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31 Jul 2018
This piece is by Olivia Mak, one of our Stagecoach Student Ambassadors. Find out more about our student ambassadors.
School’s out for the summer (or maybe forever if you’re about to graduate) and thoughts may turn to lazy, sunny afternoons lounging on a deckchair on a beach in the Caribbean, sipping a cocktail from a fresh coconut What if you could make this idyllic dream a reality? Well maybe you can, with the help of a job. Job hunting needn’t be an onerous task though.
Follow these tips, picture that end goal in mind and you’ll be quickly working towards it in no time.
Before conducting any job search, think about your personality and interests and define what it is that you want to do or at least what you want out of a job, especially if you’re applying for a full-time job. No-one wants to be temporarily stuck in a miserable job that makes the comparative pressures of student life seem like heaven in comparison. Also identify what you’re qualified to do - make sure you're making use of the degree you worked so hard for!
If you’re really stuck, jot down lists of your hobbies and what you’re naturally good at. Consider what it is about your hobbies that you enjoy so much and use both lists as a guide map from which to branch out possible career ideas. A useful resource is the Prospects website (www.prospects.ac.uk), which allows you to browse job profiles - giving you an idea of the responsibilities, salary, skills and qualifications required for any particular job - and offers a Career Planner tool which identifies your perfect career based on your desires, motivations and skills.
Having a clear idea of what you want to do is particularly important if you’re looking for a graduate job; you certainly don’t want to get through such a rigorous application process only to find that their graduate scheme isn’t really for you. What industry do you want to work in? What sort of company do you want to work for? What skills do you want to develop and use? Even for part-time jobs, it can only help if the work you’re doing and the skills you’re developing align with your future career.
When you’ve got an idea of the sort of job you would like to apply for and the industry you would like to work in, take a look at a few typical job adverts for that role. Similar jobs should require similar skills. Make a list of these and then set aside some time to create a skills document which will act as a useful reference for any future applications and make applying quicker and easier.
Draw on your past experiences and think of specific times or examples of when you have demonstrated each skill, and don't forget these examples can be from your personal life.Use the STAR technique (situation, task, action, result) as a framework to structure your examples. When talking about teamwork skills, remember to think about what specific actions YOU took and the direct outcomes of your actions.
If you can think of multiple examples, great! List them all. That way, when it comes to drafting your covering letter or preparing for an interview, you can choose the most relevant or strongest example to use depending on the employer and their values. The idea is to have a working document which you can constantly add to and update with examples as they crop up in your life, and from which you can tweak and add to covering letters as well as use to prepare for interviews, particularly for competency-based questions.
After you’ve identified some jobs that take your fancy, take the time to prepare your applications. Your chances of landing a job, not to mention one that you really want, will be significantly greater if you put in focused, tailored applications to say, 5 jobs than generic applications to 50. In other words, don’t adopt a scattergun approach – it’s obvious to employers if you’ve copied-and-pasted the same application for multiple jobs, and it’s likely to make them think you aren’t serious about their particular role.
There’s plenty of information out there on writing your CV and the different styles of CV so I will keep this part brief. The most commonly used is the reverse chronological CV, where you list your education and work experience in reverse order (starting with the most recent), and the general advice on structuring CVs can be summarised thus:
- Keep your CV to 2 pages maximum
- Use a consistent font and formatting throughout (use bullet points to describe the main tasks and responsibilities under each work experience)
- Divide it into sections with relevant sub-headings (e.g. education, employment history / work experience, references etc.)
- Use active language (e.g. verbs like ‘negotiated’, ‘designed’, ‘analysed’, ‘supervised’, ‘collaborated’ etc.)
While it is most important to tailor the covering letter to the specific position you’re applying for, you should also tailor your CV. This is particularly true if you have a lot of work experience; it is a good idea to choose and include the most relevant roles in terms of the skills or experience you have developed through them.
Some people also like to include a personal profile at the top of their CVs. These are optional but can give you a useful opportunity to summarise your motivation and highlight your key skills and experience, especially if - as is often the case - the job advert lists more skills than can be addressed within the covering letter alone.
Remember how your school teachers always used to go on about needing to draft a plan for an essay? Well they were right; planning is not just for academia! Highlight the key competencies and skills on the job adverts and if you can ensure that you have addressed most, if not all of these, employers will see that you are fit for the job, at least on paper. This is where your skills portfolio can come in. For example, if time-management is one of the required skills, you could cite as evidence in your covering letter the example of your proven ability to juggle your part-time bar job with a voluntary placement in a primary school whilst still managing to achieve a high 2:1 year-average.
Structure your covering letter so that there is a logical flow between paragraphs. This is where slightly more detailed planning might come in handy. Think about how you will link the various examples or evidence for each of the skills you will talk about in the covering letter, making reference to and expanding on the experience on your CV. That bar work might have developed other skills relevant to the role e.g. customer service, communication skills and the ability to work under pressure. A fluid reading experience for hiring manager who could have 50 - 100 other covering letters to read will give off a favourable impression of competence.
At the risk of sounding like a TED talk, also think about your unique selling points i.e. what makes you stand out, in relation to what you think are the most important or relevant skills for the role and try to relate them back to the role requirements. However, be sure not to repeat your CV in your covering letter. The key is to summarise and not to dilute the message. If the covering letter is the star of the show, the CV forms the supporting cast.
The letter should be one page maximum, divided into several paragraphs, each with a clear theme, and be addressed to specific person if possible (i.e. the HR manager or whoever is in charge of hiring for the role). If applying direct, you can always ring up and ask who you should address the letter to. It’s common to begin the covering letter by saying where you saw the job advert and what prompted you to apply. End the letter positively, reiterating your enthusiasm for the role and with a view to the next stage of the recruitment process.
Great news, they like the sound of you and have invited you to an interview - congratulations! You know the drill by now - do your homework, prepare for common competency-based interview questions you might face, dress smartly and make sure you know how to get there (a good idea is to do a practice run if practical / possible, so you know the route and how long it will take).
However, people tend to miss a trick when the interview is drawing to a close and the interviewer(s) asks whether you have any questions. The key here- as with everything else - is to prepare beforehand (can you sense a pattern here?). If you’ve done your research on the company, this is a chance for you to ask searching, insightful questions which demonstrate your commercial awareness, if you’ve not already had the chance to show it up until that point. This is more important for graduate jobs but may earn you brownie points for part-time or summer jobs too. The company’s website is usually a good starting point for information on which to base your questions. Think about what market it operates in, its challenges and competitors and what makes the business successful. If you can show a potential employer that you understand their company, it could give you the edge over other candidates.
You’ve given it your best shot and now you have to play the waiting game…… whilst you mull over how the interview went, note down all the questions you were asked, or as many as you can remember, while they’re still fresh in your mind. This will not only help you to evaluate your performance more accurately but may also be useful in the future. Like with the skills portfolio, I would suggest starting a Word document and adding to it after every interview. Having a record of previous interview questions can aid you in preparing for future interviews, particularly if you were asked something novel that you didn’t really know how to answer. With the benefit of hindsight, how would you answer that same question now? Maybe it’s something that drawing on your list of skills could help you with.
When scanning any job advert, consider also potential questions you could be asked for your role, based on the job description, person specification and your research on the company. Put yourself in the interviewer’s shoes. What would you want to know about the person you’re potentially hiring for the role? If it’s plausible, add it to the document.
The best thing you can do after any unsuccessful interview or application is to ask for feedback. If you don’t know where you’re going wrong, how can you improve for your next interview? Send a polite email thanking the employer for their time and ask what they thought you could have done better on, or if they have called you to let you know the bad news, ask them there and then on the phone.
If you’re an obsessively organised type, you might want to consider creating a spreadsheet to track the status of your applications. Use the first column to list the job title and then use the remaining columns to make a note of the job reference, date you applied, the company, contact name, interview date, outcome and feedback. This shouldn’t take too long and will help you to decide when to follow up applications if appropriate, as well as giving you an idea of how effective your applications are overall. However, if the advert says that your application has been unsuccessful if you haven’t heard back from the company within a certain number of days, then chasing up after those number of days have passed will most likely be futile.
Job-hunting is not the most exciting of tasks but it is a good opportunity to reflect on how you’ve developed personally and professionally, not to mention a chance to effectively shout out about your skills and achievements (and let’s be honest, who doesn’t like feeling good about themselves?). When you sit sunbathing on that Caribbean beach, celebrating with a cocktail in hand after landing your desired job, all that effort will have been worth it.