Sometimes it can seem that getting the job you want is just a matter of listing a load of skills or buzzwords in the right order. Rather than give you yet another list which includes communication, team-working, problem-solving and all the usual, the five tips below are my best advice about things you can DO to develop those skills and others that employers are looking for.
1. Get some work experience. Your course might offer you a placement, or you might have a part-time job or do some volunteering alongside studying. All experience is valuable – you might think that your weekend job in a supermarket or bar is just a way of keeping your debts under control, but actually you're learning customer service, to work to tight deadlines and to handle money, all great things to use when applying for a job. Make sure you make the most of every opportunity – ask for more responsibility or if you think there's a problem that needs to be fixed, then suggest a solution or ask to be involved in sorting it out. If you can get experience in a professional field that interests you, then be clear about what you're trying to get from it, and make sure that you approach it exactly as you would a permanent professional job. Ask lots of questions, listen actively to responses and above all, do not moan about your employer on social media. EVER.
2. Try new things. It can seem really terrifying to be given responsibility for a project or piece of work when you've only just started a job and don't know where to begin, but if you're used to trying out new things then you'll be a little less daunted. So, if you're really sporty, maybe try an art or singing class; if you're kitchen-phobic, offer to cook dinner for your housemates or family; if you're terrified by public speaking, offer to lead the presentation for a group project. It really doesn't matter what you try, or even if you're any good at it. The crucial thing is to give it a go and then work out what you've learned from the experience. The truth is that absolutely everyone in work makes mistakes and gets things wrong the first time they do them, and the more used to you get trying out new things, trying to figure out your own solutions and understanding why things didn't work, the better equipped you'll be to get (and keep) that great job.
3. Write down your achievements. Most jobs now require you to fill in an application form where you have to give examples of when you've demonstrated the skills the employer is looking for. So, when you make a really good contribution to a team achievement, or when you go the extra mile to reach your goal, or manage to explain a complicated idea to someone who doesn't understand it (even if it's just managing to help your grandma use her Sky+ box) then write that down somewhere. Think about the skills you used to do it, exactly what you did and how it turned out. This means that you'll have a whole range of examples to call on when the time comes. It's also a really nice feeling to acknowledge when you've done something well. So that's an added bonus.
4. Practice your confident face. EVERYONE gets nervous in interviews, even the interviewers. But research has shown that you can trick your brain into being more relaxed and confident by deliberately using confident and relaxed body language and facial expressions. Smiling really does make you feel happier, as well as making you look more approachable and like someone who will be great to work with. You can do this on your own in front of the mirror, or get a few friends together and help each other out by giving constructive feedback on how you're all presenting yourselves. Remember, your aim is to look relaxed, confident and happy.
5. Be digitally aware. Be aware of what you're posting on Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook or anywhere else on the internet. Remember that NOTHING that goes on the web, however tightly you think you have locked down your privacy settings, can be guaranteed to stay private. Employers can and do check the digital profile of potential candidates, so make sure you've got a super-professional LinkedIn profile (with an appropriate picture) and that any other online activity only includes things you would be happy to have your parents find out about. It would be pretty awful to miss out on your dream job because of an unfortunate photograph. But alongside social media, don't neglect old-fashioned digital skills like Microsoft Word, Outlook and Excel. Unless you're working in the creative industries these are still the most commonly used packages and most employers complain that graduates don't know how to use them. There are loads of easy access courses, as well as online material available so there's no excuse for not getting it sorted out.
Most importantly, though, remember that you are your own best advocate and sales tool. Be yourself, be honest about both your achievements and your weaknesses and you will have most of the battle won. Add to that some work experience, a preparedness to ask lots of questions, make mistakes (and learn from them) and clear evidence of a willingness to work hard and you'll secure, and keep, the career you want. Oh, and don't forget to come and see the Careers Service – we are all here to help. Good luck!
Blog post by Kirsty Palmer, Director of Employability at Cardiff Met