The Careers Service Q&A series – edition 2

Written by Samantha Oates-Miller, Careers Insights and Graduate Support Assistant at the Careers Service

The Careers Service Q&A is back for a second week to answer more of your career concerns! Read on to find out what other students and graduates want to know, and you may find answers to some of your own career-related questions.

Missed last week’s blog? Catch up here. If you would like to submit a question for the final blog next week, email us at graduatecareers@manchester.ac.uk with the subject line ‘Careers Q&A’. We will select three questions for next week’s article, and any others will be answered by email or encouraged to book a careers guidance appointment. All questions will remain anonymous.

Now that Christmas is over, my friends are starting to get interviews and job offers. I’ve had a few interviews too, but no job offers. What am I doing wrong?!

It can be hard when your friends have found jobs already, but try not to feel jealous (although a little bit is entirely natural!). Everybody finds their own way into a career in their own time. Instead, celebrate their successes and ask them if they have any tips.

It’s great that you’ve been invited to interviews. This shows that employers like the look of your applications! If you’re failing at the interview stage, there are a few practical actions you can take.

First, contact employers that you have had an interview with and ask them for feedback – is there something specific you can do to improve your technique? Remember, not all employers will offer feedback. Next, take the Get Assessment, Test and Interview Ready pathway on CareerConnect to hone your technique. You might want to look at our guide to common interview mistakes and how to avoid them too.

If nerves are getting to you, we have some practical steps you can take to feel more in control when preparing for, and during, interviews. Practicing your answers aloud will also help you feel more confident when it comes to the real thing. You can practice video interviews from a wide range of different sectors with Shortlist.Me, which offers instant feedback. This will help you prepare for some common questions, and learn if your answers are too long or short, or if you are speaking too fast and saying ‘erm’ a lot. You can also book an interview simulation appointment with a Career Consultant on CareerConnect for one-to-one practice and feedback.

To prepare for any upcoming interviews, make sure you have researched the employer first and go over the job description to make sure you fully understand the role. Note what type of interview it will be (telephone, recorded, video, face-to-face). If virtual, ensure you have the necessary equipment and run video/audio tests before your interview. If face-to-face, make sure you know how to get there, and get there early! Remember to dress appropriately, even if the interview is virtual.

Finally, something that seems like common sense but can be easily forgetting when nervous, remember that during your interview it is important to be polite, professional and friendly. Try to sit up straight, smile and look at your interviewer(s) or directly in the camera, if pre-recorded. Speak clearly, and make sure to follow the STAR technique (situation, task, action, result) when backing up your answers with evidence.

Good luck!

I’ve had feedback from a recruiter that my cover letter isn’t tailored to the job enough, but the feedback doesn’t go into detail. How can I improve it before I apply for another job?

It’s great that you’ve got this feedback, so you have something practical to work on. Cover letters can seem tricky, but they are something you can improve easily.

The most important thing is to avoid generic cover letters. Don’t reuse the same letter, as the skills and responsibilities of each job will be different, as will the employer itself. Read this blog on why generic cover letters end up in the bin for more information on why you should write a new cover letter for every application. Next, look at the Applications and Cover Letter Pathway to re-examine the basics of structure and content. Then, follow our cover letter template and our 6 steps to the perfect cover letter blog post to get started on writing your next letter. 

Remember, showing your research and demonstrating your skills are two key parts of your Cover Letter. Explain you want to work for the company (values, mission, current projects, recent innovations and developments, awards won, etc.) and why you want this specific role (for example, do you get to work on a variety of projects, or make a real, tangible difference?). Then explain how you have each of the skills that the employer is looking for (taken from the essential criteria on the job description – and desirable, if you have them). Make sure you demonstrate your skills and suitability for the job using evidence! You really need to make it clear why they should choose you over all the other applicants.

Don’t forget that you can now use CareerSet to check your cover letters before you send them. Copy the job description and upload your cover letter as a PDF, and you will receive feedback on your structure and content. You can also get feedback via a 20-minute application advice appointment, bookable on CareerConnect.

I finished my master’s in September, but I can’t find a job. I’m living at home, and I know I’m lucky that I don’t have to pay rent, but I desperately want to move out. What can I do to make sure I get a job soon?

It can be frustrating for graduates who have lived independently as a student in Manchester to move back in with family after graduation, especially if home is somewhere away from friends and the city life you’ve been used to. The truth is, a lot of graduates are in this position, but it’s not all bad! Read about the benefits of moving home after graduation, or find out more about Zac’s experience of returning home after University.

If you can/if possible, try to use this time as an opportunity: meet up with old friends, reconnect with family, rediscover hobbies, and enjoy a well-deserved break while you search for a graduate role. You should also use this time to enhance your employability, expand your skillset, and boost your CV.

Try to find some volunteering or work shadowing  in the sectors that interest you (or related sectors) while you job hunt. Considering getting a part time job to build practical workplace skills. You could also do a virtual work experience programme to get sector insights and skills for your CV. Finally, look for online training courses to upskill in your spare time; maybe you want to learn how to code, brush up on Microsoft Office or take a social media marketing course. Look for training that is relevant to the roles you are applying for, and fill any gaps in your knowledge or skills. For more information on what different roles and sectors are looking for, having a look a Prospects Job Profiles, or explore graduate job descriptions on CareerConnect and other graduate job search websites.  Find out more about researching employers and jobs here.

If you haven’t had much luck finding jobs through traditional job portals, another key way to find opportunities is through the hidden jobs market. A large proportion of jobs are not advertised, and are instead found through word of mouth or speculative applications. Build your network by connecting with people in sectors that you are interested in. You can do this by connecting with alumni on LinkedIn and attending employer events. Communicate with your contacts to find out how they got into their role, what training or experience they recommend, or to find out if they have any vacancies. Consider making a speculative application as up to 70% of jobs are found through this method!

Lastly, have a look at Leanna’s graduate careers story, where she reminds us that it’s okay not to go straight into graduate-level work right away, and it’s totally fine to take some time out to explore your interests and upskill.

Thanks for your brilliant questions. Remember, you can book a careers guidance appointment via CareerConnect to receive one-to-one advice from a Careers Consultant. See you next week!

Applications and interviews Careers advice Graduate Graduate jobs networking

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