Life after university: how to get your first ‘real’ job
You’re standing in your graduation gown, diploma in hand and no longer classified as a ‘student’. It’s time to leave the toga parties and two-minute noodles behind and put your degree to use in the real world.
One thing you need to remember is that around the country many young hopefuls just like yourself are graduating at the same time with similar education and experience, all vying for the same jobs as you. This can make getting a job in your career field fresh out of university tricky, but all it takes is some resilience, a great attitude and a clear understanding of what you want.
What do you want?
Firstly, it’s important for you to work out what careers you are interested in. Just because you have completed a law degree does not mean you have to become a lawyer – you may be interested in business analysis or politics. An arts degree under your belt could unlock the doors to careers in journalism, community services or even tourism.
With so many options, how do you narrow it down? Think of any work experience you might have had and what you enjoyed about it. Perhaps you took a liking to writing articles, or you enjoyed working in small teams. Even think of subjects or assignments in your course that you liked and excelled in. Whatever your strengths, apply for jobs with these in mind.
Putting your skills to paper
Once you have decided what jobs to apply for you need to make sure your resume is up-to-date and makes you stand out from the crowd. Your degree is your main asset at this point, but any additional experience you have is a bonus; however, if you haven’t been able to gain any experience in the field, don’t despair. Any work experience, volunteer work, achievements and extra-curricular activities will help to show your work ethic, initiative, potential and versatility.
Cover letters allow you the opportunity to sell yourself to the employer. Be specific; don’t expect to get the job with a generic cover letter. Address the letter to the appropriate person and wow employers by showing you have done your research, for example, ‘[Company name] has grown to be a market leader in [the specific industry] over the past year and I would love to be a part of the team’. Make sure you individually address each of the criteria listed in the job posting, relating each one back to previous experience you have had. This is the time for you to show how your stint as a checkout chick has made you a team player and therefore suitable for the role advertised!
Some industries may require you to show evidence of your ability to write or do research. If you haven’t published any papers, feel free to include any class assignments or even blog posts that demonstrate your ability to communicate and expertise in the field.
Leave a good first impression
So you landed yourself a job interview! Congratulations, you are one step closer to being employed. Even though you have probably spent the last four years wearing track pants to lectures, in the land of job interviews shoes are not an option but a necessity. First impressions are essential, and although this may not mean dressing up to the nines it does mean you need to dress appropriately for the role.
Be prepared mentally as well as physically for the interview. Armed with your university degree, most employers will expect you to have some understanding of the industry and current trends, as well as the basic skills required for the job. Know the business and the role you’re applying for inside and out. Also be prepared to think outside the box.
Employers nowadays are straying from traditional interview questions and procedures to find out more about their prospective employees. So don’t be lost for words when you’re asked, ‘If you were an animal what would you be?’
Make sure you are realistic yet optimistic when conveying your abilities to a prospective employer. If you haven’t had much experience in the field, describe how other work you have done has given you the skills to excel in the job. And don’t forget that positivity and enthusiasm go a long way – for many employers, the main thing they’re looking for in a junior is the right attitude.
Get a foot in the door
If you’re finding that you’re getting a lot of doors slammed in your face, then applying for internships and graduate programs can open new ones. While these do not guarantee you a job, they offer great hands-on experience and give you an upper hand if a position becomes available within the company. Businesses admire people who are willing to put in the time and effort to do unpaid work and this will show your passion for the industry.
This is also a great way to network and build up your contacts. An accountant from the firm you’re interning at may leave to start his own business and remember you. Chances are there will be several other graduates interning at the same time, so be sure to impress them with your eagerness and hard work.
Start at the bottom
Starting at the bottom of the food chain is also another way to get your foot in the door. If the only position available at your dream radio station is for a mailroom clerk then don’t be disheartened. Australian Vogue editor Kirstie Clements started out as a receptionist before working her way to the top. So paying your dues in the mailroom may one day land you that gig on-air. Work hard, get to know the key players in the company, and you may be noticed. You also have a better chance of hearing about job vacancies from within the company.
Hang in there!
Throughout your job-hunting process, remain resilient. Don’t let the increasing number of rejection letters piling up on your desk deflate your confidence. Be proactive, positive and enthusiastic. Look through newspapers, job search sites and social media sites. Ask your friends and family to ask their friends. Keep an open mind about jobs you’d accept – you are not going to get your dream job a month out of university. You may have to settle for something unexpected, but don’t give up. You never know what might be around the corner.