We’re going on a job hunt. It’s difficult to get started. Whether it’s an internship, your first job after university or a career change, getting your foot on the bottom rung of the employment ladder is the hardest part. There are a lot of equally skilled and qualified people out there and it’s not always easy to set yourself apart. The following information is meant to be more of a general guide for you to begin with. Above all, remember that you’ll have to tailor every single part of your application to the specific job you are applying for. No exceptions. Yes, it takes work and you may not always get a call back, but it will be worth it when you do.
Before you start
A word of warning – your first challenge is to make it through the elimination round. Once an ad is posted, employers are bombarded with responses; hundreds of applications for one position. To deal with this initial round of inundation, recruiters will put CVs through a rigorous process to eliminate as many as possible (think The Hunger Games but with hopes and dreams). Only those that remain will be considered for an interview. Remember this when you are writing your CV.
Research, research, research
Identify a type of role or an industry you want to target and find a couple of opportunities that line up what skills you possess and what skills you want to develop. Read the job spec. Read several. Pay close attention to the language ads use and the skills they are looking for. This will give you a good sense of what to include in your CV and what to leave out.
Before you start to write, think about formatting. You want your CV to be accessible and legible, with clear delineated sections; personal information (number, email, address), work experience (chronologically), education (if you’ve graduated from university, leave out the Leaving Cert). Make it easy to scan by avoiding paragraphs, this is not an essay. Your experience section should be short and snappy as you want to showcase the skills and points that your potential employer wants; you need to make an impression on HR in the limited time they will take to scan your CV. Have a look at some templates here.
Use social media to your advantage
Set up a LinkedIn and a Jobbio profile to maximise your hiring potential. LinkedIn will be vital for you when on the job hunt. Think of it as a professional social media profile (which should include a professional picture and your location). Keep your LinkedIn account up-to-date and synchronised with the other application materials mentioned such as your CV and use the “Jobs” tab in LinkedIn to filter what job suggestions will come your way.
Clean up your social media
In a digital age where pretty much everything you say online is public domain, it’s important to ensure your online presence is private. Google yourself. If there are photos, posts or comments you wouldn’t want a prospective employer to see, then privatise or delete them (remember when you had that really bad dye job in secondary school? #hackofye).
No need to list everything
You do not need to list your complete work history. If you would like to, include a list under a section titled “Other Employment”. If you have had extensive experience, or several short term jobs or internships that aren’t related to the job you are currently applying for, leave them out. You want to highlight work history that shows a connection to the positions you’re applying to.
Highlight what is relevant
If you don’t have much experience and you’re sending out CVs for the first time, highlight the relevance of your education. For example, I studied history so when I began the job search I emphasised research and analytical skills, the ability to work to deadlines, and the ability to synthesise and present research. Whatever your degree, you have extremely valuable skills; they just need to be reframed in the language of your target industry. When you don’t have experience, make sure your interest is readily apparent.
Experiences to improve your CV
Freelance work or internships (if you have the means to) are ways of adding experience. Make sure that you create a portfolio or keep a log of the work you do while freelancing so that you have a record of each individual project and the skills you improved upon or learnt. Freelance work should be listed on your CV (chronologically) just like other jobs, it is just as valuable.
Don’t include references on your CV. If your potential employer wants your references, they will ask for them. However, do have a separate document prepared in the same format, font and style as your CV with your list of references to forward on to HR in the event you get the job.
Account for gaps in your CV
If you were unemployed, travelling the world, or riding magic carpets with Aladdin in Agrabah for a brief period of time, include it. It may also provide an interesting talking point in the interview. Leaving a blank space will raise more questions than answers. In your cover letter, you can address your employment gap in a forward-thinking and positive manner saying that you are ready to enter the workforce, take on a new challenge and offer your skills to…(insert company buzzwords here).
Start with the cover letter
The cover letter should be the last thing you write when drafting your CV. Keep it as a separate document in the same font, format and style as your CV. Firstly, address the cover letter to the hiring manager (where you can’t locate this information “to whom it may concern” is your best bet). You should provide a clear overview of what you do currently and your experience so far. Then communicate where you’re looking to take your career (remember all that research you did?). Why are you applying for this job? When are you available? What are the company’s long term goals and challenges? Why are you suitable? Finish your cover letter on a positive note; it will make it more pleasant to read.
If you are unemployed in the meantime, keep trying to upskill yourself. Find online courses from websites like Futurelearn, Coursera or edX where courses are free and relatively short. Expand upon this even further by searching for voluntary positions or internships in the area you’re interested in (if you can afford to).
Finally, try not to get bogged down when you’re looking for work. It takes patience and perseverance, so focus on what you can do and what you can change to get there. Apply for jobs on a regular basis, two or three a day to keep on top of new opportunities and ensure you don’t overlook possible avenues of employment you hadn’t considered. Incentivise yourself. It will take a while, but setting small goals each day will give you a small sense of accomplishment. You’ve got this.