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Career starts and graduates

Young people can end up in a career they never wanted with a life that doesn't fit. Many become depressed and demoralised in glorified admin roles, in jobs they fell back on while waiting for something better to happen.

Recruiters are always looking for new talent... but not just any old talent. You need to be able to offer more than just a dream of your brilliant career; you need a focused, coherent and purposeful approach to securing a job that will take you somewhere.

We take education for granted now but before 1960 only the elite and the brilliant went to university at all. The graduate population has grown hugely in the last 4 decades, creating more competition than ever before. It's a shame but it's a fact of life that not everyone will get the glamour jobs, but some people do... what type of candidate are you?

This is a wake up call

If you want something worth having you need a mission, a strategy and a methodology:
  • Capture the knowledge: acquire enough information to be convincing in your proposed choice of career; use career guides, websites, company information, the trade press. Make sure you know sufficient about what they do to send in a coherent application and ask intelligent questions at interview.

  • Talk the talk: if possible, make real human contacts and gain work experience long before you graduate; companies are usually on the lookout for promising recruits so they will not mind a polite and mature approach; it can be valuable to ask someone in the business what the vital issues of today really are, then maybe tailor your project work/dissertation to match. This is what sorts sheep from goats in terms of applications.

  • Take the wider view: put yourself in the place of the employer. To give you a desk, a pension, training and minimal perks probably costs more than your salary. They want reasons to say yes and they will respond to applicants who express strong personal qualities, as illustrated by their application style and its inner validity. You do not need to sound naive by describing yourself in clichés like "strong communicator" and "team player" - not if you design your CV cleverly enough and you write convincingly enough for the maturity and character to be implicit.
The good news

You can be yourself: there is no need to conform, to impress, to talk bigger than you feel. You do not need to dream up an eCommerce winner to avoid being a nobody. HR Managers look at potential recruits and wish to God that they would stop pratting about and stick honestly to being themselves.
  • The well rounded you: recruiters will be trying to get you to open up in order to assess your working potential in real life situations; you can help this process along by ensuring that your CV provides talking points that give you a chance to describe the way you do the things you do, whether it be leisure, travel, social, voluntary or sporting activities.

  • Realistic and purposeful: recruiters are not stupid and they are not looking for images, idle boasts or blind ambition. They want real people who get the job done, people who bed themselves in and learn what's going on. You can encourage that perception by using the information you have gathered both in your application statement (to talk about your study and career interests so far) and at the interview (with well prepared questions and themes to expand upon).

  • Tests and tricks: tips on what to say and how to manipulate are ten a penny and mostly worthless. You don't need to cheat and you can't cheat anyway because there will probably be a psychometric test and more than one interview stage awaiting you. Years ago graduate application forms started asking questions you cannot beat, like "what is your worst ever mistake and how did you recover?"
    It's a good idea to rehearse some answers to challenging questions like that (your worst faults; how would you deal with a serious mistake made by your boss; what would you do if you were certain that a project was going wrong but your manager told you to keep quiet...)
    Just be yourself, but give some thought to who you really are...
Can you package yourself effectively?

This is about marketing and strategy, two of the good things you will come up against in your career and are probably looking forward to. Start by asking yourself how you compare as a brand offering.

Target driven people
  • These are the clear thinking and mature individuals who choose their university not just because they want to have a good time but because it provides the best step on the ladder of a well-informed career proposition that they pursue remorselessly and generally successfully.

  • They are the ones who arrange work shadows every vacation, the ones who select such brilliant projects that potential employers take notice, the ones who read well beyond the syllabus.

  • Such people are likely to succeed eventually even if their results are average and their institution unspectacular. Many of them have great careers without ever going to university.
People who combine realism with knowledge with determination and get the tone of their application style right are extremely unlikely to fail, even if it takes a while to see the fruits of their dedication.

The "Stars"
  • More exciting but less common are the trendies and high fliers, often with good degrees from a respected uni, usually backed up by an impressive social contribution, captaincy of a sports team, a Duke of Ed Gold, etc. Usually they float to the top of the imaginary hierarchy of the drama society or the college refectory, often with a pretence of egalitarianism....

  • ....which evaporates after graduation, when they have the knowledge, were born to the turf, are given the contacts and know what to say.

  • This is not fair but it is part of the reality that graduates face. If you wish to join an elite you need a purpose and a plan, not the envy and confusion with which most people handle their career start.
The Indistinguishables
  • The largest category of young humanity must be everyone else, all those with a 2:2 in an unfocused subject who haven't given much thought to career but would like something nice please if the world would be so kind.

  • Some of these people have never touched a keyboard but think an I.T. career sounds rather nice, no statistical ability but would like to deal in derivatives and get paid £500,000 bonuses, very little understanding of product positioning but could be good in "marketing, people careers... maybe be something with a .com start-up..."

  • The best spin on reality for the majority is that time is currently on your side: you can always do what many successful people do: get a job, work very hard, wait until opportunity appears, grasp that opportunity, demonstrate your worth by results and ideas, develop leadership potential and make it to the top no matter what stands in your way. This does happen, very often. People do wake up.
Which brings us back to individualism, the inescapable consequence of our human desires, the scenario that makes us value some outcomes over others and guarantees that what everyone else can do easily is probably not worth doing. You really have to be an individual, don't you?


These topics are covered in greater depth in the online
course - CV1 - with examples and exercises.
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