YES, YOU CAN GET A GRADUATE JOB WITHOUT WORKING FOR FREE FIRST
Despairing because you can’t afford to work for free? Convinced that the best graduate jobs always go to graduates who can afford to do months of unpaid internships? Stop! There IS a way you can compete.
Recruitment experts have told us that the smartest employers now realise it’s unfair to expect graduates’ CVs to include long periods of directly relevant (often unpaid) experience, as many simply can’t afford to do it. The result? They’ve become much more flexible and open-minded about the type of experience that each graduate has to offer, and where you picked it up.
Ironically, this means that graduates who can’t afford to do unpaid internships may actually be the ones who need to do them the least. Why? Because you’re more likely to have gained real experience already through the part-time work and holiday jobs you did to earn cash while you were studying for your degree.
The crucial next step is to make the most of that experience in your application — ensuring you present it with the same pride you’d have for an internship. Here, Cary Curtis, founder of graduate recruitment agency Give A Grad A Go, explains more…
ENCOURAGING FACT #1: YOU PROBABLY DON’T NEED TO DO AN INTERNSHIP
“Today’s graduates are forever being told about the importance of work experience — the implication being that they couldn’t possibly already have enough,” says Cary. “With this message being played on repeat, it’s no wonder so many graduates assume they need to do at least one or two internships after graduation, before they’ll be considered for a proper, paid graduate job.”
So, don’t they? “If you have no experience at all, internships can be a good idea,” Cary concedes. “However, with many students now working in the holidays and even in the term time to save cash towards their living costs, it’s likely that today’s graduates have far more experience than previous cohorts who were less enterprising with their spare time outside of studying.”
“Of course, there are cases where specific technical skills remain a necessary requirement, but you’d be surprised how many employers value a graduate who comes with a broad background of experience.”
ENCOURAGING FACT #2: EMPLOYERS HAVE GOOD REASONS FOR BEING BROAD-MINDED
In a nutshell? They want to get the best people. “Many businesses are becoming increasingly aware that many great candidates can’t afford to work for low (or no) wages for months before applying for paid positions,” says Cary. “So we’re seeing more and more employers broadening their hiring approach, as a way of ensuring they’re not missing out on the best talent.”
“Remember, an employer’s priority is to find the best person for the job, not the person who has racked up the most internships with their competitors. The best companies want a diverse workforce with staff from a range of backgrounds. They know they won’t get that if they only hire people who can afford to work for free for months on end.”
Graduates often assume that when an employer says they want applicants to have ‘relevant’ experience, they expect you to have already done a near-identical role in a near-identical company. Not true, says Cary. “In simple terms, when it comes to experience, if you can show it’s relevant, it’s relevant. But it’s up to you to make your case.”
Cary’s team at Give A Grad A Go often meet graduates who insist they have no real work experience that’s relevant for the role or industry they want to get into — before listing all sorts of things they’ve done (including volunteering, holiday jobs, part-time jobs and running clubs and societies) that an employer would definitely consider relevant. “If you can demonstrate you have the relevant skills that you’ll need to do the job, it often doesn’t matter where, when or how you picked them up,” he says.
ENCOURAGING FACT #4: YOUR CV IS ONE STEP AWAY FROM BEING BRILLIANT
You’ve already collected the skills — what you need to spend time doing now is working out how best to showcase them to prospective employers. That means taking time to consider carefully how best to present your existing skills and experience for every job you apply for. “First, you need to identify for yourself the transferable skills you’ve gained and developed from your various jobs or volunteer roles,” says Cary.
“Then, you need to make sure your application really highlights these skills, and that you hammer home exactly how these will be useful in the job you’re going for. Show how you gained the skills, and also how you improved them over time. Really spell it out. Don’t expect the employer to join the dots.”
AND ONE LAST THING…
Remember, any experience is better than no experience! “Never leave any experience off your CV, especially if you don’t have much,” says Cary. “You just need to be making sure you demonstrate how you’ve built the skills and experience that will be useful in your future career.”
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