Written by Sara Newman, August 2008
Many mature graduates write to Prospects saying how tough it is to secure their desired job. Despite often having a wealth of previous work and life experience, in addition to the usual competition, companies seem to market their jobs at fresh-faced graduates.
In spite of the legislation banning age discrimination, prejudices don’t disappear over night. Nevertheless, mature graduates can take a proactive approach to their hunting. Frustrated new graduates would be wise to listen up too. If you are not getting anywhere it is time to ask yourself why not? Have you been going about it the wrong way?
Graham Perkins, author of Killer CVs and Hidden Approaches, has twenty years’ experience as a recruiter. He explains how to sell yourself to employers.
Put yourself in the recruiter's shoes
The first thing you need to consider, says Graham, is putting yourself in the recruiter’s shoes - they buy benefits, so what do you have to offer?
‘Have you really sat down and thought about what benefits you have to offer?’ asks Graham.
‘A lot of people tend to look at job vacancies first when job hunting. I think it’s important to do two things before that. Start by looking at what you are selling by identifying what skills you have that only a small minority might have. That’s where you may be marketable.
‘Often it may be experience, but you have to be specific, like having fluent languages or other specialist or sector-specific knowledge, or experience of moving from a supplier to an organisation that you were selling to.
‘The other side of it is to really think about what you enjoy doing,’ adds Graham. ‘Being clear about what really motivates you and what doesn’t is going to make a difference, and it certainly helps at interview stage or when you are networking.’
If you are going to avoid getting cut at the first sift of CVs, you need to make yours concise and relevant. Graham recommends having a master CV, listing everything you have to offer in bullet points, then selecting only the most relevant ones for each individual application. This will make the difference between getting an interview or not.
‘A CV’s purpose is to get you an interview - not the job, so on the basis that busy recruiters see a lot of CVs and covering letters, it has got to be a clean document, never more than three pages, well laid-out, clean cut and with plenty of bullet points.
‘The first thing that would put me off is great wedges of solid text. Use facts and not hyperbole or the “Hollywood movie trailer”. So many people write their CV from their own perspective; you have to write it for the person who is reading it.
‘All good salespeople think from the buyers’ point of view, so take the trouble find out what recruiters want and ultimately it will be to your benefit. This involves reading the advert carefully, going through the application pack and researching the organisation.
Graham also recommends using speculative applications and networking - but you have got to use the right approach. ‘Make sure you send your speculative application to a named individual who is a decision maker in the company - and spell it right,’ says Graham. ‘Then start out with the benefits you have to offer.’
Networking can also be very effective if you go about it the right way.
‘Contact a lot of people,’ says Graham. ‘Get at least two or three more contacts from the people you speak to, to grow your network. Never ask if they have a job, they rarely do and people don’t like letting you down, but if you say “I would appreciate if you can spare me a few minutes to talk about career options and how to go about it”, most people will. As long as you make a good impression, you are saying they are well connected if you ask is they can suggest anyone else that would be useful for you to talk to. Most people are willing to help.’
Find out who is interviewing you as this will help you prepare accordingly. Is it HR or a manager who is expert on your industry? Think about the valid questions that you are going to be asked.
Target yourself correctly
‘Look at the kinds of organisations you are going for, for example, the recruitment process for an SME is not going to be as highly structured as multinationals, where more mature graduates might get screened out.’Graham Perkins
‘Be ready to be grilled. Be relevant. Gear your answers to the job. You must have factual evidence that you can deliver, and about things you have done. I would recommend a three stage response; one: describe the problem; two: how did you approach it and three: what was the positive outcome?
‘Prepare for the question, “what are you going to bring to the job?" If it is HR you might want to talk about team work, but if you are talking to your manager, you might want to talk about technical stuff,’ advises Graham.
Finally, have some questions of your own to ask. ‘Even if they have been very thorough telling you about the company and the job, you should have a range of questions to ask. Not about hours and money in the first instance, but where the organisation is going, perhaps ask about opportunities for development (not just promotion). If you have to manage staff in the job, you might ask how long they have been in organisation, what are their qualifications?
‘Just getting a degree doesn’t immediately change everything. It may be bit harsh to say to someone who has sweated blood to get a degree, but it is not enough. You have got to apply just as much total, focused effort to getting a job.’
This website is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with CSS enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets if you are able to do so.