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Career ::

OK so you've done it all. GCSEs, A-Levels, degree…the educational conveyor belt stops here. So, what the hell are you going to do with your life?

Some people are lucky and have had an idea about what they want to do early on.

But some go through the system with no clear direction, come out the other end with a degree they realise is either next to useless or does not interest them any more and are forced to make choices.

If this is you – don't panic.

The first step is to start to think about what you are naturally good at, and what you enjoy doing. Unfortunately, breweries don't recruit many beer tasters these days – but thinking about your hobbies and leisure activities will help you to understand what type of abilities you have.

Enthusiastic team sport players often thrive in equally competitive business atmospheres. An artistic or creative inclination could lend itself to a talent for graphic design, writing or the advertising business.

Take some time to think about the things you are good at – no matter what they are – and then analyse just which personality traits make you good at them.

Take into account any subjects you preferred at school, even if you did not keep them up, and any modules or aspects of your degree course which you found more interesting than others.

This will help you to focus on your strengths – and once you have done this, you can start to think about the professions which are related to these areas or which use these abilities.

Talk to friends or flick through the careers section of the local paper to give yourself ideas about jobs which you may not have thought about before. Don't count anything out – just get ideas flowing and don't get frustrated by assuming they're all non-starters.

Once you have some ideas in mind, start to narrow down your search by reading some ads. Decide whether the job descriptions fit you, check the entry qualifications and the amount of work out there.

If, after careful consideration, you get fed up of the lot of it and think you might like to bum around the world for a while instead – check out our guide to going travelling.


Finding A Job

Local and national papers are the obvious place to start. The nationals carry different types of jobs on different days – click here to see what's in where when. If you're after a job in a specific industry, hunt down the relevant trade magazine, which will carry job news and vacancies for that area.

As a wise man once said - it's not what you know, it's who you know. Don't feel guilty about approaching any contacts, no matter how tenuous. If your tutor has dealings with professionals in your industry or your mate's mother-in-law mows Richard Branson's lawn – ask them to put in a good word. Any kind of connection can give you a head start, and a little networking can do much more good than harm.

Employment agencies are useful and sometimes invaluable ports of call. There are agencies that deal with many specific careers, from design and engineering to IT and accountancy. They can do the legwork for you, and will arrange interviews on your behalf – but be aware of what's in it for them. Their business is in skimming a cut off the top, so while the majority of agents keep the employee's interests at heart, watch out for the unscrupulous ones who pressure people to sign up for a job which is not right.

Sending copies of your CV to any company you think may be interested – even if they have not advertised vacancies – is a slightly haphazard but potentially rewarding ploy. Find the addresses of the companies large enough to need to recruit more than once in a blue moon from the Yellow Pages or trade directories and put a copy of your CV in the post. You are putting yourself in the shop window – and there is always a chance that the companies are looking for people even if the ads did not reach you. Include a request in your covering letter to keep your details on file in case any suitable positions arise.


Careers Fairs

Career fairs are a good chance to find out what's out there, get some different ideas about vocations and advice from the people involved with recruiting.

They will often be a gathering of representatives from many different types of industry – although fairs are also held for specific fields, such as IT.

They are informal events where you can wander around and chat to the representatives about what their company does, job vacancies, entry requirements and the application procedure. Take along a stack of CVs to hand out so you are added to their file of interested applicants, and make a note of the names of who you talk to so you have a reference if you want to follow it up.

You'll be able to take away company brochures and careers advice guides, and some companies offer to add you to their mailing lists so you can hear about future vacancies.

They are not substitutes for interviews – but are a valuable way to get advice from people in the know.



Milkrounds are where the interviewers come to you, rather than you going to the interviewers.

Most universities organise sessions where representatives from companies with graduate recruitment schemes come onto the campus and carry out preliminary interviews with a number of students.

These have traditionally taken place in two rounds – in November for finance, accounting and industrial firms and in spring for others. But many companies are revising their application procedures and deciding to conduct on-site interviews at other times of the year.

Not every company visits every university – they will go to the ones from where they have recruited good employees in the past, or which have the most highly regarded courses.

“The biggest mistake that people make,” according to Andrew Whitmore, the senior careers adviser at Manchester University, “is that they assume they can wander in and get an interview. It's not like that. They have to apply in advance, are selected and then are called for an interview. It is a formal first interview.”

Interviews typically last about half an hour, and some companies require students to take aptitude tests on the same day. The basic rules of appearance and preparation should be followed to make sure you come across as well as possible – for some tips, see our guide to interview etiquette.


Researching a Job

Make it known that you are motivated and resourceful by finding out a little about the job and the company before applying.

Use a search engine to find out if the company has an internet site – put their name in “Inverted Commas” and you will get a list of all the websites where that name appears. Companies who have a web presence usually include a section about who they are and how they work.

Ring the switchboard and ask for a copy of any company brochures or their annual report.

If the company is likely to have been newsworthy, look up the news stories about them on the web. Knowledge of recent developments about the company will not only increase your understanding of the company, but will also impress your interviewer by showing how damn interested you are.


Writing a CV

The CV is your marketing tool. It is your first and potentially your only chance to make employers take notice – and if they don't, they will simply screw it up and file it accordingly.

It has to be perfect.

When filling in your details, here are some tips to help you come across as eminently employable.

Check the spelling and grammar before printing it out. There is nothing that looks more unprofessional than sloppy mistakes. Print it on good quality white or light coloured paper. Bright, rough or lined papers are non-starters.

Don't come across as a total egomaniac – don't start every sentence with “I did…” or “I am…” Some employers prefer the detached approach, such as “Jane was…” or “Alf is…”, but a safe middle ground is to make it impersonal by starting sentences with phrases like “The next step was…” and “This involved…”

Don't ramble. Include the essential information about your course, previous jobs and extra-curricular activities but be careful not to stray into irrelevance. Any activities or outside qualifications which are related to the job will demonstrate enthusiasm and initiative – any which are not will come over as being unfocused and desperate for things to fill the space.

The bit commonly known as a personal statement is often the most awkward to write. You've given the lists of your qualifications and previous experience – now you have to tell them, basically, how great you are.

Include reasons why you are suited to that type of job, giving examples of when you have excelled – or, at least, coped - in similar areas through your course or in previous jobs.

If there were any details of your course or outside activities which are worth expanding on – then do. But always try to explain why that information is relevant to the job. Use positive language such as “achieved”, “co-ordinated” and “produced” in relation to the things you have done.

Tell them about your skills and abilities. If the job requires abilities such as IT skills, write down your level of competence and the software you can use. If you have any other qualifications that may not be strictly relevant but which demonstrate a motivation and commitment, such as first-aid, include these.

Make a note of any personal or interpersonal skills you have – you are organised, reliable and determined - but don't go over the top and come across as a total bullshitter.

Include a sentence or two about your leisure activities to give the overall picture. This can also reveal aspects of your personality, which you may not have addressed. If you play sports, this could show a competitive streak and an ability to work in teams. Employers like to be reassured about your whole personality – not just the working side - but keep it to a couple of sentences. They're not that interested.

Don't try to be funny. Although you might have plenty of hilarious stories that relate to Biochemistry, you can't afford to assume that the employer will share your sense of humour.

While CVs invariably include an element of embellishment, there is always the tricky question of just how much to lie. The not entirely honest but sometimes realistic question to ask yourself is: how much can you get away with? If you write that you got three A's at A-Level when you got 2 D's and a U, you are going to be stuck if your employer asks to see your certificates. And if you say that you know a programming language that you once saw mentioned in Inside Computer, you'll be out on your ear at 9:10am on Monday morning when they sit you down and tell you to write something in it. But it's a dog eat dog world out there, and some people are slightly devious and dare I say gifted enough to get away with it. But that's not what we're advising though, obviously.


Covering Letter

A covering letter should accompany every CV you send – and if you are sending your CV by e-mail, write a covering note at the start.

Tailor every letter for each specific job and company. Try to find out the person to whom you should address the letter. If there's no name on the advert, or if you're writing on the off chance, ring the company switchboard and ask for the name of the personnel manager. This makes it a little more personal, and looks like you have made an effort.

Tell them which job you are applying for and where you saw the advert. If you are writing speculatively, say so and request that if they have no suitable vacancies at the moment that they keep you on file.

Covering letters need not include much personal information – but give an introduction to your situation.

Demonstrate that you know about the job and the company, and link this with a paragraph summarising why you are right for that job.


Applications Forms

Writing application forms presents a similar challenge to that of writing CVs. You have to make a case for yourself, but within a ready-made framework.

Elementary as it may sound, read the instructions and make sure you follow them. If they want you to write in capitals in black ink, do so. Any failure to follow basic instructions will mark you as being inattentive and, quite possibly, stupid.

Don't leave questions blank. If they are not applicable, say so.

Think about what the employer wants to know in response to a specific question and be careful that you don't answer the question you would rather they had asked.

There will usually be the chance for you to write about why you are right for that job – so use this as the main opportunity to persuade the employer. Relate your previous experience to the requirements of the post, using positive language.

Make notes of the main points of your answers first. These should all be relevant to the question and demonstrate your suitability. Expand on these by turning each point into a paragraph, and write these answers in draft. Copy them onto the form only when you are happy with them. This will make the form look less messy and read more fluently.

Keep a copy of the form so you know what you wrote and make sure it's in before the closing date. If you send it in late, you don't deserve the job. You deserve the soup kitchen.


Online Recruitment

A recent survey has shown that 85% of graduate recruiters are using the internet as a recruitment tool – and some are planning to phase out written applications all together. Financial giants KPMG are currently running a trial where only on-line applications are considered. “Our website is basically an on-line version of our graduate brochure, but with more up-to-date information,” says KPMG's Harry Theoborou.

“With our Leading Edge programme, we are phasing out application forms as a test to see how it goes. It's a trial using just on-line applications – and that's the long-term plan. All students have access to the internet. It makes the whole process more efficient and cost-effective.”

The on-line bit means that you save money on stamps and that – theoretically, at least – the process is speeded up. But the same general rules apply as if you were filling in a normal application or posting a CV.

If you are applying for a job that requires computing skills, but there is no on-line application form, show that you have the skills by e-mailing your CV. Make sure they will be able to read it – don't use any fancy files or fonts which may not be compatible with their machine.

Some companies, especially employment agencies, use on-line registration to gather initial details about an applicant and their intended vocation – but you will usually still have to turn up for an interview and possibly do tests to complete the registration process.

A damn good list of on-line job sites, detailing the industries they cover and whether they accept on-line applications, can be found at www.agencycentral.co.uk



The impression you make before you even open your mouth can be as important as what you say. You are there to sell yourself – and who would buy something that comes across as messy and unreliable?

It sounds obvious – but don't be late. Double-check the train times, interview location and interview time. Check out where the office is located beforehand if possible, otherwise give yourself enough time to find the place.

Arrive about five minutes early if possible. Even if you find the office half an hour before the interview time, go for a coffee and re-read your CV instead of inconveniencing your interviewer and giving the impression of desperation.

One of the main impression-makers is eye contact. It should start with the initial meeting and keep going through the interview. Sharon Thomas of Euro Personnel in Bristol singled eye contact out as a major factor. “I've had some really sweet people come in but they can't look at me,” she says. “If you can't look at me when you come in, you probably haven't got that level of confidence to succeed.”

Look the part. Different jobs require different images, and you should know what this image is by the type of job. Youthful, funky, corporate…make the image fit the job, but also make it look like you have made the effort. Shell out on some new clothes if you need to – look on them as an investment. And tone the jewellery down – especially the blokes.

Don't wait until half an hour before the interview to drag yourself out of bed after a night on the beer and baltis. Or at least if you do, make sure it doesn't look that way. Taking it easy the night before will not only mean you don't have teabags for eye sockets, but it will make you more alert and aware during the interview. If there is a 21-gun salute going off inside your membranes at regular intervals, it is going to show.

Be firm. The handshake is a reflection of your personality – make it firm but not bone-crunching. Even if you are a weak and nervous person, this is your chance to make a positive impression - at least until the contracts are signed. If you are a professional arm-wrestler, on the other hand, you might like to tone it down a little.

Body language tells a lot about a person's attitude. Don't fidget, sit straight and look attentive – but rather than getting caught up with trying not to fiddle with jewellery or bite your lips, go in with a positive, relaxed frame of mind. This will come across in your body language.

You can do it. You can. You're a tiger. Go get 'em.


  • Be positive. Try to find a positive angle to any potentially negative answers.
  • Be smart
  • Answer questions with more than one word
  • Make eye contact
  • Ask questions


  • Be over-friendly
  • Be arrogant
  • Moan about the people at your last job
  • Say this is your last resort
  • Stand up to leave the room before the interviewer does



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