You’re in your final year at University. Everywhere you turn there are posters for graduate schemes and representatives from global firms coming in to tell you why their scheme is the right one for you. With all of this, it is easy to think that graduate schemes are your only option and if you don’t get on one, you have somehow failed. Although not everyone feels like this, this certainly seems to be a preoccupation for many graduates I speak with, who leave University with a 100% focus on working for a huge brand on a graduate scheme.
Working in recruitment I get many entry level roles from companies big and small, so I am more than aware, now, that grad schemes are not the only option. This is something I was not aware of, however, when I was about to finish University and found there was very little information about other paths a graduate could take. I spoke with twelve experienced managers to see how they started their career and have summarised their words of wisdom in seven helpful tips for any graduate who is looking to take their first steps on the work ladder.
- Don’t fear failure – You might have people telling you that finding your first role is the most important decision you will ever make and will shape you career path forever. Yet in reality this is not the case. One manager said, “If you ‘fail’ don’t despair, you now know what you don’t want to do”.
- DO NOT turn down interviews – Be open-minded. Although the job description might not blow you away, you might be saying no to a life-changing opportunity. This will also probably be your first experience of interviewing in a corporate environment, so practice makes perfect! To quote an Internal Recruitment Manager I spoke with, “as the golfer Gary Player said ‘the more I practice the luckier I get’”. Managers also commented that a lot of graduates they had interviewed had often not adequately prepared for interview. Don’t let the interview process make you negative and disheartened and if at any stage you feel like that, think of Gary Player!
- TEMP TEMP TEMP!! – If you are offered something and you are not doing anything, take it! It might not be the job title you were hoping for but you never know where it will take you and you can always offer to do extra projects for the department you would actually like to work in. Nearly every manager I spoke with stated they started temping as soon as they finished University. Their reasons for doing this were simple – they realised they had little or no commercial experience and saw temping as a way to really understand businesses and where they felt they would fit best. Over half of the people I spoke to also stated that a temporary role led to something permanent and really steered the direction of their career in a positive way.
- Personality is key – Focus on your personal brand and truly believe in why you would add value to any organisation you work for. You can no longer rely on your degree alone; a lot of people have them and they do not equal commercial experience. Differentiate yourself from others and prove yourself useful. Managers commented that some graduates seem to lack passion and enthusiasm, so make yourself stand out by emphasising these values in interview and in your day-to-day role.
- Look at who you would be working for and with – At this stage in your career a mentor can be valuable; they know everything you want to know and are often more than willing to give you guidance should you only ask them (and very few people actually do this!!). Take ownership of the mentorship and be prepared to go above and beyond. Offering to take on extra projects outside of your remit can highlight to managers your dedication and ability and often lead to an early promotion.
- Don’t just think BIG – Large companies have a lot to offer but small companies do too. All managers agreed that you should never turn down a role just because a company isn’t “big enough”. Small companies often offer you the chance to take on responsibilities that a bigger company may not, which enables you to broaden your skillset quite quickly. As discussed previously, though, it is important to know who will be there to support you, as small companies are not always able to offer the widespread support network that a bigger company can. Reflect on what level of support and guidance you feel you may need and want and make sure that in interview you ascertain where this is likely to come from, no matter the size of the company.
- Don’t hang on for that “perfect” job – it’s all about stepping stones and where the role can take you. You might want to be a marketing executive involved in brand roadmapping and the development of annual marketing plans; however, it is unlikely you will secure this for your first role. Look at the bigger picture and the opportunities for development you will get within the company. If you try and run before you can walk it is likely to end in tears!
An Internal Recruitment Manager I met with said “people either have a Calling (doctor, nurse, lawyer etc.), a career or a job”. If you have had that lightbulb moment and know exactly what you want to do, then congratulations!! However, if you are like me and finished University knowing that you wanted a great career and to challenge yourself every day, but were unsure which direction to take, then I hope you find this advice useful.
With special thanks to James Corfield, Ilhan Mehmet, Daniel Woodall, Carolyn Scrivener, Louise Robertshaw, Natasha Gowans, Jane Brocklebank, Neil Harris,Rob Brown, Neil Fairbrother, Marijke Lotz and Simon Gardiner for taking the time to speak with me and answer my questions.