As a recent university graduate The Hot Topic over the past twelve months has no doubt been securing a graduate positon and finally putting years of hard work and study into taking the first steps along the beginnings of my career path. It is something all grads put our minds to on a daily basis yet for many of us the question “how’s the job hunt going?”, despite its genuine intentions, is almost a taunt as we constantly struggle to lock down that elusive first role in what is a highly competitive marketplace. From my experience there are a number of common issues faced by us ‘newly grads’ in making that initial leap into the workforce.
The first of these is the sheer competitiveness in the market at present. A friend of mine recently attended an assessment centre for a graduate position in the mining industry here in Brisbane. The purpose of day was to narrow 24 potential candidates down to a final eight with the view of progressing to the interview stage. What astounded me was that even at such an early stage in the process the talent pool included people not only from Brisbane but also those who had flown in from Perth, Melbourne and Townsville solely to attend the day. Further, some of the candidates asked to attend had previous industry experience but effectively forced into applying to graduate roles just to get a crack in the market. No wonder so many of us struggle to secure a position when for the most part our previous employment is limited to casual retail experience.
This emphasises the importance of being able to differentiate yourself from the pack in order to progress further in the recruitment process. But with some positions receiving over 500 applications this can prove to be no mean feat. Establishing your own unique brand which is attractive to potential employers is now more important than ever. But in the absence of a high GPA or having a well-developed network of connections, this is something which in practice grads find rather difficult to achieve. It is an important skill we as a whole are yet to fully tease out.
But just getting yourself through to interview is not where the difficulties cease for the fresh faced grad. For many of us this is our first taste of the pressures associated with a formal corporate interview. First impressions count and knowing how to portray a strong corporate image with confident communication skills can be difficult the first time.
It also serves as our introduction to behavioural interview techniques. Despite having access to almost an endless online database of potential questions and being provided with practical advice how to best address them it remains a challenge to translate our limited professional experience into concrete examples which fully demonstrate an application of the desired behavioural characteristics.
Take for example the question ‘tell us about a situation where you have faced a challenge and how you dealt with it”. Given our junior status most grads struggle to readily find an example of this in a commercial context. Thus providing a good answer often requires a degree of creativity in taking situations we have encountered whilst at university or in our everyday lives and moulding them to fit the question at hand. From the conversations I have had with other grads most feel anxious or at the very least uncomfortable answering questions and talking about themselves in this context. Whilst this is no doubt a skill that we develop the more we are exposed to these situations, it is a place many grads feel they hit a stumbling block in the employment process.
Despite this most of us still searching are coy that eventually we will land that dream role. The big question is what should we do in the meantime to enhance our employment prospects? Should we embark on postgraduate studies? Look for employment in an industry with transferable skills? Or try our best to gain unpaid industry experience in the hope it will translate into a paid position? These all pose further challenges and it is difficult to know which is the best course of action without a guiding hand from within the industry.
But for all you fellow grads out there this is not to be held in fear. Like learning to drive it is a situation everyone has been in once and most people are more than happy to give you some pointers to help along the way. By listening, learning and a bit of hard work that first step along the path will only be a short step rather than a giant leap away.
Ritchie Tabor – Guest Blogger / Recent Graduate