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.

The Pros and Cons of Introversion: a Personal Reflection

Introversion

People who have never met me in person will probably never realise this (because I’m such a loudmouth online), but I’m actually an incredibly shy personIn fact some people who have met me may not realise this at first, because I do my best to hide it, forcing myself to start conversations and ask questions.

I’ve learnt the hard way that forcing myself out of my comfort zone is the only way I’ll ever get noticed, and before coming to university I experienced first hand the consequences of not doing so; namely loneliness, isolation and, ultimately, bullying. My university experience and my embracement of social media has truly changed my life for the better, but deep down I’m still cripplingly self-conscious.

This blog post outlines the perceived positives and negatives of my introverted nature. I’ve written this blog post partly for the purposes of personal reflection (getting things down on paper, as it were), but also for the benefits of any fellow introverts who might stumble upon it, in the hope that they may take some wisdom from my thoughts or think about themselves in a different way. The post tackles cons first and pros second, in the hope of ending on a positive note!

The negatives of introversion:

  • I often worry that people, even my own best friends, don’t like me or don’t want to spend time with me.
  • I’m reluctant to speak about my own achievements, anxious of being seen as arrogant or boastful.
  • A fear of confrontation makes it difficult for me to be assertive or hold people to account. This is particularly problematic when dealing with external business partners on behalf of my company.
  • My self-awareness regarding the above issues often causes me to overcompensate, to embarrassing/disastrous effect.
  • I could never work in sales; I’d spend every waking moment worrying about causing my client even the slightest amount of disruption or inconvenience!
  • Sometimes I will avoid doing things simply because they involve some kind of social contact.

It’s not all bad, however: 

The positives of introversion:

  • My crushing self-awareness has given me a high level of emotional intelligence: knowing what to say and how to say it, no matter what the medium or context, is something that comes naturally to me. This is an obvious blessing not only in social situations but also as a marketer.
  • I consider myself fortunate to be able to do things by myself, giving myself space to think. People who spend every waking moment in the company of others are missing out on valuable thinking time, in my opinion.
  • My slight tendency to avoid social contact makes me appreciate spending time with friends and family all the more.
  • As a teenager, spending more time than was normal in front of a computer and not out on the streets is definitely a contributory factor to my relative success with social media and web technologies. My first and only MySpace layout, for instance, was built completely from scratch using pure CSS/HTML, made to look like iTunes, and it was how I learned to code. I would love to show you what it looked like but sadly it hasn’t been preserved in the archives 🙁 Anyway, back to the point: I probably wouldn’t have the job I have today if I hadn’t been such a web nerd from an early age!
  • Finally, I think social media is much easier to get right if you’re an introvert: sharing the ideas and content of others (something I’ve always done without thinking) is the best way to use this medium, and social media is a great way to have focused discussions with like-minded individuals. Perhaps the hardest bit (on a personal level) is successfully making the jump from online to offline by drawing upon the connections you make.

To summarise, I think introversion plays a large part in shaping who I am as a person and how I think about the world. To any fellow introverts who stumble upon this post: I’d be interested to hear your thoughts in the comments section below, or via Twitter!
(Extraverts are also welcome)