Leaving school can feel scary enough as it is, but if you add on the extra pressure of trying to get a job, things can soon feel like they are getting too much. Don’t despair though. There are lots of things you can do to ensure you stand the best chance of landing that dream first job.
Know your weaknesses
A lot of school leavers find themselves in a catch-22 situation; they don’t have any experience because they have just left school, but can’t seem to get their foot in the door because they have no experience.
So you need to become your own sales person. Sit down and have a good think about what skills you’ve picked up and how they can be transferred to the workplace. That Saturday job you always moaned about can be transformed into a showcase of proven time management, responsibility, team work, and initiative skills.
If your CV is a little light on content, don’t worry about it, as a CV is really just a list of skills and experience that are applicable to the position. Your skills and experience so far have mainly come from education, so this is what you need to highlight.
List your qualifications and expand on what you learnt from the classes. If you had to deal with coursework, talk about how that taught you time management skills and how to use your initiative to carry out research etc.
Did you work in groups for any of your classes? If so, that shows team-work and if you led the team, mention how you became a team leader.
If you took part in after-school clubs, this shows that you have commitment and dedication. And there is no harm in mentioning hobbies either. Employers like well-rounded individuals and even though a hobby is for pleasure, it still shows that you have the drive to do something other than watch TV.
Although it’s important to show you have experience that is applicable to the workplace, don’t stretch things too far. No-one expects a school leaver to have an 8-page CV and if you waffle too much, you could do more harm than good.
The cover letter
For a lot of employers, the cover letter determines whether a CV gets looked at or not. You need it to summarise why you want the job as well as why you should get the job.
Be honest that you’re a school leaver, but explain why this is the career you want. Did you take any courses that are applicable? If so, mention this. Is there something special about the company which makes you want to work there? Put that in too.
Unless you have some previous work experience, highlight how this is the career you want to dedicate your life to and this is the company you want to start with. Employers obviously like people with experience, but you’d be surprised at how many also like the idea of giving someone with the right attitude their first shot.
If you get called in for an interview, prepare as you would for an exam. Do your research on the company, the job and also the market. Companies like – and expect – candidates to have looked into what they do, but not everyone bothers, so it’s a good way to stand out and impress potential employers.
Always dress smartly for an interview, you don’t want to lose points with the employer just because you couldn’t be bothered to iron your shirt.
Interviews can be scary, especially if you have no experience of them, so do some mock interviews with your friends first. Think of the kind of questions you’ll be asked and prepare for them. That will give you more confidence and help tackle nerves.
If you find yourself feeling really nervous during the interview, breathe calmly and don’t worry about taking a few moments before you answer a question. You can explain to the interviewer that you are nervous – they won’t bite!
It’s important to keep yourself busy while looking for a job. Not only will this stop you going stir-crazy, but a lot of things will enhance your CV.
Use social media to start networking. Become involved in group discussions – it will give you confidence and also prove you have a handle on the market you want to work in. Find out about any job fairs or seminars near you, as they are also an excellent way to network.
Look at your Facebook and Twitter pages from the perspective of an employer. If there is anything that shows you in a bad light, either delete it or remove the account altogether.
Be proactive. Send off your CV to companies that interest you, there may only be the chance for some unpaid work to start with, but it could turn out to be a permanent position. It also shows drive, which employers love.
Finally, stay in a positive frame of mind. You will, unfortunately, get rejections, but keep at it and don’t give up, as the job market can be difficult. If you get job rejections, ask for clarity so you can learn if you went wrong somewhere and fix it for the next time.