So your new graduate’s back home for the summer but – you hope – not forever, because you want to see them taking the first few steps down their chosen career path as soon as possible.
For many graduates, however, that first job turns out to be seriously elusive. The cold hard truth is that there is a lot more to employability than just decent university results (see this great article by an Oxbridge graduate, ‘Why Good Students Struggle To Get Jobs’).
These days, employers are looking for the kind of skills that can’t be developed in the classroom or the study hall – they’re looking for business skills such as leadership and team management, and the mindset that makes using those skills automatic.
So if your graduate doesn’t have those skills and the mindset that goes with them, looking for that all-important first graduate position is going to be an uphill struggle – which could soon become a downward spiral after one too many application rejections.
What to do, then? Here are five tips for supporting your graduate into work.
1. Time To Relax
Best, for a start, not to welcome your graduate home with a hug and “Time to start looking for a job, then”. Rather, let them settle down for at least a fortnight or so. They will need to catch their breath after those final intense months at university.
Once they feel like they’ve rejoined the rest of the human race, you might just find they’ve worked out their own approach and made a sensible plan of attack for starting their career. If they do need a little nudge to get the job-hunting ball rolling, then perhaps it’s time for a cosy, non-judgemental parental chat:
2. Start The Conversation (Gently!)
You’re not looking for the kind of discussion where your graduate gets the impression you want them out of the house and into work ASAP – far from it – but by talking about exactly what they’re looking for in their working life and how they’re going to achieve it at this early stage, you’ll be re-planting the ideas that helped them decide on their chosen career in the first place. You’ll also be helping them clarify and consolidate their plans for the near future, and the clearer their plans, the easier it’s going to be for them to put them into action.
Of course, if your graduate doesn’t have any kind of work experience, it makes the transition to the working world a scary prospect for them. Worse, it’s also pretty well guaranteed to ruin any chances of an interview in the first place. A 2017 report into the graduate market found that ‘graduates who have had no previous work experience at all are unlikely to be successful during the selection process and have little or no chance of receiving a job offer (’The Graduate Market in 2017’, High Fliers Research).
If your child has not been able to get the experience they need, you will need to help them face facts, and set up a plan to remedy the situation.
3. Encourage Part-Time Work
You’ll often read that graduates should ‘make the job-search their job’. This can only work for so long, however, and it won’t work at all if your child has insufficient work experience to talk about at interview. A part-time job will benefit their self-esteem and motivation, and it will also go a huge distance to filling some of those CV work experience holes. Reed is currently listing over 35 000 temporary jobs: one of them could make a great start on the task of fleshing out a weak CV.
Volunteering is another great option, as it can be easier to land a position where graduates can develop skills relevant to the industry they want to work in. The NCVO is an excellent starting point.
4. Use Your Own Networks
Parents are hard-wired to help, but often our children set off on a completely different career path to our own, making it hard to know where to start. If your child has zero interest in your line of work, it’s definitely worth thinking about your wider network of friends, family and colleagues.
Why not make a start by putting your child in touch with three great contacts? This could lead to valuable work experience, or even just honing interview technique. This article describes the benefits of the ‘informational interview’, where senior businesspeople meet graduates for a conversation about their direction and approach. Great practice for ‘real’ job interviews, as well as a sensible way to start building stronger networks.
5. What Not To Do
Don’t, however, email around asking your friends to give your child a job. After six months of a demoralising job search, this may, believe it or not, seem like a good option. It isn’t. This article spells out some of the ways excessive parental involvement can damage self-esteem and confidence, hindering the job search you’re trying to support.
6. Personal Branding, LinkedIn, and Social Media
It can be all too easy to neglect the obvious. Graduate recruiters increased their use of social media during 2016-17. It’s hugely important for your child at least to maintain a strong profile on LinkedIn, which states clearly that they are actively seeking work. They might also consider using Facebook and Twitter as job-seeking resources.
LinkedIn is a powerful job-seeking tool, and you can guarantee that any employer will be looking here to check out your child’s credentials and approach. LinkedIn is not another Facebook, but a place to connect with people you respect, who have mentored you, or who you think may be able to connect you in the right circles.
Our experience is that grads almost always have a much wider network than they thought: encourage them to connect on LinkedIn with friends, family contacts and university lecturers with whom they built relationships.
Remind your child to seek LinkedIn endorsements from people they’ve worked with in the past, even if it’s volunteering or casual work, or from people who have mentored them. These form powerful ‘social proof’ of their employability.
7. Guerrilla Tactics
Job websites and advertisements have their place, but many successful job-seekers get where they want to go by being proactive and creative. Our Course Director Alex Webb, researched and networked her way into the work she knew would make her happy:
“When I left teaching I had no connections in sport but knew that’s where I wanted to work. So I researched the big sports companies such as Octagon, IMG and a few others, and called them to ask who their temping agencies and recruitment agencies were. I then ensured I got signed up on the books of these agencies.
“Within days I was temping at the International Tennis Federation, the FA and then finally at a small freesports company where I started temping as a PA. Within a few months I had a full-time position and moved from PA to Events Coordinator on a Channel 4 Mountain Biking show; then project manager working with the top surfers of the world. Who knew these jobs existed?. I would never have got these roles just by sending CVs through.”
So what guerrilla tactics could your child use? The age of social media offers plenty of opportunities. They could write a blog on their career ambitions and job-search, comment on blogs and articles online, or even offer their services for free to gain experience and make contacts. The key thing is that they are thinking really hard about finding those all-important back doors.
8. Encourage Them To Attend Graduate Fairs and Events
Attendance at graduate and careers fairs is an absolute essential. These events, which are almost always free, offer your child access to a huge number of employers, all keen to chat and to help. They are a great way for young people to discover career options they may never have even thought of.
Many of these events take place in October and November: see for example the London Graduate Fair and the What Career Live? events, which take place in London and Birmingham. Individual universities also hold various events, see here for a list
9. Don’t Panic
Some people take longer than others even to know what they want, let alone land a job. Former UCAS head Mary Curnock-Cook recently went on the record actively encouraging parents to give their children more time and space to explore their options and make the right choices. You’ll need to manage your own frustration and keep the channels of communication open if your child is one of those who need more thinking time. This is a great article on some positive and productive things young people can do if they’re not ready for full-time employment.
If you and your child are both frustrated and confused by the slow progress of the job search, however, we can definitely help you. The first focus of our courses is self-awareness: helping young people set realistic goals, based on a clear understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. We then work on core business behaviours and skills, thus plugging CV gaps and making sure our students perform really strongly at interview. Our promise to parents is that we can take a lot of the pain out of the graduate job search, for you and your child.
Flying Start XP is designed to bridge the gap between the learning world and the working world, to reignite a graduate’s passion for their original career choice and to develop the business mindset needed for those first successful steps along a career path. Get in touch to talk through your situation. We’d love to help, even if it’s just a chat.