone has sent in an application that they have tried so hard on perfecting, only to get an automated response that feels like it is pointing and laughing saying “sorry, but no, not you.”
The ones that are successful, are the ones that don’t give up and genuinely persist to the end. An example I can think of is my placement year search, I blogged about how upset I was about failing every single time I put an application through. I was so close to just continuing onto my final year without getting the placement year accreditation that I wanted, but one evening I said to myself, “one more application.” Next thing I know, I was hired and starting the following month.
A similar thing happened during my graduate scheme search, but I pushed through and now work in such a fantastic company where I can truly reach my potential.
It is so easy for me to sit here and tell you not to give up, now that I’m on the other side.
But I know how difficult it is to stand back up after each knock down. Trust me, sometimes I honestly just wanted to stay knocked down.
What helped me get through the imposter syndrome and self-doubt was support from family, friends, university careers support (they’re there to help, trust me!) and some good ol’ fashion pick-me-up, Pauline style:
Everyone always goes on about “citing your sources” so here ya go: https://t.co/mvTyj4db3K— Pauline P. Narvas (@paulienuh) March 1, 2018
Now we got that outta the way… 👀
I’m not suggesting to be as public as this, if you don’t want to be. Even writing down your achievements privately can really keep your spirits high through rejection.
Best of luck!
Remember if Moana turned back to defeat Te Kā without Maui’s help (after sailing across the whole world) then you can do the thing. Persist, persist, persist. ✨