Getting that all important first step on the career ladder after graduating from university has never been easy. But my heart goes out to the recent and future graduates who find themselves searching for employment in a global pandemic.
How much more difficult must this process be when you are dealing with companies who have had to close their offices and adjust their teams to working from home?
A blog post I wrote a couple of years ago on how to find work experience in a PR agency became one of the most popular pages on our site which proved to me that students do read our blog. So I thought it might be useful to offer my thoughts on how new graduates can get noticed in today’s difficult job market.
1. Be targeted
Being clear about what you want to do and where you want to do it is more important right now than ever before. If you were thinking of blind copying thirty potential employers into a blanket email forget it. Before you approach anybody do your research and be certain that this is the career path for you. Then think about where you want to be located. At this time, due to the pandemic and the restrictions we are living under, it might be wise to move back in with family when university ends (although this won’t be right for everyone). Wherever you’re going to be located you should make sure you’re aware of the local scene in your target industry and draw-up a list of a handful of companies you’d like to work for and then target them directly. A handful really should be enough. It’s far better to have a shortlist of four or five potential employers and then set about wowing them, than it would be to cast your net to 30 or 50 firms with a clumsy approach.
2. Approach them individually
Once you have decided on your industry and location and drawn-up your shortlist it’s time for the fun part – actually approaching them. Think of this as your chance to wow. Make your approaches personal and leave them in no doubt that you’re committed to working with them and have bags of passion, enthusiasm and skills to offer.
It may sound incredible but even at this time with a pandemic raging I still get emails addressed to Whom This May Concern, or to Dear Hiring Manager. Even worse I regularly get emails from candidates who aren’t even sure they want to work in my industry. I’m being serious, they say things like, “If I did decide I wanted to work in PR, would you have any openings available?” My response when reading an email like that is always to think, “Well if we do have an opening I’d rather offer it to someone who is sure they want to work in PR.”
If you’re serious about getting noticed in this difficult job market then you absolutely have to address your approach to a real person. No dear hiring manager for you. Make sure you spell their name right – clue, I’m not called Steve McCormish. How to approach? I’m a big fan of a good old-fashioned letter, although with people working from home an email is probably your best bet right now.
3. Demonstrate value
Pitching for a job is a bit like pitching to the media. You will only have your reader’s attention for a few moments so you need to grab them and demonstrate what you can do. In a creative industry such as public relations you have scope to do something different with your CV. I’ve seen them on shoes, pizza boxes, chocolates. At the very least you should offer a well-designed document with some colour and some design elements. It isn’t difficult to standout from the crowd as 99% of applicants still send in a bog-standard black and white word doc. So be creative and put the skills you can offer right at the top. Covid-19 restrictions mean many teams are working from home. Which means on-boarding new recruits and training them in the ways of the company is that much more difficult. The applicants who are most employable right now are the ones who can show they can slot in seamlessly with minimum hand holding. You need to show them you can do this.
4. Show you’re set up to WFH
With the pandemic restrictions affecting just about everyone right now there’s a very big chance you’ll be starting your new career from home. You need to show your target employer that you are already prepared and geared up to do this. Maybe include a photo of you sat at the desk in your home office eager to crack on. Or get creative and make your approach through a video or a social media story. Make sure you leave them in no doubt that here is a candidate who’s ready to hit the ground running from day one.
5. Show you’re a team player at heart
Despite the emphasis on remote working right now culture is still massively important to employers so don’t forget to show that you’re a fan of their team and eager to be a part of it. Social media makes this relatively easy so make sure you’re following and commenting not only on the company’s pages but also on their team members. The message you’re aiming to send here is while WFH is fine, you’re keen to get to know your future colleagues and play a part in the wider life of the business.
6. Stay positive
It’s a crazy time right now for job hunters and employers alike. But there are still plenty of career opportunities out there for the right people. If you think of the pandemic as a tough sports coach forcing you to raise your game you should still find plenty of companies who are willing to take you on. Businesses always need great people. Good luck.