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Nine practical tips for graduate job seekers


If you think it’s a tough market out there, try being a graduate looking for work. Persephone Nicholas offers Gen Ys some frontline advice on securing a job.

Not too long ago I got an email from Kate Rolfe at RedBalloon. She told me that two of her brothers (lucky girl has four) were still looking for work more than a year after graduating. “They’re still battling against the crowds to secure interviews for marketing roles – it’s tough out there,” she said.

Kate got me thinking about how hard it is for graduates in the current climate. So I canvassed a few interested parties to get some tried and tested tips to help you find – and nail – that all-important first job. (Incidentally, I caught up with Kate again yesterday and she had good news – her brothers, Charlie and Matt, are now working.)

Think strategically
“Think outside the square,” says Matt Rolfe, now working for Bunnings in a management role. “Look at what is in front of you in your current job. Even if it is not the industry you planned on, look for opportunities within your reach and build on them. Think of it as a preliminary stage in your career, every bit of experience counts in times like these. Make yourself known at your current workplace, be aggressive – not in a negative way, but make it known to your boss that you want more and ask for more responsibility.”

Get out and about
“It’s important for graduates to make every effort to meet with potential employers through careers days and fairs. That’s not necessarily networking, that’s just making the best of opportunities,” says David Meagher, National HR Director for BDO Kendalls.

Pay attention to detail
“‘Dear Sir/Madam’, just doesn’t cut it any more,” says Meagher. You need to find out who your application letter should be addressed to and check and double-check your application thoroughly. “In good times you can overlook a mistake on a resumé or cover letter but right now if there’s any chance you’ll be knocked out you will be.”

Do your research
“Make an effort to understand the organisation and the people you’re going to meet, do some research beforehand and get ahead of the pack,” says Meagher. “In the end the decision’s about the person and how they present themselves face to face. We also look for a positive attitude to approaching work, a strong work ethic and the ability to provide strong customer service.”

Go above and beyond
“One graduate in Brisbane was prepared to fly down to Melbourne for a half hour interview. She’d already researched exactly what she’d be doing when she relocated to Melbourne and really showed commitment. We offered her a phone interview but she said, ‘I want to make sure I speak to you face to face’. She stood out and it certainly got her further down the track,” says Meagher.

Cast your net wide
Bruce Guthrie of Graduate Careers Australia says graduates should think laterally. “Graduates will still find work, but it’ll take a little longer. For some it might not be the jobs they planned or hoped to get. Really successful graduates will cast their net wide and develop a plan with as many facets as possible, including traditional methods like checking job ads and the internet plus talking to family and friends, faculty, careers services and to employers direct.”

Develop a personal point of difference
Jessica Shearer, 21, graduated in 2008 and was one of 259 successful candidates out of a total of 6,500 applicants for ANZ’s 2009 graduate recruitment programme. “Employers are looking for people who stand out. I did a short course in business Mandarin at Melbourne University. I took part in public speaking forums and represented my course on panels at open days for high school students. I’m sure there were people who had higher marks than me, but they might not have had the Mandarin or the public speaking experience – things that make me a little bit different.”

Be persistent
“The advantage of going through so many interviews is becoming great at being interviewed. Know your strengths inside-out and develop thick skin,” says Matt Rolfe.

Be confident
“Some people come in and just can’t cope with the pressure of interview and become so anxious they can’t build rapport at all. That’s tragic,” says Meagher. “I’ve had people come in and break out in a sweat so much they’re dripping on the table.”

persephone-nicholas_profile-pic_140wPersephone Nicholas is a freelance writer and regular contributor to The Weekend Australian newspaper. She is particularly interested in career and workplace issues and also writes about travel and lifestyle.

Interested in teaching as a career? Check out Persephone’s article in this weekend’s (September 26/27 2009) edition of The Weekend Australian (Professional section).

Photo: HikingArtist