At school, college and university, the focus is on gaining qualifications that can open doors and help you step into the career of your dreams. However, if this were true, then why are so many young people struggling to secure work in Britain today?
Research reveals that 16-24-year olds are three times more likely to be out of work than the remainder of the population; a sorry statistic which is at its highest level for two decades. There are, naturally, many reasons for this; one of which is the fact that people are working longer and retiring later, so there are simply not as many vacancies around.
Another (thankfully more easily-overcome) cause is that, in some cases, there’s a disparity between what employers want and what young applicants can provide. This isn’t necessarily in terms of work experience, grades or skills; after all, many young people volunteer and take on extra-curricular tasks to bolster their CV. No, it’s the way that they sell themselves that’s specifically lacking.
Admittedly, it seems absurd to think that the fate of your employment prospects depends entirely on the information contained within two sheets of A4 or on your body language, but this is often the case. If you want to increase your chances of passing the first round of recruitment screening, then you need to learn how to sell yourself in a way which matches the employers’ expectations.
What employers want
One of the most important points that you need to remember is that employers and recruiters receive hundreds of applications for a single vacancy, so yours needs to be something really special to stand out from the crowd.
Most employers will say they want a well-written CV tailored to that specific job which differentiates you from the competition. Think about what makes you you; what makes you different? What makes you an asset to a company?
Similarly, they don’t have much time to go through each application. Research claims that they spend just 8.8 seconds swiping through CVs ‘in a process that has become Tinderised’. To draw their eye immediately to the good bits and keep them interested, employers like to see some clearly laid out achievements. Add them in bullet-points near the top of your CV or even in your cover letter; this list will give them a reason to keep reading.
With school/college leavers and graduates, employers know that applicants won’t have had a chance to accrue certain work experience. However, they will make allowances providing you can give evidence of some transferable skills. These are those essential qualities that you can apply to the new role; perhaps you’re a brilliant writer, or a confident seller – attributes you might have used in part time work or during your studies. Emphasise these skills, as they’ll boost your prospects.
Of course, it’s not all about the CV and cover letter. Yours could be wonderful; you might have all the skills that the job description prescribes, but if you fall apart at the interview, then the job will inevitably go to a rival. We all get nervous and try to answer questions as professionally as possible, but this can come across as stiff and cold. Employers want to see enthusiasm and personality to determine whether you’d fit in with the existing team. This is what’s known as employability and apparently 65 per cent of employers think such skills are more important than academic or technical ones. Demonstrate a positive attitude, be honest and show the interviewers that you have a willingness to learn – they’ll love it.
What you can do
There are dozens of ways to fill this gap and meet employers’ expectations, and we have lots of information in our blog section that could help. If you need help creating a well-formatted CV, why not use our free CV template? For information about writing a CV and an attention-grabbing cover letter, our Graduate’s Guide (relevant whether you are a graduate or not) has some great tips. Essentially, you need to show employers that you are a good match for the job by emphasising you have the skills they want.
An analysis of 500,000 job adverts carried out by Adzuna discovered that most employers are searching for candidates that are organised, have good communication skills, are motivated, have qualifications, are flexible, committed and can innovate. Don’t simply copy and paste that sentence into your CV, though; instead, give examples of times when you have used those attributes. Employers want evidence that you are worth progressing.
Another good tip is to ensure your online presence is ‘safe’. Here’s a fact for you: 80 per cent of employers now routinely Google an applicant prior to inviting them to interview (or not inviting them to interview, as the case may be). Whether you agree with this practice or not, it’s happening because it’s an easy, quick and free way to screen candidates. If an employer has access to drunken Ibiza snaps on Facebook or that foul-mouthed rant about Yodel on Twitter, it’s not going to give a good impression. To combat this, make sure your personal social media profiles are all set to ‘private’ and perhaps keep a ‘professional’ Twitter handle – one that you could add to your CV. A top tip is to Google yourself to see what is visible. Always be aware of your online presence.
When it comes to the actual interview, make sure you prepare in advance. Know where you have to go and how you are going to get there. It’s better that you turn up 30 minutes early than two minutes late. Know what you are going to wear, have it clean and ironed, ready to wear on the day so there’s less for you to panic about. Do some research about the company and make notes on your achievements and skills, so you are at least a little prepared; plus, read our blog on how to answer those horrid interview questions for some top secret insight.
Yes, you’ll be nervous, but try to be yourself – look your interviewers in the eye, give them a firm handshake and smile! If it helps, take a note book in with you so you have something to hold and occupy your hands. Don’t sit with your arms folded, as this suggests a defensive attitude.
Remember, you want this job so don’t self-sabotage your chances by failing to sell yourself correctly. We know you’re great, now go and show that employer!