Being flung out of college and shoved into the workplace can be an enormous shock. Indeed, it is often a much bigger transition than moving from primary to secondary, or from secondary to third level. Suddenly you are faced with the need to find a full-time job and build a career. It can be hard to know where to start.
The Irish Times spoke to experts on the practical first steps to successfully landing that job. They are: Caroline Kennedy, careers officer at the National College of Ireland; Marie McManamon, an independent careers consultant with ClearCut.ie; and Fergal Scully, guidance counsellor at Rathmines College of Further Education.
1. The job hunt
Caroline Kennedy: The earlier you start looking, the better. Ideally people start thinking about jobs in first year of college. Jobbio.ie, LinkedIn's search tool and gradireland.com are all useful. But a lot of jobs are hidden and you will only find them through networking. One person I know spoke to his boss, who spoke to his auditors, who got him a role as an accountant. Also, don't overlook recruitment agencies.
When you're applying for jobs, it's worth doing a quick Google search on yourself to see if the results are different from what you are telling an employer. Reppler. com is very useful for highlighting any red flags and helping clean up your online presence.
Marie McManamon: Graduates aren't always aware of what they want to do and what job opportunities available. They're not always aware that any graduate can apply for a job, even if it doesn't immediately seem relevant to their degree. It is ideal if students engage with the college careers service during their final year, and make sure to attend careers fairs.
Register for GradIreland alerts. Don't discount traditional media: buy The Irish Times on Fridays and read the job ads. If you find a company has opened in Dublin and are recruiting mid-level staff and a financial controller, they will also be recruiting graduates, even if they haven't advertised it; get ahead of the posse and find out what is happening.
The IDA has a useful website where you can see which big companies are located here. There are also jobs in start-up firms that aren’t always advertised, and this is where social media such as LinkedIn is useful. And don’t forget your lecturers: they will know about jobs in on-campus start-ups. Local enterprise offices are useful too.
Fergal Scully: Most jobs vacancies are not advertised. It costs money to advertise a job, go through CVs and interview people, so companies often try to recruit from pools of people they know or through employee recommendations. So jobseekers need to figure out ways to work around this.
LinkedIn is good for contacts: you can search for a company and see who works there, so it may be a way of getting to the HR manager. There’s no harm in showing initiative, contacting them with your CV and a note that although you know they’re not recruiting right now, you hope they will keep you in mind.
2. The CV
Caroline Kennedy: Your CV needs to be tailored for every job. Avoid generic statements such as "motivated graduate looking for an opportunity to make a difference" and instead use about three or four bullet points that really sell yourself at the top of the CV. If, for instance, you are an IT graduate and it's an IT role, make sure that information is right up there. In the jobs section, rather than just say you worked on a till in a shop, it is worth mentioning if you were the only part-timer with key responsibilities or if you won an award for employee of the month.
Marie McManamon: Employers will only spend about eight seconds on a CV, so make sure the most important information jumps off the page. Keep it clear and easy to read. Font size should be at least 11, ideally 12. If applying to a more traditional organisation such as an accounting or law firm, use Times New Roman. For a more general role, Arial or Verdana is fine. Never use Comic Sans.
Don’t leave out work experience and holiday jobs during your student days. Put your relevant skills underneath each job you have had (communications, budgeting, problem solving and so on). Make it easy for the recruiter to put you in the “yes” pile.
Fergal Scully: Once the CV is easy to read and the employer can find what they are looking for, that is most important. I have a degree in social science, but an employer would care more about this than where I did the degree; job titles and degree titles are the only things that should be in bold.
If you’re just out of college, put the education section first. An employer could get 50 or even 100 CVs for a job, so use bullet points rather than long, boring paragraphs.
If you have done interesting things in college, such as run a college society or student paper, put that down under volunteer work. Running an event or society has a crossover to the experience of employment and is valued by employers.
Very important: your CV should be as professional as you would want to be in the job.
3. The application
Caroline Kennedy: Avoid a scattergun approach. Your application needs to be targeted, and there needs to be a clear correlation between the job specification and what you are saying. Customise your LinkedIn URL and then link to it on your cover letter. The employer can check out your profile, and there you can sell yourself.
Fergal Scully: Your cover letter should be broken into three sections. Firstly, introduce yourself and say that you have the skills and experience for the job. Second, write about why you want the job and what interests you about it. Third, look back at the job advert and explain how your skills match what the employer is looking for.
It doesn’t hugely matter if you write more than a page, but don’t go much beyond another paragraph. A cover letter should show that you are a good communicator; if you can say what you need to say in a page, that is a skill in itself.
If you apply for a job or to a company and don’t hear back, it’s no harm to follow-up. It might remind them of your existence. But be careful: you need to strike a balance between following-up and being a pest. Be polite and explain that you sent your CV in, that you would be grateful for any updates on positions in the company, and that you’re really interested in working with them.
Maire McManamon: In my experience, half of cover letters are read and half are dumped. But you should still do one.
Recruiters may miss an online application if certain key words don’t appear, so it is hugely important to follow up, ideally with a phone call. Find the person’s name, ring them and just check if they received your application.
4. Interview tips
Caroline Kennedy: Who's interviewing you? Use LinkedIn to find out who they are. At the interview, have a number of "star stories" to show how competent you are. These are adaptable stories that show how you demonstrated teamwork, initiative, or communication skills – whatever it is they are looking for according to the job specification.
At the end of the interview, have some questions ready for them. These should not be about the salary or who will train you. Instead, maybe ask them what they would want you to have achieved within six months in order for them to feel they hired the right person.
If they don’t hire you, ask for feedback. Companies can be sensitive about giving this out for legal reasons, but you could ask how you compared to other candidates. If you’ve had a few interviews but aren’t getting hired, go back to your college careers service and ask for a mock interview.
Marie McManamon: Sometimes there will be a series of interviews, sometimes a psychometric test. Ask what they are looking for. Do your research about the organisation and be able to explain why you want to work for them. If you know anyone who works there, talk to them and find out what is important for the company.
If you’re going for a job as a researcher in which you will be working alone or outside of a team, but you’re a big people person, ask yourself if you really want it. Do you want to be in a job where you don’t fit?
Fergal Scully: Get some interview practice. Get some friends or family members together, look at the job description and what you know about the company, and get people to ask you those questions. The more times you go through that process, the more natural it will be.
If they ask you for your “greatest weakness”, explain how you overcome it. It might be that you hate public speaking but that you had to do a presentation in college and overcome your fear. They might ask you to talk them through your CV and why you made certain choices. This is where you want to explain what motivates or interests you.