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  • Writer's pictureMichael Stewart

Land Your Dream Job: 5 Tips for First-Time Job Seekers

I posted an article a few weeks ago that provided some practical advice for youngsters going through an apprenticeship selection process. That got me thinking about the difficulties all young people face when applying for their first job, whether that be as a school leaver or graduating from university the challenges remain the same, limited or no work experience and limited or no experience with real life interviews. It can all be a bit intimidating, to say the least. However, with the right approach, you can land your dream job. I’m the first to admit I am no recruitment expert, but I have been interviewing people for over 30 years, so I feel I may have something to contribute.

For what it’s worth, here are my five top tips on the best approach to take when applying for your first job.

1. Tailor your resume to the job

Believe me, I have seen CVs with spelling and grammatical errors that would make a primary school teacher weep. Your resume is your first chance to make an impression on a potential employer, it’s your shop window and it’s critical you get it right. If your CV is covered in pictures and glitter, it’s time to have a rethink. Avoid using fancy fonts, colours, or pictures, keep it simple, professional, and to the point. Highlight your education, work experience if any, skills, and achievements. Also, make sure to proofread your resume to avoid any errors. Above all, make sure it is tailored to the job you’re applying for. For example, if you are applying for a job as a marketing assistant, highlight any relevant coursework or internships you’ve completed that might relate to marketing in any way. If you’re applying for a job as a customer service representative, highlight any experience you’ve had dealing with customers, good or bad, even if it’s not directly related to the job. Tailoring your resume to the job you’re applying for shows the employer that you’ve done your research and are serious about the position.

2. Craft a compelling cover letter

First rule, always attach a cover letter, whether it is asked for or not. I agree, they’re a pain, especially when you are applying online and just want to submit your application quickly, but they’re also your chance to show off your personality and convince the hiring manager that you’re the person for the job. So, don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through. Just remember, there’s a fine line between ‘quirky & charming’ and ‘unhinged’. Your cover letter is your chance to introduce yourself and show the employer exactly why you are the best candidate for the job. It should be personalised, well-written, and highlight your relevant skills and experience. Make sure to explain how your skills match the requirements of the job, be specific and use examples where you can. Avoid using generic or cliché phrases like ‘I’m a hard worker’ or ‘I’m a team player’, these phrases are totally overused and don’t really say anything about you. Instead, focus on concrete examples of how you’ve demonstrated those skills in the past.

3. Research the company

Before applying for a job, take the time to research and find out as much as you can about the company you want to work for. If the interviewer asks you what you know about the company and you respond with ‘uh, you sell stuff, right?’, it’s not going to go well. Look up their mission, values, and any recent news or developments. This will help you understand the company culture and whether it’s a good fit for you. For example, if you’re interested in a job at a tech start up, research the company’s innovation and technology goals. If you’re interested in a job at a non-profit organisation, research their mission and impact on the community.

4. Prepare for the interview

Interviewing can be nerve-wracking, especially if it’s your first time. However, with practice, you can feel more confident and prepared. Ask a friend or family member to do a mock interview with you. Practice answering common interview questions, such as ‘what are your strengths and weaknesses?’ and ‘why do you want to work for this company?’ This will help you feel more comfortable during the actual interview and show the employer that you’re prepared and serious about the job.

Remember, employers will have many potential applicants with similar qualifications for the job you want, so you need to stand out. They will be drawn to the applicant with a good story to tell that emphasises an ability to work in a team, to learn new skills, or perhaps a single-minded approach to getting a job done. Your work experience may be limited, so some relevant life experience may be useful here. From dog walking to traveling, or perhaps a hobby, think about any relevant experiences you can talk about at the interview (or even before/after during general chit-chat). Have three or four good stories in your head about life events, things you’ve done and what you’ve learned from them, and be ready to throw these into the conversation. The interviewer will always remember the lad or lass that spoke about an exciting (and hopefully relevant) event from their family holiday over the person who spent their whole summer studying and got an A.

5. Shine at the Interview

Dress appropriately for the interview. Even if the company has a casual dress code, I always feel it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed. That is always noticed. Also, make sure you arrive on time, be polite and friendly to everyone you meet, and remember to smile. Most importantly, be yourself. Yes, it’s another cliché, but it’s also true, don’t try to be someone you’re not. The interviewer is looking for someone who will be a good fit for their company culture and if you’re pretending to be someone else, it’s not going to work out.

Don’t be afraid to talk about something you failed at. Situations that arise around slips and mistakes are all about life experience and resilience. The employer obviously won’t want someone that is constantly prone to failure, but in order to learn we need to fail some of the time. Talking about these experiences (and what you learned) makes you shine.

Arguably the biggest attraction to the interviewer is your personality. If they see you as someone who is energetic, communicates well, has the right work ethic and looks like you will fit in naturally and comfortably with their team, they will be drawn to you.

Most importantly, relax, try not to be nervous, take some deep breaths and try to enjoy the experience…it’s over before you know it.

Remember, we’ve all been through this. Applying for your first job can be daunting, but with the right approach you can make a great impression and land your dream job.

When you finally have that job offer in your hand though, it doesn’t stop there. It’s important to remember that you will likely be on a probation period for a few months, so you still need to continue to perform well. Your first job (in fact usually any job) will likely come with a steep learning curve and you will need to be open to learning new skills and taking on new responsibilities. Stay focussed, work hard, be mindful of your time keeping, try to learn as much as you can, and you will soon be an invaluable asset to the company looking forward to your first promotion.

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