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Wednesday, 14th of October 2009

I wish graduates were better served by the advice and careers agencies they go to for help with job applications.

The vast majority of graduates are recruited by career recruiters most of whom will recruit in the same way. Who advises graduates about how to apply for jobs? Rarely anyone who has sat on the other side of the fence.

I gather some more enlightened universities are now hiring ex-recruiters to hone their graduate's skills in job search but for those unlucky ones unable to access this 'goldstar' advice here's five top tips for graduates out there still looking for a dream, or indeed any, job gleaned as a result of running graduate assessment centres recently.

1. Know what you want. Be really clear about why you want to do what you are applying for and most importantly be clear you do want to do it! Even if it wasn't your top choice of career when you started your degree, adapt. There is always a range of ways to get where you want to go - you have to start somewhere. But applying for a tele-sales job when your passion is rocket science will be challenging - you'll need to convince you can still see a future in tele-sales and do a great job. Good recruiters will see through you 'saying the right things' so before you even apply convince yourself or you cannot convince others. Everything can be fun with the right environment and the right people.

2. Pay attention to what's wanted from you. Read the ad. Obvious advice but I was shocked how few people do. Generic covering letters read as just that - a generic letter which can be applied to any job. Don't even bother with it. You'd be better hanging out on Facebook or YouTube rather than firing off applications like this given the value that a generic covering letter will afford you.

3. Tailor your application to the ad you have seen. Every time. Use those essay-writing skills you have spent three to four years honing. What does this role demand of you? How can you evidence you can deliver it? Read the ad and then tailor your covering letter and your CV to show how you have the skills and experience to really deliver the job on offer. Just saying you used be in charge of the bar is not enough - say what you learned and what skills you to persuade people to do what you wanted and brilliant mental arithmetic maybe, making them role relevant.

4. Try and stand out at interview. Again an obvious piece of advice. There's plenty of advice on how to handle yourself at interview; being memorable is important - but in a good way. Don't try too hard, be yourself, ask questions, push yourself forward if you're in a group but try not to bulldoze. Enthusiasm, drive and an evidenced interest in the organisation always come across well. It never hurts to thank your interviewer or assessment centre co-ordinator personally at the end following up with a brief note re-iterating your interest especially if this is for a role with a strong need for interpersonal skills.

5. Follow up afterwards. I made an extra effort with those who were initially rejected and came back to push themselves forward harder, asking about other opportunities - I liked their approach and enthusiasm and went off to find them more interviews in the organisation. That won't always work but if you genuinely loved the opportunity what do you have to lose?

So, think about doing something different from your ideal to gain valuable work experience and genuinely be clear about the benefits to you and your prospective employer, don't assume it's not worth making extra effort with each application - better to make five good applications than twenty-five standard ones. Stand out at interview - plan and prepare for it as you have done your exams or your recent travel plans and follow up at the end - we all like a bit of tenacity and confidence - you never know what might happen!

Jane Newell Brown

Co-author 'The Professional Recruiter's Handbook' and management consultant in the recruitment arena.


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