This week we’re discussing some simple steps you can take to stand out from the crowd when applying for graduate jobs/internships.
If you’re a soon-to-be graduate looking to give yourself nightmares, Stephen King has nothing on job hunting statistics. To snag any given graduate role, you’re going to have to fight off thirty-eight other applicants, and that number only rises if you’re applying for a particularly competitive industry or particularly prestigious employer.
Of course, some of these competitors may quickly rule themselves out of the running with low grades, sloppy professionalism or general incompetence. But many won’t. And while polishing your CV and honing your interview technique will certainly put you ahead of less dedicated job-seekers, it won’t elevate you above people as prepared as yourself.
Luckily, there are ways to stand out from even the most experienced, conscientious and competent crowd. Using the methods below won’t guarantee you a job, but it’ll definitely up your chances.
Focus on Application Quality, Not Quantity
When your odds of landing any given role seem low, it’s tempting to apply to as many jobs as possible in the hopes of improving your chances. But this technique rarely works well in practice, because the more applications you have to juggle, the less time you can dedicate to making each one good. And employers inundated with well-qualified candidates will simply toss out applications that seem rushed or unenthusiastic.
Take the time to find companies and roles that really appeal to you, and then spend your time on the application. Read the job description thoroughly and research the company carefully, and then tailor your CV, cover letter and application materials to both. Not only are you more likely to be called to interview, you’re more likely to get a job you love. Win-win.
Show Off Your Personality
Too many graduates act as though “personality” and “professional” are opposing concepts. In reality, injecting a bit of ‘you’ into your application and interviews will not only make you more memorable, but more likeable – and research shows that hiring managers are more likely to pick candidates they personally like.
If your day-to-day wardrobe has more colours than the rainbow, don’t feel that you can only wear black and white to interviews. If you’ve got a quirky hobby or interesting achievement, note it down (briefly!) on your CV. If you learnt some great transferable skills from a non-work gig, bring it up. We’re not talking hot-pink three-piece suits or waxing lyrical about how Freshers Week bar crawls made you a “people person”, but about showing the interviewer who you are and what makes you tick.
Most managers aren’t just looking for someone who is competent. They want someone who is the right “fit” – someone who will get along well with the team and thrive in the company culture. Without a read on your personality, they won’t know if that’s you. Of course, by showing personality you’re risking the chance they decide your particular style isn’t a good fit, but in that case you’re almost certainly better off not taking that job. A working environment that doesn’t suit you will make you miserable, and your quality of work will suffer.
Embrace Your Mistakes
Most career advice centres around how not to make mistakes in job applications and interviews. But if your bar for success is to deliver a flawless performance from start to end, you’re going to be disappointed. No matter how many times you proof-read a cover letter, a typo may slip through. No matter how much you rehearse your interview answers, the chance of a sudden mind-blank is high.
Luckily, reasonable employers don’t expect candidates to be perfect. Of course a total lack of preparedness will come across badly, but small slip ups are expected as par for the course. What is important is how you deal with your mistakes. Simply correcting yourself, maintaining confidence and refusing to be flustered will impress employers.
Remember that the hiring manager knows that if they offer you this job, you will inevitably have to deal with problems and things going wrong during your employment. Showing you can handle setbacks calmly and professionally works in your favour. Moreover, being around an incredibly nervous, incredibly awkward person is uncomfortable, and likely to make the hiring manager reluctant to spend more time around you. Radiate confidence, however, and everyone will want you on their team!
Beth Leslie is a career and lifestyle writer, and editor of the Inspiring Interns blog, which provides graduate careers advice. Inspiring Interns is a graduate recruitment agency specialising in matching candidates to their dream job or internship. Click here to browse their London-based graduate jobs, and here for their graduate jobs Manchester page.