A question that fills many a final year student with dread. Whilst by no means a given, in my experience this is particularly prominent amongst those who study non-vocational degrees such as History or English. Such degrees, save for those who choose to stay in academia or cross over into teaching, can leave students devoid of any sense of direction. Degrees such as history are lauded for their ‘transferrable skills’, whilst certainly valuable to a prospective employer, the wide-ranging nature of the degree can make it difficult for students to decide on a career path.
In my experience of the graduate job market, the greatest difficulty I encountered was sifting through countless pages of ‘graduate jobs’ that were fundamentally unsuitable. Many of the major job websites (when narrowed down for graduate roles) were a minefield of account manager and recruitment consultant positions that upon further inspection were revealed to be glorified sales roles with extremely high turnovers. If possible I would recommend that all graduates use their own universities careers website to begin their search. The most obvious benefit is that with a smaller pool of applicants your chances immediately improve. The foremost reason for me advocating the use of them however, is that they are full of roles intended for recent graduates with the universities themselves often vetting potential employers, thereby lessening the chances of falling prey to a mis-advertised role.
It is important to narrow down your search in whatever way you can, though some degrees do not point you in an immediately obvious direction, the transferrable skills gained and any other experiences from outside the confines of education can help to guide you. For me this experience came from working prior to and concurrently with my studies. Working in fast food translated as experience working in a team, an ability to multi task under pressure and perhaps most importantly any form of prior work evidences a healthy work ethic, an important consideration for any prospective employer. Striking a balance between being open to all opportunities and assessing which jobs you have a real chance of getting is something of a conundrum, however a smaller number of tailored applications is much more preferable than a scattergun approach.
When it comes to tailoring these applications, in my opinion your greatest asset is your covering letter. CV’s whilst crucial to an application are confined by fairly strict universally accepted conventions, a cover letter on the other hand allows far more scope to express your own personality and really sell yourself to an employer. The cover letter is your opportunity to expand on your CV and explain exactly why you are suited to that particular role. In addition to this, a simple way to endear yourself to an employer whilst displaying your enthusiasm for the role is to do a small amount of research regarding the company you are applying for. This need not be several days’ worth of study, but this small amount of effort goes a long way in terms of selling yourself, and furthers the creation of a bespoke application that will stand out from the crowd. Following a successful application, the last thing that stands in your way is the dreaded interview stage. Whilst I cannot claim to have ever totally aced an interview, I can offer some advice on how an anxious applicant can give themselves a better chance and calm their nerves. Having experienced many different types of interview for a wide variety of roles, two things that I have found to be crucial are good preparation and confidence, and in my experience the two go hand in hand. For many of us confidence can be a difficult thing to simulate, solid preparation can help to negate this deficit by readying you for all scenarios (at least in theory). Obviously, it would be impossible to predict the exact questions an interviewer will ask, though practicing some hypotheticals, using the prior research from the application and having anecdotes in your head ready to deploy instils a level of confidence by lessening the fear of being left. Again, this need not be weeks of rigorous study, but think of your skills/qualities, think of what the employer is looking for and prepare a few short narratives of past experiences that exemplify these skills.
To summarise, I would advocate beginning your search at your respective universities dedicated careers portal if possible. Upon identifying a role for which you think you may be suitable ensure that you put the time in to crafting a unique application to increase your chances of standing out in the competitive modern day job market. Should your application be successful adopt a similar approach to your interview, preparation is key. In my experience my confidence grew with practice, as a graduate it is difficult to ascertain what you are actually qualified/capable of doing, solid preparation increased my self-belief that I was indeed capable of fulfilling the role. In the event that your application fails, remain stoic and maintain the levels of effort put in to your applications. It is easy to become disheartened in the face of rejection, though it is important to remember that it happens to all of us and if you continue to put the time and effort into submitting well researched, thoughtful applications you will land a job.