While graduation is a time for celebration, it also marks the point at which you need to take the education you’ve earned and put it to good use in the working world. But are you equipped to get the edge in a highly competitive market? Liam Mc Dermott, head of skills development at Stanchion Payment Solutions, offers some tips and insights to help you impress potential employers and get your start in a rewarding career.
“Probably the most important thing for any recent graduate is acceptance that you’re not going to step into a golden opportunity just like that. Instead, the real effort of finding a job, and more importantly embarking on a career, only really starts in earnest once you’ve got your qualification,” he says.
However, this can be expedited somewhat by making use of opportunities prior to graduation that can (and not always so obviously) present themselves.
Having spent the first part of his career as a university lecturer, Mc Dermott notes that he is well aware that those ‘university days’ don’t necessarily provide all the ‘soft skills’ to secure a job offer. “Before you even start job hunting, it’s a good idea to invest time and effort into understanding yourself, your abilities, principles, your hopes and dreams, before you decide on your career path.”
That’s not an easy ask for young people, Mc Dermott agrees, and his top recommendation is to chat with professional people wherever you find them to gain insights. “It’s important to find ‘applicable’ experience’. Speak to friends and their parents. Try to break down the barriers of age; the experience and insight of older people is invaluable. Ask people how they got to their positions and if they are happy doing what they do. Ask what is it they like, what’s interesting and also what isn’t, find out about how to negotiate a package, what are the perks are, what the working environment and the industry is like,” he says.
“These are the things that they don’t –and can’t – teach you at university. It takes 20 years’ experience to get 20 years’ experience, but by listening, one can at least gain some valuable insight to get a leg-up and start those 20 years a little ahead of the rest,” Mc Dermott continues.
So far, he has made no mention of remuneration – and there is good reason for that. Instead, he says understanding some basic economics is critical. “Remember that you are selling your services to a company; you need to tell them what it is you can do and then demonstrate the value you can add on the job. When you’re starting, the money isn’t the most important factor. Add value, and the money will come; good people are in demand and once you’ve proven yourself, a good employer will be only too happy to reward you accordingly.”
More important than Rands by far, he says, is the availability of mentorship as part of your career start. “Ask about that; if you can get a good mentor, your career will progress faster. If you find something about which you can be passionate, in which the outcomes of what you achieve are important, the appropriate remuneration will follow.”
While finding any opportunity can be a substantial challenge in its own right, Mc Dermott advises taking some care in the positions for which you apply. “Don’t take a shotgun approach. Rather focus on finding a position at a company you would like to work for, and in a career that will hold your interest – or you could end up very miserable,” he says.
Or you could end up looking like a job-hopper. “It costs time and money to employ people; employers do not like having to go through the process every 9 to 10 months. By taking ‘any old job’, your CV could end up showing that you don’t stay in that job for long.”
Knowing what job you want should be matched by knowing about any company with which you may secure an interview, continues Mc Dermott. “Do some research before you go; don’t just understand the company itself, take some time to understand the industry in which it operates. You don’t have to be an expert – but remember that your qualifications aren’t all that will get you the job. If you can show genuine interest, that you are a self-starter and that you’ve taken the time to know more, you are a stronger candidate.”
As a rule of thumb, he says, consider doing four hours of research for a one hour interview. “If nothing else, the time spent will help you understand whether or not this industry and company is for you.”
Finally, it may be nitpicking, but Mc Dermott says some minor good housekeeping goes a long way to achieving a great first impression. “The little things do count. If you’re sending your CV, include a covering letter introducing yourself, noting the position you are applying for and why you believe you’re the right person for the job. And check the spelling on everything you submit – those with attention to detail put themselves at the front of the line,” he concludes.