If you find yourself reaching your graduation year, you're probably looking to transition into a graduate role. And there’s nothing quite like the feeling of dread when searching for your first real world job without any practical or relevant experience. However, this is more common than you might think, and there are many ways you can take that retail or hospitality job and extract from it to seriously impress a potential employer.
Before we dive in, check out this video from our Grad Recruitment Guides series where student careers Engagement Manager at UNSW, Anna, provides a snapshot of how you can make the most of your application for your first role out of university:
1. Perfect your CV and highlight transferrable skills
This might sound like common sense, but updating and polishing your CV is incredibly important, particularly when it comes to having limited professional experience. It might be tempting to do a straight copy and paste job, but it truly stands out to have a tailored cover letter and resume where you draw out transferrable skills specific to that role.
For example, did you have to deal with high pressure situations, exercise teamwork or multitask on a daily basis? These are all common and highly valued attributes employers are looking for in entry-level roles in sales, marketing and more! This extends to your soft skills and personality traits, including creative thinking, strong work ethic and time management. And don’t forget to do a spell and grammar check on your application documents – there's a true irony in having “Attention to Detail” written right under a spelling mistake.
2. Don't be intimidated by the job description
We all know that some job descriptions are 10+ long dot points with unreasonably specific criteria for an entry-level role. The key to overcoming this is to use the description as insight into what your hiring manager considers to be the perfect candidate and think about how you might demonstrate these characteristics, even if you may not have the exact experience.
Many job descriptions are, unfortunately, not accurate enough or far too demanding in the way they are written - and this has been found to discourage applications from otherwise perfectly valid candidates, often from underrepresented groups and women. In fact, in a recent focus group we ran with students most of the females we spoke to felt that if there is even ONE skill listed they cannot do, they will eliminate rather than apply! Ultimately, it never hurts to throw your application into the mix, as hockey Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky, "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take."
3. Be honest & open
When applying for an entry-level position, it's for the most part expected that you have little to no experience. This is why it's important to be honest about your skill level instead of making up a fabricated experience on your resume or cover letter.
The best way to approach this is to embrace the experiences you do have and translate that into a passion for learning certain skills within a role. What attracted you to this job listing in the first place? It might not be your exact dream job, but how does it align with your ultimate career goals? Being open about your level of experience and future intentions will show great character, allowing the employer to see through your answers and interpersonal skills, just how much you want the role.
4. Network to give yourself more opportunities
The people you meet and know help more than you think when it comes to job hunting. Getting a job referral or even a word on the side by someone at the company you’re applying to can greatly increase your chances of getting an interview or even just help you get your foot in the door.
The tricky part is actually meeting someone from the company and asking them to vouch for you - but there’s a right way to do this and it's not just sending out your resume to recruiters on LinkedIn. You need to be reasonable with your requests and express a genuine interest in learning more about the person’s field of expertise.
Keep a constant eye out for opportunities to network, from educational events and social gatherings to virtual events right here on GradConnection! Chat to your family or friends about your goals - you never know who might be able to help introduce you to the right people.
5. Be interview ready
If you are able to land an interview at a company, you'll definitely want to make the most of your one shot! Ensure you are ready for your interview by doing thorough research on the company and function you’ve applied to, as well as preparing answers to all the common questions you can get asked. The more prepared you are, the more confident you'll be in your ability to ace the interview. Check out our article on preparing for interviews for more tips and tricks.