Monday, March 5, 2012

Standing out in the crowd

Read Helen Simpson's post on how she is choosing to stand out from the crowd and get her first graduate job. Hope you also all join me in wishing her luck for her interview this week!:

I am currently studying a BA (Hons) in Public Relations with Marketing at Leeds Metropolitan University and am in the process of searching for my first graduate position. Many of the graduate schemes have closed already and employers have been advertising positions since the start of the year (and even earlier). With the heavy work load of final year assignments weighing on your mind, as well as the time-consuming dissertation, its important students don’t miss out on great career opportunities.

I hadn’t appreciated until now how long it can take to apply for a job – searching for job vacancies, researching the company, tailoring your CV to focus on the skills which are most applicable for that particular position and writing a covering letter – it can take hours to apply for one job alone. If you haven’t already, make sure you sign up to receive email updates from Target Jobs – it makes the searching for vacancies much easier.

However, no matter how much work you have, don’t postpone the job search – it might end up being too late. Local papers seem to be advertising fewer jobs each week (I’ve taken to craftily peaking at the job page in the supermarket to determine whether it’s even worthy of a purchase). According to the Independent, employers received an average of 83 CVs for every graduate job vacancy last year. There are far more graduates looking for employment than there are job vacancies and at a time like this, it’s essential to stand out in the crowd.

I’m very fortunate to be graduating with a wide range of work experience on my CV. Throughout my course, I have been required to gain voluntary work experience and collect portfolio items to demonstrate how I have been acquiring and developing a range of public relations and marketing skills as my course has progressed. This focus on gaining professional experience is something I think all university courses should encourage – it has meant that now that I come to search for employment, I have a solid understanding of public relations in practice, in both agencies and in-house organisations, and I’m able to demonstrate my skills in areas such as media relations, digital public relations, events management, writing for a variety of audiences, copy writing and many other skills essential in my chosen profession.

I also chose to undertake a placement year as part of my degree (something strongly encouraged by my university) and am really glad I did. Now that I’m beginning to apply for jobs, I am finding that nearly all vacancies are looking for applicants with experience. Graduates are expected to have an understanding of the subject in practice and have skills which will enable them to make a direct contribution to the organisation. At my placement organisation, I was given lots of responsibility and challenged to take on new tasks and projects – as a result, I returned to university with much more confidence, improved presentation and public speaking skills and the ability to think strategically and forward plan. This is something which I have been able to apply to university learning and has reflected in the grades I have achieved so far in final year assignments.

If you are considering whether or not to take a placement year, I wholly recommend it. Not only does it give you an advantage on other applicants with less experience, it is an excellent environment in which to learn. As a student on placement, you’ll be gaining experience in an environment where you aren’t thrown into the deep end (straight away anyway), where you are supervised in the organisation and given support from your university, and as a student, learning new skills, it is expected that you may make a mistake or two initially (only once mind). I also found that it helped me to determine what aspects of public relations interest me the most and where my strengths lie so that now I am job hunting, I can apply to the positions which are most suited to me and my skills.

But it’s not only about gaining these skills and strengths, it’s about selling them – you only have one covering letter, one CV, one opportunity to really stand out from other applicants. If you’re selected for an interview, you only have that one moment to shine. So, think about the experiences you’ve had which will be directly applicable to the responsibilities of the role you’ve applied for, not only from work placements but in university and other areas of life (it could be an extracurricular activity) and sell yourself with confidence.

I have my first interview next week so wish me luck.

Find Helen on Twitter: @helensimpsonpr or read her blog:

TARGETjobs offers the largest choice of graduate jobs, internships and placements. Independent reviews on top graduate employers and career planning tools and expert guidance. Become a TARGETjobs blogger by getting in touch with me at 

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