Are you frustrated with putting all your effort into writing applications and getting no response? Ghosted. I totally get how disheartening this can be. It hoovers up your confidence and after a while of no replies and rejections, it’s easy to give up and take any job, rather than pursuing your chosen career.
When you finish studying at university, you quickly realise that you have to get good at marketing yourself if you want to secure a career job you really want.
You have so many skills, qualities and great experiences gained from your education, part time jobs, volunteer work, sports, societies and other activities. You’ve learned how to work in teams, how to organise your time effectively, solve problems, work under pressure and learn from setbacks along the way.
But how to you get that across in a way that employers understand and see value in?
What exactly are they looking for?
And there are so many other graduates out there now which makes it seem overwhelmingly competitive.
You dream of taking the first step in your career, in a job that you love and that will allow you to use all these amazing strengths and skills. A job in which you’ll enjoy making a difference and continue learning and developing. You’ll earn enough money to move out of your family home and start living the independent life you crave.
But you’re anxious that you might have to compromise on what you really want and take any job that will bring some money in and get your parents off your back.
I’m here to tell you not to give up on your dream job. It can be yours.
Here are 5 tried and tested top tips to get a graduate job. They'll help you find the right job and to stand out in the overcrowded market.
1.Be active and professional on LinkedIn
Putting together a short headline and 'about' page is a great start, and will give you a foundation to build on as you progress in your career. Most of this can be content from your CV and anything else you feel would add value, for example dissertation or extended project details, extra detail on specific work experience, and interests.
Invite all your friends and family to connect with you and then start liking and commenting on posts you find interesting.
If you’re trying to take your first step into a career, such as marketing, where social media savviness will be highly sought after, it’s a smart move to build followers on other platforms too.
You’d be surprised how many employers use social media profiles to get a first impression of candidates before interviewing them, so showing that you’re a responsible person on these may well help you open doors.
Many employers rely on word of mouth to source candidates so reaching out to your network is a no brainer. Your connections on social media, friends and family may well work for organisations who are hiring and have just the right vacancy for you.
Most large companies now have referral schemes where if employees put forward someone for a position and they are recruited, they get a bonus.
3. Pick something you really want to do and apply to employers direct
Pick a career you really want to aim at and head straight to relevant company websites. You can get a good feel for their culture and what it’s like to work there, what vacancies they have and how to apply. Don’t forget to note deadlines. Focusing on one type of career only will make it easier for you to build industry and sector knowledge, helping you come across as clued up and motivated in applications and at interview.
4. Tailor every application to the role
Whether you’re asked to send a CV and cover letter or to complete an application form, it’s vital that you take the time to focus on the role and match your skills and experience to the job description. Sending generic information, in a blanket approach just so that you meet your target of 30 applications a day will get you precisely nowhere.
This might feel like a total pain, but quality over quantity will win hands down. Employers want to know why you want to work for their company, what interests you in this role, and why you’re the perfect fit.
Reading up on the company, finding out what they do and the sort of clients they have will really help you write an application that shows a genuine interest in the company. It will be a complete breath of fresh air to the application screener who has just read 50 dull, boring and untailored pages of writing.
You don’t need to start everything from scratch though. If you’re asked to send your CV, you can just tweak and re prioritise details for each role you apply for.
5. Upskill yourself
With the huge number of graduates looking for work at the moment, you can’t rely on your degree and A levels to differentiate you from the crowd.
Have a look at the details of the job you’d like to apply for and find ways to ensure you can tick every single skill, quality and experience required. Make a skills shopping list and work out how to bag these. It could be volunteering in your local foodbank, befriending an elderly person, designing a website and selling stuff, finding a geek to help you (if you’re not one already) and making an app or starting an investment portfolio.
If all this seems overwhelming and time consuming, please get in touch. I've helped hundreds of people just like you, to find a graduate job they really love. Call me on 07971511731 or email
To find out more please click here
My son had an interview last week. It was for a job as a creative copywriter in an advertising agency. He was asked to prepare a pitch in response to an advertising campaign brief and present it to the creative team. A great way to test out potential for success in the role. I liked them already.
This was a dream job and Jordan spent serious hours analysing the brief, thinking of insights, crafting words.
We were on holiday whilst he was working on this and kept in touch, mostly encouraging him to take the odd break from his laptop over a 5 day period.
As loving, concerned parents, we were somewhat distracted from our walking and biking in Snowdonia, knowing that Jordan was working his socks off in the hope of landing this amazing opportunity to work with teams of experts in the field, learn and develop his craft. We were desperately hoping that his creative juices ran freely and he’d be able to come up with something he was proud of and that would impress and engage his audience.
He called us shortly after he’d presented his campaign ideas, saying he thought it had gone well. They liked lots of his content and one slogan had even made them laugh.
We asked when he expected to hear back from them and he said:
He’d asked what time frame they meant by this, and they repeated, ‘Soon’.
Soon! What does that mean?!
Think about the effect you have on your candidates – and their parents
Of course, from then on, Jordan was checking his emails every 5 minutes and our holiday became the vehicle to discuss, at length, all the possible interpretations of the word ‘soon’. Was it today, this week or next week?
How were we to enjoy our remaining holiday with this conundrum hanging over us?
It was impossible to switch off and fully enjoy the views from Snowdon, when we were obsessed with the word ‘Soon’.
With this frustration in mind, when I was running an interview skills training session with a group of business owners yesterday, one of the first things I asked them to do was to commit to a time scale to get back to candidates.
Please be specific – you may be ruining someone’s holiday
It turned out that ‘Soon’ meant: in 6 days time. Unfortunately, it didn’t go Jordan’s way. He was disappointed but not defeated. At least he could now get on with developing his portfolio further and applying for other jobs.
If you’d like to improve your interviewing technique so that you never leave anyone hanging, please get in touch. Call me on 07971511731 or email
Bite-sized Recruitment Process Audit: Part 3
CV and cover letter or application form. Which is best?
Before you advertise a job, you need to decide how you want to hear from applicants.
Do you want to receive CV and cover letters or completed application forms?
One of my clients was complaining recently that most applicants had sent him CVs and cover letters, despite him making it clear at the top of the advert that he wanted them to complete the attached application form.
Rather than find this annoying, he agreed that this actually worked in his favour, differentiating the people he wanted to hear from, ie those who are attentive to detail. They were the ones who took time to complete the carefully crafted application form as requested. Those who didn’t read the instructions and sent CVs instead, wouldn’t meet his benchmark anyway.
CVs and cover letters are a piece of cake
It’s quick and easy for you to post your job advert and then sit back and wait for a stream of applications. It’s also handy for candidates to upload their prepared, generic CVs and cover letters with minimal tweaking. Job done. You’ll get a high volume of applicants, but not necessarily quality ones.
Although there are numerous CV templates available, they are all different. This means that the details you want from candidates come to you in various layouts, in a different order and most importantly in varying degrees of readability. You have to work harder to extract the information you’re looking for so screening can be slow and laborious.
It’s hard to be objective when each document is unique. Some layouts will naturally appeal to you more than others. However, a candidate’s ability to layout a CV in an attractive way, may not be a good reflection on how well they meet your job criteria. And this means that the dreaded bias is creeping into your process right from the start.
Of course, you will receive CVs and cover letters that have been carefully crafted to mirror the skills and qualities you’re looking for and these will be a breath of fresh air.
Receiving tailored applications rather than blanket approach, generic ones makes screening so much easier.
There’s lots of advice out there on how to write a great cover letter but again, this varies enormously on content, layout, style and length. Unless you’ve specified the information you want included in a cover letter, you’ll receive an array of brief prose, bullet points and long winded biographies, which makes comparing candidates fairly, a challenge.
I don’t want to write off this form of application though. If you invest time in designing engaging and attractive job adverts with clear instructions on how to apply, you’ll encourage candidates to also spend time adapting their documents and providing you with the information you require.
Application Forms are a pain….. or are they?
Application Forms on the other hand, give you exactly the information you request, in the same order, making comparing candidates a piece of cake. Candidates dislike them though, as they have to put in more effort and those attempting to send out 20 applications a day will be put off.
Attracting candidates can be challenging at the best of times so making your application form easy to fill out and not too lengthy will increase your return rate. It will put off candidates who are looking for a quick win, attracting better quality candidates. People who can’t be bothered to fill it out are probably not the individuals you’re looking for anyway.
A good application form:
If you’re recruiting for a creative role and don’t think that your standardised form will allow candidates to show their ‘out of the box’ thinking, why not give them this opportunity by asking questions that will reveal their creative flair and by asking them to attach examples of their work.
Another advantage of application forms is that when applicants answer negatively to ‘deal breaker’ questions, such as 'Do you have experience working with Python? for a coding role, they can immediately be eliminated and sent an automatic response.
Once you’ve spent the time putting an application form together, it can be reused with minor editing of questions across all roles.
Application forms become a piece of cake
Both methods will filter out those who don’t meet your criteria but in my opinion application forms do this quicker, more accurately and fairly. Although more effort initially, they will save you time and resources when comparing candidates going forwards.
For particularly popular roles that you expect will attract lots of interest, application forms are definitely the way to go. Similarly, when hiring entry level roles, such as graduates and school leavers, who have limited work experience, carefully crafted application forms will help you differentiate the very best from the mediocre.
Conduct an audit
Looking at your data will help you make your decision on which way to go. Analysing numbers of total applications, shortlist and successful placements over time will bring valuable insights to the efficiency of your application process.
You may need to try it both ways for your next few vacancies and monitor the quantity/quality balance.
Whichever way you choose to go, auditing your process and making changes to the way you do things will help you to find the quality people you’re looking for, faster.
Good luck with your bite-sized audit!
I help you play the longer game through Recruitment Training
A small business owner said to me recently, ‘so are you a recruitment agency then Ali?’
He’d picked up on the word ‘recruitment’ when I described myself as a recruitment training specialist.
This conversation has prompted me to write an article to answer this question:
Q: ‘What’s the difference between you and a recruitment agency then Ali?’
A: There is zero overlap between what a recruitment agency does and the service that I provide, apart from that we both take an initial brief.
A recruitment agency will ask you about the role you wish to recruit, request a job description and person specification, ask detailed questions about a number of other things including benefits, work environment, timescale and expected salary range. They will then either:
Once they’ve generated a list of people who most closely match your criteria, they will get on the phone and have an initial chat/screening interview with their long list, focusing particularly on motivation for the job. You’ll get a shortlist of candidates to put through your own recruitment process and select the person who ticks most boxes.
Good agencies are a great short term option
If you have an urgent vacancy that needs to be filled fast and don’t have a pile of speculative CVs from people with the right skills, using a reputable agency can often be the way to go. They will save you time and speed up the process by doing the leg work for you. If they’ve done their job well, one of the shortlisted candidates will be right for you.
But it comes with a high cost per hire.
The cost of a recruitment agency to an employer will really depend on the role being filled. Standard recruitment costs tend to range between 15% and 20% of a candidate's first annual salary, but this can go as high as 30% for hard-to-fill positions.
I help you play the longer game through recruitment training
I’ll start by taking a detailed brief too, but we’ll start with the big picture. I’ll be asking you questions about your employer brand, your experience of recruiting and what you currently do to attract and select the people you hire. In other words, a Recruitment Process Audit. We’ll then discuss the next role you wish to hire and the requirements for success in this role.
The aim of my service is that you work step by step to become:
It doesn’t happen overnight though
We work on your online presence - how your organisation comes across to job seekers. ie would they want to apply to work for you?
There are loads of easy ways to increase your attraction and appeal to active candidates. See my recent article: How to develop your online employer branding
Once you’ve taken a few of these actions, you’ll be amazed how many more direct applications you receive to job ads you post, as well as speculative CVs from people who'd like to work with you. And you’ll notice an increase in quality too.
If you have a really good application form in place and an effective system for screening them, (both of which I can help you with by the way) you’ll find that you can reduce your long list to a shortlist pretty quickly.
By working with me, you’re investing in your organisation’s talent attraction, best practice candidate assessment methods and your own in house recruiting skills. In a nutshell, you’ll get much better at recruiting the right people to grow your business.
Rather than paying fees for one new recruit at a time, as you do with an agency, you’ll be investing in your long term hiring ability and growth potential. My service to you will:
If you’d like to find out more about the benefits of playing the long game and developing your recruitment process and skills, please get in touch.
Bite-sized Recruitment Process Audit: Part 2
How to attract top talent, direct to your door
You are invisible.
Although there are plenty of talented people out there looking for work, your small business just isn't on their radar
The challenge that many business owners are facing is that their company remains a best kept secret from job seekers.
3 bite sized actions to get you noticed
1.Attraction doesn’t just start with a job ad
Don’t wait until you are having sleepless nights about your overwhelming workload.
Well in advance of needing extra resources, the smart thing to do is to proactively reach out and get onto the radar of the people you wish to attract.
You can use local notice boards, school/college newsletters and intranet, careers fairs and social media to stand out and get noticed as a great employer.
Before you’ve even posted a job ad, your target audience will see all the great things about your business and why people like working there. Salary alone won’t entice top quality candidates. What else do you offer? You can bring your brand and values to life by explaining:
2.Grow your own talent
Bring young people in at entry level so you can train, develop and empower them to excel and grow in your organisation is a forward thinking strategy. Offering work experience or delivering an interactive career workshop at schools and colleges is a really effective way of engaging and building relationships with a young audience. It will do wonders for your company image and long term will bring you a stream of applications from the talent you seek.
Many volume recruiters successfully convert the majority of their summer placement students into full time hires in this way, saving costs on advertising and putting candidates through a recruitment process.
Apprenticeships now pass the dinner party test
Both school leavers and their parents are increasingly interested in alternatives to the university route to a career. Both are very keen to avoid student loans and while these young people are searching for a pathway to independence, their parents are looking forward to the long awaited empty nest.
Offering a structured programme leading to further qualifications and good career prospects is now an attractive option and degree apprenticeships are starting to tip the balance for ambitious young job seekers.
3.No dry, dull job adverts and job descriptions
Your recruitment materials are part of your company marketing and need to be persuasive and engaging. Make your communications sing out to job seekers by describing the role in an interesting, compelling way, outlining the challenges as well as the highlights.
Putting yourself in your readers shoes, and thinking about what they need to know to make an informed decision will help you structure your job advert. Break it down into:
Asking for input from your marketing people can transform your basic first draft into an attention grabbing offer, encouraging the right people to take action and send you their application.
Wake up to hassle free recruitment
As well as sleep deprivation, being stuck in a cycle of reactionary recruitment to fill gaps also has the associated risk of wrong hires.
Value your sleep and create a marketing magnet for the people you need to grow your business.
Good luck with your bite sized journey!
If you'd like to fast track your recruitment skills with my expert support, so that you can attract great people, direct to your door, please get in touch.
Bite sized Recruitment Process Audit: Part 1
How to Develop your Online Employer Branding
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard,
"There are no good quality candidates out there".
When small business owners say that to me, I generally do three things:
Would you apply to work for you?
When people are your biggest asset, it’s so disappointing when you get them wrong. It drains resources, is time consuming and stressful.
Doing your due diligence on candidates, in an effective way, before hiring them, is absolutely essential if you want to avoid heart sinking mistakes.
I liken the process of recruiting someone to buying a house. Here’s my analogy.
When people are your biggest asset, it’s so disappointing when you get them wrong. It drains resources, is time consuming and stressful.
The cost of hiring the wrong person is generally calculated to be 30% of first year salary plus the more intangible costs of reduced productivity, team morale, training, rehiring etc. What a waste.
The smart first step to hiring a new team member is working out what the requirements for a job are, and which related skills and attributes candidates must possess to be successful.
But don’t get carried away
Will they work through their lunch break?
This is a question I was asked recently by a small business owner. I know this guy well and he’s not the sort of manager to dump piles of work on his staff and expect them to stay until it’s all done.