Is your job hunting strategy working?

I saw a graduate recently for a careers appointment who was keen to get into marketing and wanted to stay in the North West. Although she didn’t have a marketing degree, she’d managed to obtain a paid marketing-based internship of several months after she graduated on the basis of a few relevant extra-curricular activities (such as organising events) she’d done during her degree. However, she came to me saying she was really frustrated because she was applying for lots of grad schemes, “anything and everything really”, but wasn’t getting too far. She’d managed to get to the next stage in a couple of them, but there seemed to be hardly any in the North West and very few in marketing and she sensed she was missing something.

This is an example of not picking the best possible strategy to achieve your chosen career goal. It wasn’t the graduate’s fault. There were quite a few things she didn’t know or hadn’t considered.

  1. This is the biggie. So-called “graduate schemes” (those formal graduate development programmes generally with very large companies) only represent quite a small percentage of all graduate jobs. There’s a commonly held misconception that “graduate job = grad scheme”, but actually the majority of graduates don’t end up on grad schemes. There are lots of other interesting opportunities out there, and in some sectors (e.g. media, publishing, charities, marketing, environmental work) there are actually very few organisations that offer grad schemes, and the main route in is through relevant work experience (pre- and post-graduation) and direct entry-level roles.
  2. You need to consider what conditions you have/are imposing on your job search, and be realistic and flexible when it comes to other factors. For example, if you are determined to stay in Manchester, you are likely to be much more successful if you are flexible about the type of organisation you consider. (There are a lot of small businesses in Manchester offering really interesting opportunities but fewer of the Times Top 100 types!).
  3. You need to understand where, how (and even if!) jobs are advertised in the sector that you want to get into. For example, grad schemes are well advertised on all of the major graduate job sites, but in some sectors, few jobs seem to be advertised in the obvious places and you have to look much harder to track down specialist sector-specific job sites, and really start to network and make contacts to get your foot in the door. You can do this through social networking sites like LinkedIn and Twitter, as well as attending employer events and asking friends, family, tutors, your classmates, your line manager in your part-time job etc.
  4. Finally, applying for “anything and everything” is generally not the best approach. Job applications take time, and employers complain constantly that the quality of many of the applications they receive is very poor, reflecting the lack of time devoted to them. Your application needs to be really well targeted at the company you’re applying to. Recruiters can usually spot quite easily those candidates who are sending out applications en masse, as they haven’t really bothered to research the company and can’t communicate why they’re motivated to work for the organisation. Not surprisingly, these applications end up straight on the reject pile.

The point is you sometimes need to go beyond the obvious to be successful, and be prepared to re-think your strategy if it’s not working. And in this tough economic climate, you also need to try different strategies (and put some effort into each one) to see what works best!

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