Feel like every job description needs five years’ experience? Here’s how to get a job with no experience after uni
Life after university? We know, we know; it doesn’t bear thinking about. You might still be living off cheese and bean pasties and going out three times a week, and not have even considered how you’re going to land the dream graduate job. But the inevitable will happen and it pays (literally) to think about it before you finish. Ideally, right from your first year.
The graduate employment market is extremely competitive. Now, we’re not here to scare you, your lecturers have probably already given you a thrilling talk on this topic. But when it comes to getting the best possible graduate role and helping yourself stand out from the thousands of other graduates, forward planning and tips from people who have been through it (you do come out the other end, we promise) are extremely useful.
With that in mind, we’ve spoken to key in-the-know players from recruitment who have advice on how to give yourself the best shot at securing a graduate job. We even asked them how to get a job with no experience, as we know part-time jobs and demanding course schedules don’t always lend themselves to extra work.
The skills that will get you a graduate job
Peter Watson, Managing Director of award-winning digital agency, Distract, told us that “doing something extra” is a great way to stay ahead of the game and be more desirable to employers. It makes sense to us – demonstrating what you’ve learnt and your ability to put your knowledge into practice is sure to give you an edge.
Peter started his business while still studying at The University of Lincoln and is passionate about student entrepreneurship. He used his own career route as an example of how doing extra courses on top of your degree can help you to bolster your skills and give you a competitive advantage:
“If you would like to go into marketing then do a short course, say a Google or Facebook course, just do something to get more experience than the people you graduated with.”
Sharon Walpole, Director at Careermap, a well-established UK career website that provides live opportunities for apprenticeships and graduates, believes there are some simple skills you can hone in case you can’t afford to pay for an additional course.
“Employability skills are the soft skills for success. These include simple things like being on time, meeting deadlines, dressing the part, taking on extra responsibilities, willing to be flexible and even smiling. A candidate with the right qualifications does not necessarily grant an open door to a job. Being seen to be a positive, enthusiastic and confident person who is willing to learn often makes the cut”.
Apart from the above, there are other routes, such as getting your Hermione Granger on and reading more around a subject. And luckily most universities have their own libraries with millions of books at students’ disposal.
Claire Granados, Principal at Quest Professional, revealed to us that the top of the list of desirable skills for organisations such as Microsoft and BBC is for students to have “sector awareness”.
Claire explains that “candidates who can demonstrate they have a good awareness of the business and wider marketplace will move to the top of an employer’s hiring list. Knowledge of companies’ main competitors, their threats to expansion and governing principles will also impress an interviewer.”
Use your time at uni wisely
It would be easy to kid ourselves and say we don’t have any spare time to add interesting and desirable hobbies to our repertoire and resume. Because, sure, attending a Stranger Things themed house party, creating a Polaroid collage for your wall and checking out the new sale at H&M can be VERY necessary and time consuming.
However, it is worthwhile to dedicate your time to other activities that will help you get a job without work experience.
James Calder thinks that “charity work and volunteering are always great talking points with your potential employer, they will also show how proactive you are. It’s really important to showcase any achievements or significant hobbies on your CV, no matter how small you think they may be.”
Zoe Morris echoes this by saying “there are many great causes that will benefit from your time, whether that’s a charity or local organisation. It shows so many qualities that will make you a more attractive proposition, so it’s a worthwhile investment of your time. You don’t need to be in a job to pick up the qualities that will make you super employable, you just need to be creative and hard working to get around it.”
How to stand out from the crowd (of graduates)
Okay, so now you’ve got the skills and some experience, it’s time to think about what happens when it comes to applying.
You may have spent the last three-to-four years trying to avoid standing out from the crowd, mainly so your lecturer doesn’t pick you to answer a question on a subject you haven’t been paying attention to. But now is the time to be the Beyoncé, not the Michelle.
James Calder explains that he “looks for graduates who can set themselves apart from their peers. It is a competitive landscape and one where individuals can have very similar grades and have attended a similar standard of university.”
A great chance to differentiate yourself is by tailoring the way you apply for a job.
Calder continues: “I would advise graduates to be creative in their approach; we live in a world where you can apply for a job through a couple of clicks on your phone so people who go beyond those clicks will make themselves stand out from the crowd.”
“Reach out to the decision makers. Emails are a straightforward and quick method (ensure it is personalised, and not generic). However I would also suggest writing a letter, which may be more likely to be seen over one in a hundred of emails.
“You could even push the boat out and create an innovative package which sells you and deliver it to the decision maker. Finally, if you haven’t heard back then always follow up on your message with a phone call. If at first you don’t get a response, don’t give up.”
Anastasia de Waal, author of The Job-Ready Guide (published by Kogan Page) warns against graduates tempted to use a “scattergun approach” to applying to jobs.
“Try to work out what your priorities are – from the specific industry or role you want to break into to the region you’d prefer to be based in. Once you’ve identified a bit more about the jobs you actually want, you’ll not only be using your time more smartly, you’ll be a stronger candidate.”
Get real-life work experience
Okay, so we know this article is about NOT having experience and while it’s possible to get a job without it, it’d be risky to presume you’ll have an easy ride. It might be worth dedicating a month or two in the summer after uni to scouting for placements.
James Calder, CEO at Distinct Recruitment, told us that “employers are a lot more inclined to hire graduates who have practical experience and are likely to get up to speed quicker than those without. Having gained experience in a working environment to support your theoretical knowledge may mean you will be able to deliver valuable work from day one.”
But it’s not just the skills you can take from an internship, Calder points out that “if you impress enough it may even lead to a permanent role after you graduate”.
Zoe Morris, President of Frank Recruitment Group, thinks it’s all about mind-set and treating everyone you work with respectfully, even if you don’t think it’s your forever job.
Morris says: “It may sound obvious but take it (an internship) seriously, and treat it as a potential foot in the door. The working world is becoming more fluid, and people move between industries regularly. You’ll want to be remembered positively, as you never know who the hiring manager may be when it comes to you making your first move after university.“
Whether you’re getting ahead and seeking advice before you leave uni, or you’ve already finished and your job hunt is well underway, we hope our guide will help you to decide on next steps.
If you’re still worried about finding a job after uni check out our post on what these successful professionals thought they’d become before the end of university and where they really ended up. Trust us, these are happy endings!