We all have dream jobs. You may already know what you want to do or you may still be exploring your options. But you are at a point where you have the opportunity to plan and prepare before you sit in front of an interviewer on your journey to get that dream job. I will share some tips I used when I was at university when preparing my application for internships and graduate jobs.
You might be in your first year starting your university journey, or in your second year, or you may be in your final year. Whichever year you are in, it’s never too early or too late to prepare. “Now is always the right time to get started”.
Searching for internships and graduate jobs can be a daunting, fearful and challenging task. Sometimes, you will face rejections and at other times will be great. There may be some rejections at first but remember, the light bulb was not invented at the first try, so pause, reflect, learn from the rejections and try again; this time, be better.
So, before you get those internships and graduate jobs, how do you prepare to make that application? They say: “Preparation is Key”. Without further ado, let’s dive into how you can prepare to stand out from the thousands of students and graduates you will be competing with for places at that dream company you’ve always dreamt of working for?
1. Societies and Clubs
For first-year students, in your first week, you want to be at the “Freshers Fair!” You get to meet a diverse group of people and make friends quickly. As the weeks go by, you will want to focus and settle into the society you feel more at home with. The goal is to be a contributing and active member.
What are the benefits and how does this help you prepare for your applications?
Societies help build your communication skills, team-working and leadership skills. You learn to take responsibility for not just yourself, but other members and besides this, you build relationships with others.
Some societies such as your course (departmental) society usually have links with industry. Companies give talks and offer a “first come first serve” opportunity to society members. This sometimes means you will be fast-tracked through to the interview stages skipping the usual online application forms and assessments. Trust me, it makes the experience so much better as you’re only focusing on preparation for the interviews.
Joining a society at university will also give you something to talk about in interviews outside of your degree subject. Not everyone is outgoing and would join a society. If you are in this boat, “have no worries” you don’t have to do what everyone else does. There are other ways you can stand out, consider the next point.
2. Find your Passion
There are many ways of finding out what you’re passionate about. There’s nothing wrong in focusing on your studies but it’s also good to have a balance with other activities. This is what some companies look at after you pass the “smart meter”. If you are not a very sociable individual, then one way you can ensure your skills are noticed and for companies to contact you without you doing the hard part of networking, is to be outstanding at what you do.
Make great use of social media platforms. “LinkedIn is your friend, Bright Network and Debut are your helper.” You can “show off your skills” in a way that opportunities come after you. For example, if you are studying computer science, make sure to deliver an assignment of good quality, or work on a personal project; “side-project,” upload your code to GitHub and post about that project on LinkedIn. If you have an Instagram dedicated tech page, use that as well.
Being outstanding at what you do is not solely about what grade you get on coursework, test or exam. Yes, your grade does contribute to this, and recruiters, especially from top tech companies, will be calling or emailing you when they see your projects and profile on LinkedIn. However, they also want someone who is more than a grade. What activities do you do outside of your studies? Do you volunteer for a cause or charity? simply helping a friend or other course mates with their coursework by tutoring them shows that you understand your course, you know how to communicate with others and it also shows leadership skills.
3. Do Your Research
This might be the easiest thing to do. You have the internet at your fingertips, use it for a good reason, and effectively. The search for internships and graduate jobs can be long and stressful, but if you know what you want, it makes it ten times easier. One thing I will say is don’t allow yourself to fall into the habit or trap of sporadically applying for multiple jobs without a focus. It’s easy to get anxious and throw your CV into every application you see, but this can also be less effective as your CV might not fit the role leading to more rejections. So how do you research?
Before you begin your research, the first step is knowing what you want. Ask yourself these questions:
- What skills do you have?
- The roles are you are interested in?
- What companies and organisations fit these skills and roles?
- What are their core values and do they match your values?
Take a day to evaluate these questions, write them down, research roles and companies that fit your answers, match them together and filter out any you think are not be suitable. Once you have a list and you are happy with it, the next stage is to focus your research on those roles, skills and companies for the internship, placement or graduate job you want.
The second step is early applications. Questions to ask once you have answered the questions above and learnt more about the companies and roles:
- When are the application start dates?
- When are the deadlines for applications to those companies?
- What are their application/recruitment structures and road-map?
- when do their initial applications close?
- Does their telephone and face to face interviews start early?
- when does online and in-house assessment start?
Make sure you have their opening dates and deadlines on a calendar or stick it note pinned on your wall or somewhere you can see it. This will help you remember which applications you are currently preparing for and help you plan your preparation around your studies and other activities.
The third stage is practice. I cannot stress how much practice is important. Practice the online assessments, there are free tests. you can always find out which providers companies use and find their free tests online. “Google is your friend…” Your friends are at your disposal, organise group interviews and get feedback from them. Use the careers service at your university, they provide free services, so find out how they can help you with your CV, interview practice, assessment centre preparation and also give you more information about the companies you are interested in. Look out for my next post on Interview tips.
4. Use Your Campus Career Advisors and Attend Career Fairs
Most universities have a career development service and advisors. Their role is to help students find internships, placements and graduate jobs. Even after you have graduated, some universities I am aware of, extend their help and support to you. So please make sure you create the time to utilise this free service. They are very helpful when it comes to preparing and applying for internships and graduate jobs.
Also, almost all universities have career fairs where businesses visit the campus to practically pitch themselves to you. When looking for an internship, placement or graduate job, always remember that They need you. You read that right; they need you just as much as you need them. So, when you end up at one of their stalls, ask questions; ask about their values, what they do, how they treat their employees and how they contribute to the community. This will help you decide If they match your values.
This is a great time to build that list of companies I talked about earlier. Get some business cards, have some CV’s you can hand out in case they ask. Engage with them in conversation, listen to what they say and ask follow-up questions. Ask them about themselves and what their role is at the company. People love talking about themselves and if you can get them to do that, they will remember you. Find out their background. How they got into the company, leave your emails and contact details if they ask and explore all the companies if you have time. Sometimes, you may leave with invites to interviews (not guaranteed).
Preparation is key.
Know exactly want you will like to do, making early applications and good practice help you have an enjoyable application process. Internships and graduate jobs tend to fill up quickly. However, this has been said to be a myth as there are always more internships available than students. So, in the end, it’s down to if you are ready for it. You can apply this method when searching for graduate jobs and you will not have to worry about it alongside your studies and intense final year deadlines.
“One of my principles I will add is FPPA: Faith, Pray, Plan and Act knowing God is with you and be confident that you have prepared, and you will do your best.”
If you face rejections, don’t be discouraged, don’t stop. Just pause, reflect, review, make adjustments where necessary and go again. Sooner or later, you are going to get that dream job.
5. Networking – COVID – 19
The game has changed. Yes, we now mostly work from home. The majority of interviews are now done on live video conferencing such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams. Companies have adapted their recruitment process with the time and season we are in, so the question is how do you as a candidate adapt to the current situation?
Utilise online platforms like LinkedIn and apps such as Debut. The question is, what is your brand? This means what skills do you have, what else do you do outside of studying, who are you as a person and what do you have to offer that other students with the same or better skills can’t offer?
Your LinkedIn articles and posts should be structured to initiate action from your readers like commenting, liking, and sharing. Respond to comments and be thoughtful when you respond. You want to show you are knowledgeable about what you are writing. Also, you can search for internships and graduate jobs to find opportunities and their requirements.
Make sure you update your LinkedIn profile. Get a professional profile picture. Add any relevant work experience with a short but detailed description of what role you played. Update your achievements and if you can, post articles on topics related to your field. Posting articles shows you are dedicated to your chosen industry and you do keep up with current trends.
If you are in technology, you can post about the “benefits of 5G”, “how big data and artificial intelligence are used in the pandemic”. These are ideas that show you are up to date and it will also increase your visibility to recruiters and other industry experts in your field. It will be great for students considering tech internships and graduate jobs. The same goes for any other industry.
Eventbrite is also a valuable platform when looking for networking opportunities. There are many weekly and weekend events for events on different topics. Signup to any you are interested in. For example, a company might be hosting a virtual webinar on “how Covid-19 will impact how they hire interns and graduates”. This should be an interesting topic you can choose and when you do get on the call, make sure to ask questions at the end if there’s an opportunity to do so. This increases your chances of exposure. It also helps with your communication skills and gives you insight into how a company operates.
6. Your CV
Make sure your CV is up to date and no more than 2 sides of A4 paper. Some companies scan CV’s before they are looked at by recruiters or hiring managers. This means that you have to tailor your CV specifically to the role you are applying for. You cannot apply for a Biosciences job and upload a CV with Computer Science related skills especially if they scan CVs to filter them.
For example, when applying to a Software Engineering role, your work experience section should have roles related to technology. In the description try to mention a few keywords like technology and java. But ensure they are related to the role. You could also have a dedicated skills section where you list out skills such as mentioned above.
Essentially, whatever internships and graduate jobs you are applying for, ensure that the language you use is related to the role. This helps recruiters going through your CV quickly spot the necessary skills just by glancing over your CV. If you read the first page of your CV and you are trying to figure out what skills you have or you are not sure what you’ve done, then assume the recruiter will have the same difficulties. Make it easy to read, simple, short and sweet (direct to the point).
The basic structure should be:
- A short description of who you are (3 to 4 lines at the top of the page)
- Your education starting with the most recent
- Your work experience that relates to the role you’re applying for
- Other experiences (voluntary, roles that you got other skills from like communication)
- Skills (includes specific skills for the role. These are usually keywords)
- Achievements and awards
- Hobbies and interests
- Finally, at the end, at least 2 references (usually lecturers or mentors).
If you need help with structuring and updating your CV, feel free to contact me using the contact form or on my Instagram.