Getting on the career ladder

Career ladderThe graduate job market remains intensely competitive. But if you’re determined to succeed, these tips will help.

Before you start, know what and why

The single most important preparation for job-search success is to clarify what you’re looking for, what you offer and why this particular job role and industry are right for you.

Complete the following statement: “By 2016, I want to be earning my living by doing X. I will be good at it because Y and it is the right job for me because Z.”

It really doesn’t matter if over the next 12-18 months you change your mind; just adjust your career plans accordingly. The benefit of clarity now is that you have an objective for your search and will be able to prioritise your efforts on the most suitable jobs for you.

Don’t start researching vacancies until you are clear about what you want and need from the job that will launch your career, even if you’re studying a vocational degree and looking into a specific profession. Consider issues such as: your definition of job satisfaction; location; training opportunities; salary; personal interests; your current skill level and what you definitely don’t want to do. If you can’t describe for yourself what interests you in the world of work, you won’t be able to articulate that to a recruiter or potential employer.

Quality above quantity

Remember, this says “above”, it doesn’t say “not”. Don’t be panicked by the economic news into applying for everything and anything. Your health and grades will suffer if you overstretch yourself. Start with your long-term vision and focus your efforts on the right jobs for you. Certainly you’ll have to work hard (successful applications usually take days of work), but you’ll be working on the right areas.

Differentiate yourself

You’ve already demonstrated that you’re capable of learning and undertaking new tasks – university and school proved that. What potential employers are interested in is what makes you tick? How are you unique and do you describe your unique potential?

Even if you’re heading for a technical role that applies your degree, your competencies, such as leadership, problem-solving or collaboration, are still important. In your applications, include examples where you demonstrated these core behaviours, for instance, through volunteering, holiday jobs, work placements or study.

Get organised

Successful applicants are never surprised by deadlines and can always find their notes when required to deliver at a phone interview. Complete applications well within deadlines to give yourself review time; it’s astonishing how many people deliver material that has not been proofread, with an hour to go until the deadline.

Try buddying up with someone targeting a different industry and help each other critique applications. Always review any interview or assessment centre immediately afterwards too: take some notes on what went well, what went less well and what you’ll learn for your next application. You’ll see your interviewing skills and confidence grow as you get more experience. For example, one of my coachees last year decided to dress up for every phone interview. She had all her notes ready on the desk and felt confident in her interview suit. It might sound silly but it put her in the frame of mind for success.

Spread your net wide

While still applying point one, be creative in your job seeking. SMEs are offering far more graduate entry career development nowadays. Look across the market to see if roles outside the milkround could work for you.


Sian Case is job-search coach and author of Nail That Job, the complete guide for the less–experienced jobseeker

Thanks to The Guardian for allowing to republish this article. You can view the original version on the Guardian website.