It’s not unusual to emerge from an undergraduate degree having little to no idea of what career you want to pursue. At school, you had your days organised for you, and while you definitely had to be more on the ball at university, your life was still to some extent pre-arranged, with a timetable and deadlines to work to.
Suddenly, that structure is no more. You’re cut loose, cast adrift. You can do whatever you want. It’s up to you. The freedom of being out in the world can be thrilling – but it can also be horrifying. Once you’ve got your degree certificate, you’re really on your own.
And you have to figure out what you’re going to do next. “Okay”, you think, “I’ll see what’s out there.” You start perusing job websites.
Perhaps you hope that a particular job advertisement will end up drawing your attention, giving you an idea of the sort of role that you might enjoy and do well in. A small, secret part of you may even imagine finding ‘the one’: a job that you want to spend the rest of your life with. Instead, you’re hit with thousands of job postings, information overload. After a few hours wading through job postings, you can find yourself more confused than when you started.
This is all beginning to sound a little bit like online dating, and the truth is, looking for a job when you don’t really know what sort of job you want is like looking for a partner when you don’t really know what sort of partner you want.
Just deciding, “I want a career” or, “I want a relationship” doesn’t get you very close to achieving either, and launching unprepared into the job-hunting or dating game can be a mistake. Here are a few old tips for online daters that can inform the approach you take to looking for a job when you’re new to the market.
Decide what you want and what you don’t want…
Before you begin looking for jobs, it’s a good idea to engage in a bit of self-reflection. Decide where you’d like to work, what field or sector you might like to work in (eventually – see “Think short-term and long-term” below), and most importantly, what sort of work you’d like to be doing.
It can be a good idea to compile a list of up to five sectors you’re interested in, and up to five skills you want to put to use, develop, or gain in your future work.
Most job sites will allow you to search by location, category (i.e. field or sector) and keyword. The latter is crucial. Many jobs don’t fit neatly into any category, and different sites will have different sets of categories, with jobs grouped according to a particular site’s own criteria.
Plus, each sector will comprise a diverse range of roles, some of which you won’t have any interest in. For instance, a search for jobs in advertising may yield results for graphic designers, programmers, event planners and copywriters. All of these require very different skill-sets and qualifications. Enter the keyword “writing”, however, and you’ll get the copywriter postings only.
…but don’t be too picky
In dating, you don’t want to cast your net so wide that it becomes unwieldy, but nor do you want to fixate on finding that one perfect fish. So it is in the job-hunting world.
Narrow your search so that the results are manageable, but don’t let your list of deal-breakers get too long. The perfect job is just as much of a fantasy as the perfect partner – but there are many good partners out there, and many good jobs.
Present yourself well…
Look at your CV as your dating profile: a clear, concise and positive summary of what you have to offer. Look at your covering letter as your first message to a potential date: a chance to add a bit of detail, colour and personality to the sketch of yourself you’ve already provided.
Obviously, this is not to say that you should adopt the same tone and include the same content in your CV/covering letter as in your dating profile/first message. Keep your interactions with an employer formal and relevant.
…but don’t lie
Don’t be the equivalent of the person who adds so many filters to their dating profile display picture that their date isn’t able to recognise them in person. Present yourself in a flattering light, but don’t be untruthful.
Don’t make up qualifications or say you have a skill that you don’t. Be careful that when you’re selling yourself, you’re not making any misleading claims. That sort of thing will catch up with you in the long run.
Think short-term and long-term
You’re unlikely to end up marrying the first person you meet when you start dating online, and your first job is unlikely to be the one you keep until retirement. This is another good reason not to think too rigidly about the sectors you want to work in, and to focus on the skills a role will allow you to demonstrate, develop and acquire.
It’s great to have a goal, but stay flexible, and recognise that you might change your mind about where you want to end up. Dating a few different people can give you a better idea of what you want from a partner, and what you’re able to give them. Similarly, trying a few jobs in different sectors can give you a better idea of what you want your future to look like.
Certainty is something in short supply these days, and it’s perfectly normal not to ‘just know’ what you want out of life. In many cases, when you’re fresh out of university, there’s still a lot more exploring to do. And while there’s no map, you can still prepare for that journey, and go into it with a mindset conducive to success.
Rosemary Proctor writes for Inspiring Interns, a graduate recruitment agency which specialises in sourcing candidates for internships and giving out graduate careers advice. To browse graduate jobs London and graduate jobs Manchester, visit their website.