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Seriously Good Job Hunting Tips For School Leavers & Recent Graduates

Updated: Nov 25, 2020

For those of you like me, who left (or will soon be leaving) both University and School without any idea whatsoever about the job I wanted to do (other than to play lots of cricket), I hope that you find this blog useful to help you to land an exciting job or indeed a paid position during the holiday to gain valuable work experience.

The first important point that I want to make is this, don’t worry if you don’t actually know what you want to do… it’s fine.

What’s not fine is that your uncertainty comes across in your application.

So Top Tip #1 is “make sure, make really sure, that you convince the reader of your application that you want to work for them and their company doing the actual job that you have applied for”. This may sound obvious. It isn’t. It’s too easy today to just hit “apply” and forget about the application in the hope that you’re CV will be selected. Research the person that you are applying to, research the company and it’s corporate values, use some of their language (good old fashioned mirroring techniques) to tailor your application, and stand out as someone who has actually researched the opportunity and is more “keen” than other applicants. Line Managers like keenness, they like candidate’s who know why they are applying.

Top Tip #2. Don’t stress if you don’t get the grades that you want. I didn’t. I completely flunked my Biology A-level, but it doesn’t matter - at least not as much as you believe.

Now more than ever, employers are hiring candidates with the right behaviours as opposed to a flawless academic record. As the MD of an award-winning recruitment business I look for the following in people we hire:

  • An insatiable desire for self-improvement. People who read articles online, who follow bloggers who write about “best practice”, people who listen and implement the coaching that they receive.

  • An ability to join “the commercial dots”. This means having an understanding of what the customer wants and likes, and about delivering quality business solutions in order to impact the bottom line of the business. People who work to make a difference as opposed to just doing a job.

  • Work ethic is critical. We live in a society that is on-line 25 hours a day, 8 days a week. There are more distractions than ever before. As an upcoming school or University leaver, you must be prepared to work both harder and smarter than all the other applicants. The first two years of your career will pave the way for the rest of your life. Get ahead by getting ahead.

  • Tenacity and the ability to deal with failure. You will, at some point, fail at something. I like people who have the ability to learn from mistakes, dust themselves off, and improve as a result. Bouncebackability is super-critical as the world doesn’t work in straight lines. If you’re a straight-A* student, with a first-class degree be prepared to be asked how you react or deal with failure… if you haven’t yet experienced it, trust me, you will do soon.

Once you have highlighted a number of jobs that you want to apply for, handwrite an application (and envelope) and send it directly in the post to the hiring manager. Reference that you have also applied on-line.

Top Tip #3 is that “two covering letters are better than one”. Daring to be different will help you to stand out from the crowd.

If you are unsure about what you want to do, or about the jobs that might best suit your skills and personality then Top Tip #4 is important.

Surf the job boards, read about different types of jobs, make lists of the aspects (specific bullet points within the spec) that you like the sound of, and are passionate about. Once you have done this, mirror the language from the job spec within your application. In terms of the current market trends, here’s a very quick overview of the jobs that employers are struggling to fill

  • Big Data is a “thing”. Companies are producing bucket loads of data. Some aren’t sure what to do with it or what it means, many are now analysing it. As a result, they are recruiting Data Analysts, Business Intelligence professionals, and people with strong numerical skills. These jobs are absolutely here to stay, I predict that more will be created in the next few years.

  • Search google for “Digital Marketing Jobs” and you will have millions of results to plough through. Digital marketing, relatively speaking, is brand new in the world of work. As a result, there are more jobs than there are brilliant candidates. If you become a digital marketing specialist, you will land an awesome job in the future.

  • Ask any CEO in the world if they want to take market share and/or drive sales growth and the answer will not be “No”. Sales as a professional career is often overlooked by most University or School career departments. But for young adults who might miss their academic requirements, a career in sales can be very lucrative and rewarding from a self-esteem perspective. Businesses will always need great new sales talent, so if you have a can-do personality and are naturally pro-active, it is well worth pursuing a career on the front line.

  • If you want to get into Accountancy. Once you have become “newly qualified” you will not be short of additional job offers. I have been involved in Accountancy recruitment since 1997, today as it was back then, any trainee or part qualified accountant with at least 12m experience can command a salary increase and other exciting “new” opportunities by dipping their toe into the market and registering for our Dream Job Alert.

  • It raised eyebrows when I explained that there is a huge talent shortage for qualified engineers in the UK. We have some amazing engineering schools, but a shortage of people wanting to move into the profession. The most recent article I read suggested that there is a 16-year talent gap to fill in the UK engineering sector, in short, this means that the demand for engineers is greater than the supply of candidates.

  • And then there is my own industry. Post-recession there are twice as many recruitment businesses, but only half as many recruitment consultants. We train our own from scratch, so (and yes this is a plug here!) if you are interested in working in an environment where age doesn’t matter, where you can be the master of your own destiny, where you will be customer facing and working in a dynamic environment then please read my blog about how I believe that recruitment is actually like an "office sport".

In terms of money, salary package, and working out what you should be paid my Top Tip #6 is DO NOT let money dictate what you do so early in your career. During the Careers Evening, I followed a guy from RBS called Richard onto the lectern. He suggested that graduates joining the RBS will be paid between £27-35k in their first year. I think we all agree that this is amazing. However, it’s not the norm. How do I know that it’s not the norm:

  • There are only 574 businesses in the East Midlands turning over £50m or more. This represents 0.2% of all organisations.

  • 1% have a turnover of £10-49m

  • 98% of all East Midlands companies turnover less than £10m.

Small businesses cannot afford to pay that much money to candidates who have less than 12 months of work experience.

So my advice is to do whatever you can to get your foot through the door, to prove your worth and the money will soon follow.

Not many people know that back in 1997 Macildowie turned my application down. I didn’t take no for an answer though and called the MD to say that I wanted the job and that I would work for two weeks unpaid if he was prepared to give me a chance… the rest is history, but I would absolutely give my own kids the same advice if they know that they really want something… it shows a level of desire and confidence in your own ability that few are prepared to match, it makes you memorable and there aren’t many MD’s I know who would say no to that.

That leads me nicely on to “How to stand out from the crowd”. Without re-writing tips that I have already thought long and hard about, I want to redirect you to the excellent sections of our website to read more details on these… but don’t “left click” as you’ll go missing on me. Instead right-click on the link and select “open in new tab” – that way you can come back to finish off this blog as there is a real golden nugget at the end:

  • Top Tip #7 – Creating a Winning CV

  • Top Tip #8 – Securing an interview really is the hard part, standing out AT interview is relatively very easy in comparison

  • Top Tip #9 – How to win at an Assessment Centre

  • Top Tip #10 – Understand the best way to approach completing a Psychometric Assessment

In terms of making a decision about who you would most like to work for, you need to research and carry out your due diligence on what others say about working for a certain organisation,

Top Tip #11 is that you really should take a trip to Glassdoor. Glassdoor is known as “Tripadvisor for businesses” and will provide you with an alternative viewpoint to the company's website or career page. Here’s a link to the Macildowie page to get you started – Macildowie on Glassdoor

And finally. People tend to like (love?) people like themselves. So here’s some future homework for you to complete…

Once you have set up your Linkedin profile TopTip #12 is that you search for people who used to go to your school and/or University. It won’t guarantee you a job, but I promise that it will open doors.

If you're a school leaver or recent graduate, check out our other blogs for advice on your CV and more.

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