Tips for graduate jobseekers, from a recent graduate

Unemployed graduates

The following post is partly a personal reflection based on my own experiences; a combination of things that worked for me and things I wished I’d known when I was looking for work. I’d welcome your thoughts and contributions, in the comments below or via TwitterI’m also grateful to the wonderful Aimee Bateman of CareerCake for contributing to this blog post!

Finding a graduate job

Getting a graduate job in today’s world is no easy feat. The so-called milk round of our parents’ generation is long gone and will probably never return, and as of July this year the average applicant per graduate job is a whopping 52, 11% more than 2011. We’re constantly told that we have to go the extra mile to stand out from the crowd, but this is often easier said than done when everyone else is given the same advice! So here’s my take on the subject:

Embrace social media

If there’s one key skill that employers of all shapes and sizes are seeking today, it’s social media savvy. Recent research has found that companies who embrace social media across their organisation (not just in the marketing department) are reaping the benefits. Use this knowledge to your advantage by demonstrating to potential employers that your use of this medium would be an asset to their organisation. If you’re going to do this though, you have to do it properly; populating a LinkedIn page or Twitter bio is one thing, but for it to have an effect you have to use these channels to engage with others and demonstrate your knowledge of the industry (or industries) you are working in. Great places to start include LinkedIn groups and Twitter Chats; both of these will enable you to target relevant industry sectors, engaging with thought leaders and practitioners. Your social media presence should also act as an interactive CV and Cover Letter combined, a personal brand if you will; for more on this topic see my blog post Cultivate your Personal Brand using Social Media. See also this Guardian article for even more practical advice. Of course, this strategy requires a considerable investment of time; don’t expect results overnight.

Find a ‘career sponsor’

The word ‘sponsor’ has obvious financial connotations, but in this case I’m talking about something completely different. The concept of a career sponsor was first introduced to me live on the air when I appeared as a job-seeking graduate on BBC Radio Walesmorning show. A fellow guest, an HR manager at BT, described a career sponsor as:

A person you know who is successful, who you can go to for advice and support whenever you need it, and who will sing your praises to others.

This is perhaps the most useful piece of career advice I’ve ever been given. A career sponsor, in other words, should be your rock, someone who knows you well and who understands your unique strengths and limitations. Chances are, you know someone like this already; if so, use them! Of course, it’s just as likely that there are several people who could each fulfil one part of this role. On a personal note, my Dad has always been a great source of inspiration to me, helping me to see the bigger picture and to understand my own abilities and strengths. A Cardiff University School of Music lecturer has been another source of wisdom for me and many other students, so much so that I nominated him for an award! And finally the wonderful Aimee Bateman (as featured in this post – see below) has helped me to re-evaluate my approach to job-seeking and my career and I’m very proud to count her as a friend. Basically, the key message of this bullet point is:don’t go it alone; seek out and make use of a person or persons who will keep you motivated and help to show you the bigger picture.

Success is found in unexpected places

This is perhaps the most abstract piece of advice in this post, but bear with me; when it comes to finding a job, imagination is just as important as determination. It’s very easy to get stuck in a rut, or to think that there really aren’t any jobs that you’re suitable for, but more often than not you just need to change tack. Apply for work experience (if you live in Wales, GO Wales is a great resource for this), even short-term placements, and don’t be afraid to go after opportunities in different sectors. As a music graduate I gained my current job (Marketing Executive for LexAble, a software company) through a 2 week work experience placement. Part of this was being in the right place at the right time, but it was my transferable skills (namely IT proficiency, a working knowledge of web design and the ability to write well) that got me the job! Another important message that I would share is to never overlook small businesses; when I started my placement I never thought that my now boss would have any need for a permanent employee, but I was quickly proven wrong! After months of applying for advertised jobs in the arts sector with well-established and much larger organisations, it was in a completely different sector, with the smallest possible company and in a role that was yet to exist where I found my first big career break! In brief: be creative in your job search, don’t be afraid to look outside your sector, and ignore the ‘little guys’ at your peril!
To finish off this post, I asked career guru Aimee Bateman what the most important thing graduate job-seekers should be doing to ensure their success. Here’s her reply:

Make it personal and adapt your cover letters and applications to each employer. Don’t ever make an employer feel like they are just one of many companies you are contacting (even if they are). If you want an employer to be genuinely interested in you, then you must show you are genuinely interested in them

For more advice, check out the videos on her site or the CareerCake YouTube channel.

What about you? Are there any job-seeking strategies that worked well for you? What’s the most valuable piece of advice you’ve been given? Let me know in the comments.

Cultivate your Personal Brand using Social Media

Personal Branding

Personal BrandingRemember the Noughties, when Facebook was a relatively new phenomenon? Before Twitter had exploded, before Pinterest and Instagram even existed? Back in the ‘dark ages’, the newspapers and the rumour mill were rife with stories of people being sacked or rejected because of drunken exploits posted to their Facebook profile. While the importance of shielding your boss from the image of you half-naked with your head down a toilet can never be overstated, the role of social media in defining who you are has since changed for the better. Now, instead of hiding our social lives and interests from our colleagues and potential employers, we put them online for all to see. Clearly, this strategy is paying off: more and more people are using social media to obtain a job (or a better job), and recent studies have found that up to 82% of recruiters have hired employees via LinkedIn. While this is far less true of other social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, in my opinion it’s only a matter of time.

So, how can you make the most of social media, demonstrating your skills, qualities and  to colleagues, potential employers and the world? The answer is to dive head first into as many channels as possible, whilst unifying your content in the form of a consistent personal brand. This post outlines ways that you can make the most of the tools available to present your social media activity as a united front.

  1. Keep it consistent.
    Make it easy for others to find you by using the same username for everything. This is worthwhile not only because it makes it easy to tell if a profile belongs to you, but if your username is relatively unique then it’s also good for SEO, enabling others to use Google to find a cross-section of your social media activity. Another consideration is whether you use the same photo everywhere – you might want a professional headshot for LinkedIn, for example – but, even if you choose different photos to match each site’s tone, make sure that they are all recognisable as you.
  2. Embrace multiple platforms.
    These days it’s not enough to use just one or two social platforms; the more sites you use, the better. It’s good to be aware of the limitations of each platform; there’s only so much you can say in 140 characters or less, and LinkedIn pages tend to be rather dull, so mix it up a bit with multimedia content and full-length writing. Additional networks to consider include Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube and even Foursquare. If you have a flair for writing, then a WordPress/Blogger blog is always a worthwhile investment. Basically, try as many as you can and see what works best for you.
  3. Break down boundaries.
    Using multiple platforms is all well and good, but you can get maximum benefit by cross-promoting your activities between sites. Obvious examples include sharing blog posts to Twitter, posting Instagram photos to your Facebook Timeline and (before it was killed off), auto-posting your Tweets to LinkedIn. But don’t be afraid to think outside the box: if you think a recent blog post is relevant to your LinkedIn contacts, make sure you’re sharing it there too. The same might be true of photos from a recent conference, or a particularly insightful Pinterest pin.
  4. Be wary of auto-sharing.
    While it’s important to take people from one platform to another as much as possible, don’t overdo it. As a general rule, don’t enable auto-sharing functionality. A prominent example of this particular faux pas is the automatic sharing of truncated Facebook posts to Twitter: a lot of Facebook content is simply too long-winded to be posted on Twitter, and users will be reluctant to click a link simply to read the end of a sentence. The key thing here is to give people a strong reason to follow you in more than one place, and you can do this by manually varying what you do and don’t share between networks. In other words, use your common sense; ask yourself whether a post on one site will transfer well to another, and weigh up the chances of your followers seeing the same thing twice before deciding to share it elsewhere.
  5. Don’t be an egomaniac.
    This one’s perhaps rather obvious, but make sure not to talk about yourself all the time. Sharing content created by others is a good way of demonstrating what ideals you aspire to, and in any case social media is about connecting with others and the discovery of new ideas. It’s very tempting to shout from the rooftops about your own skills and achievements, but you should never forget your place in the world.
  6. Content is everything.
    The final thing I want to note in this post is the importance of quality over quantity. Never post just for the sake of it, and always consider what you’re contributing to the conversation before you decide to share. In the eyes of a recruiter it’s much more advantageous to have fewer posts that are highly relevant than to have too many posts that have been made indiscriminately or without much thought.

What are your tips for creating a unified personal brand? Do you have any innovative ways of working across social media platforms? Let me know in the comments, or as always you can send me a Tweet!