Getting your first job: a no-nonsense guide

Career Advice
31 January 2019 | Career Advice | Guest Author

So you’ve passed your degree and received a handful of letters after your name? Congratulations! Now what?

For every graduate there comes that ‘uh-oh’ moment when you realise you need to secure your first real job after university. Some are lucky and land on their feet, while others can struggle for months whilst watching all the people around them finding work or being accepted onto incredible internships. If you’re fresh out of university and wondering where to start, here’s our practical, no-nonsense guide to landing your first ‘proper’ job.

Ask Yourself What You’re Good at

It seems an obvious place to start, but have you considered where your strengths truly lie? Look back at the work you did whilst studying and try to work out what you really excelled at. It could be that you were better at writing essays than you were at standing up and giving presentations, or that you were more of a ‘people person’ and enjoyed talking to others.

Both make use of those incredible communication skills which employers always want to hear about, but in different ways. The former might be better suited to work which involves research, analysis and writing up findings, while the more gregarious latter might be happier in a customer-facing role or working as part of a big team.

Career author, Scott Adams, uses the term “talent stack”, which refers to a set of skills that you would put yourself in the top 10%-20% for. When considering your top 5 or 10 skills, this can help you match them to industries that require your skill set.

If you’re the self-deprecating type, don’t be shy about asking others where your talents lie. Friends and family can often spot those hidden skills which you don’t necessarily see in yourself, so take the compliments and work with them!

Ask Yourself What You’re Interested in

Once you know where your skills lie, you need to ask what you’re interested in and what industries you might be suited to. There’s nothing worse than being stuck in a job which you can’t raise any enthusiasm for, so you need to be on the lookout for companies and sectors which do have some allure for you.

Like reading? Start to look around for publishing houses to approach, or large bookshop chains with head offices in the UK. Interested in sports? Maybe your local newspaper needs a football reporter, or your nearby gym is on the lookout for freelance personal trainers.

Whatever you enjoy doing in your free time, there will be an opportunity somewhere to turn it into your day job. Look for work in unexpected places and you never know what you might find.

Ask Yourself What Sort of Working Environment You’d Like

Sometimes it’s easier to flip that question on its head and figure out what sort of working environment you wouldn’t like. Some people are best suited to the structure of an office 9-5, while others hate being cooped up indoors and would rather be out and about. Some will prefer being part of a busy and sociable team, while others would rather work independently and have their own space. 

If you want a job which is all about the post-work Friday drinks and beanbags in the breakout spaces, then find a company which offers plenty of perks and has a young, dynamic feel to it. If you want a job which provides structure, training and a clear progression path, then established organisations with a more ‘corporate’ feel could be for you.

Ask yourself when, where and how you want to work, then seek out employers whose mindset and ethos best reflect your own. You can’t always judge a book by its cover, though, so stay open minded and consider casting your net wider if nothing immediately grabs your attention.

Above all, stay positive! Even the most successful high-flyers will have experienced that heart-in-mouth moment when they realised they needed to find a job, fast. Everybody – and we mean everybody – has received rejection letters or stony silences from their applications. Keep your chin up and keep looking, because that first job will eventually come along.


Lizzie Exton writes for Inspiring Interns & Graduates, the UK’s leading graduate recruitment agency.

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