Q & A: Tips for the Job Search
Emily lives in Brighton with her partner and their mad sproodle Ozzie. Since graduating with first in English Literature from Exeter Uni, Emily has worked in journalism and PR. She now runs a small PR firm that works exclusively with start-ups and small businesses, now in their fourth year. Emily spoke to us about her experience with the job search since leaving uni, and gave us her tips for applications, interviews and networking.
Did you know what you wanted to do when you left uni?
I went to uni convinced I’d be a teacher and left wanting to be an academic or a journalist. The life of an academic didn’t seem quite as exciting to 22 year old me, so I pursued journalism.
What was your first job after leaving uni and how did you get it?
Trainee reporter for the Daily Express Online. I met a Sunday Express reporter at a party, got her business card, called her the next day and asked her if she’d let me come in for two weeks’ work experience. She kindly obliged.
I think I made an impression by researching and writing decent copy and doing a truck load of tea rounds for the news desk. No matter what anyone tells you, if you’re a workie, make the darn tea, and use it as an opportunity to have conversations with people and make new contacts. Also, say yes to everything.
At the end of my two weeks there, the news editor mentioned the grad trainee scheme, which I didn’t even know existed, and he offered to supply me with a reference, which definitely helped me get an interview. I was one of four people who got in that year.
That’s a good example of ‘organic’ networking. Do you have any tips for networking?
Just practise good manners. Make sure getting in touch with people you rarely see doesn’t only happen when you want something, keep up with them in between as well. And if someone does something really brilliant for you, write them a thank you letter, and send them a box of chocs or a bottle of wine.
Do you think your degree has helped you get where you are today?
Definitely. It taught me how to put together a coherent argument, the importance of research and proper citation, and understanding the point at which you’re coming into a dialogue so you’re not repeating what’s come before. I made lifelong friends and met people who I still speak to in a work capacity.
With hindsight, as a new grad, what would you search for in your first graduate job?
A good mentor. I didn’t think about this much when I was younger, but all the people I know who’ve done well in their careers and really enjoyed themselves had a sort of ‘work guardian angel’ looking out for them and helping them grow within the company they worked for.
As an employer, and someone who has done a fair bit of recruiting, what do you look for in a candidate?
Above all, curiosity. This is what makes people improve more quickly in their roles (especially when they’re learning the ropes) and show initiative: they can figure out how to do something they’ve never done before.
Often curiosity manifests as someone who is interested in life, so I’ll look at the interests section of their CV first. Typically, I’m looking for someone who’s a self-confessed geek about something (anything!) because curious people tend to immerse themselves in subjects that interest them. Probably most disappointing is when I see ‘socialising with my friends’, as this is a red flag that the person is not really interested in much.
More important to me than a CV is the cover letter, which needs to be arresting, word perfect, show a flair for language and a good grasp of grammar. Well-judged humour is great too, as it tells me you have confidence.
Do you have any tips for job interviews?
Research the business and the industry. It’s so obvious who has done this and who hasn’t. And never be afraid to be more human than professional. The most memorable people I’ve interviewed were the ones who were really honest. I once asked someone to tell me about her weaknesses, and she sighed and said “ah, so many…” which made us all laugh.
I always thanked interviewers for their time after an interview and asked for feedback. Often the feedback you get is pretty lacklustre but sometimes there will be a useful snippet.
Do you have any tips for dealing with job rejections?
Take it on the chin; it’s their loss! Keep asking yourself what could I be doing to increase my chances? Are you tailoring every application? Better to do two or three really fantastic and well researched applications per week than hit the ‘apply automatically’ button on 50 vacancies on a jobs site. No good employer will accept a standalone CV in the place of a proper application.
What would you recommend to people who are job hunting at the moment (given that it’s a really tough situation now and hard even to get work experience)?
- Put your physical health and mental wellbeing first.
- This is not a normal jobs market, so celebrate any small wins.
- Focus your efforts on expanding and grooming your professional network, as most jobs come through recommendations, or helpful people pointing you towards opportunities that you didn’t know about.
Do you have any tips for the job search?
Follow fast-growth start-ups and their founders on LinkedIn. Often, they’ll raise millions of pounds in investment and then hire quickly at all levels to expand their businesses, posting new opportunities on their websites and/or on LinkedIn. If you get into a business like this when it’s young, and it does well, it opens up huge career opportunities and sometimes the job comes with stock options. You can find these businesses by regularly reading sites that cover funding stories like TechCrunch, UKTN, or Tech.eu.
How would you define success and has this changed since leaving Uni?
I have wonderful parents whose only desire seemed to be that my brother, sister and I were happy. I’ve carried that with me, and it’s never changed. I’ve only made career changes when the work stopped making me happy.
More Job Search Tips:
The Job Search – General Tips
The graduate job search can feel relentless. A disciplined approach will help you to be effective & stay positive through the process
Applying for Jobs: 10 Common Mistakes to Avoid
A top graduate jobs board tells us what not to do when you’re applying for jobs!
Read more from Emily:
Q&A: Working in PR & Starting a Business
Emily talks about working in PR, starting her own business & how she manages writer’s block!
Where to Find Affordable English Fizz
Emily is also a wine enthusiast & blogger. She explains what to look for in quality English fizz & where to find it