How to Stand Out as a Graduate

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Woman just graduated

Finding the right job is never easy, but it’s even harder when you’re a new graduate without much work experience. When there is a lot of competition, it’s crucial to stand out from the crowd. The approach most graduates take, which is sending as many applications as possible, isn’t necessarily the most effective one. Rather than doing what everyone else does, try something different to get noticed.

Prove your value

Instead of just sending your CV, think about how you could prove yourself to a prospective employer. If you’re applying to work in graphic or web design or for a writing job, you might want to create your own website or a blog to show your writing or a portfolio.

Even if all you’ve done is unpaid work experience, think about what skills you’ve gained which would benefit your new employer. Perhaps you’ve learnt how to analyse data, how to present to different audiences or customer service skills. Then demonstrate how you’d use these skills to solve a specific problem in a role that interests you.

Make your CV stand out

If you want to be shortlisted, your CV and a cover letter need to stand out.  Make sure yours is concise and describes what skills you could bring to the employer. 

Don’t use overused, clichéd words such as “motivated” or “hard-working” on your CV. Recruiters don’t like these fluffy words and they’ve seen them on enough CVs already. Also, don’t just say that you’re a great team player – instead back it with an example. Perhaps your team was able to improve a specific process or received an award for a final year project.

Also, focus on highlighting your activities, accomplishments, and the work experience that took place while you were studying that’s directly relevant to the type of job you’re applying for.

Don’t say what you were responsible for – focus on what you’ve accomplished. One of the biggest mistakes I see on CVs is that they are very “duty oriented” and don’t tell the recruiter how good a candidate was at any particular task. When you don’t have a lot of work experience, you might not have any major achievements, but you can use action verbs such as “managed”, “created” or “improved” to describe what you’ve done.

Use numbers if you can. If you’ve done something that saved time or money, mention it. Quantify your experience wherever possible.

Also, avoid long convoluted sentences – use short, rather than long words.

Search outside of the usual graduate companies

There are some companies that offer graduate programs on an annual basis, and if they interest you, by all means apply. However, in many cases, smaller companies can offer a much bigger range of learning experiences and an opportunity to understand how a company works as a whole. Also, if you’re not sure what you want to do exactly upon graduating, you’ll get a chance to be involved in many different projects.

Use social media like LinkedIn to find some smaller companies that might not have the budget to advertise on popular job boards. Connect with their recruiters whenever possible and other people in your chosen industry to expand your network of contacts.

Improve your interviewing skills

Once you’ve secured an interview, you’ll want to demonstrate a good attitude and enthusiasm with the desire to learn. Many interviews these days would be competency-based where you’ll be asked to provide examples of achievements, challenging situations, teamwork or working under pressure using STAR format

Find out about the interview format. Typically, the first stage would be a phone or Skype interview to check if the candidate meets the basic requirements of the job.

Make a note of what skills you’ve learnt in different activities like internships, voluntary or casual work and how they are relevant to the job you’re interviewing for. Graduate interviewers will expect you to think through how your skills match the requirements of the role.

All companies will expect the graduate job seekers to show interest in their organisation, so do your research on the company and prepare some good questions to ask at the end of the interview.  

First impressions are important – so plan how to get to your interview and ask about the dress code.

When you are in the interview, remember about confident body language – so make sure you sit straight and keep eye contact. It’s ok to pause before responding and if you’re unsure about a question, ask for clarification.

Finally, try to get feedback from interviews where you have been unsuccessful – you can ask for tips on how you could improve. This might lead to you being given some specific pointers that will help you to succeed next time.

Margaret Buj is a career and interview coach who specializes in helping professionals to get hired, promoted and paid more. Find out more and get her free interview resources at www.interview-coach.co.uk

Margaret’s Twitter handle is @MargaretBuj. You can also connect with Margaret on LinkedIn.