5 woes of student job hunting (and how to fix them)

Please note that the views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not those of SOAS Careers Service. If you consider this content to be in breach of the SOAS values, please alert careers@soas.ac.uk
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For the lucky few, nailing a graduate job can be done and dusted during ad breaks. For everyone else in the real world, Save the Student takes a look at some silver linings to common problems.

1. You’re short on work history 

There are only so many ways you can make your bar job relevant to Accounting, and you’ve exhausted them.

Fix: Getting work experience can be as hard as getting a job outright – but there’s some employment history you can earn for yourself. Customer service, planning, budgeting, design, social media and commercial skills are all just as valid if you get them from your own business as someone else’s. Starting a student enterprise or freelancing can pay out (literally, as well as in experience), and it doesn’t have to be complicated. Organising walking tours, volunteering or online tutoring – and these 47 other student start-ups – all count.

2. You find mistakes – after you press ‘send’

You spend days crafting a cover letter worthy of George RR Martin, and then send it addressed to the last person you emailed. Ouch.

Fix: Some email programs let you recall an email once you’ve sent it – you can even set Gmail to delay sending by a few minutes in case you change your mind. Other than that, there’s not much you can do except suck it up – and learn from your mistakes.

  •  Unless the job closes in the next five seconds, leave your application at least overnight: it’s always easier to spot howlers with a fresh pair of eyes.
  •  Proofread your letters or CV from the bottom up, one sentence at a time – your brain can’t fool you into seeing what you think you wrote as easily.
  •  For online application forms, compose and spell check your answers in a word processing programme first – you’ll have a back-up the form times out, too.
  • Have someone else read your application before you send it. Once it’s gone, it’s gone!

3. You don’t get responses

Submitting applications can be like sending them into a bottomless pit, and then you never hear anything. Ever.

Fix: It’s harder for people to ignore you if they know you. If you only ever make anonymous applications online, you may be missing a trick: Networking is reportedly more effective in finding work than job applications alone.

  • Ask someone doing a job you’d like about their role or career route (or get a career mentor – the careers service can help you find one)
  • Go to company talks, events or launches (and speak to people!)
  • Sniff out relevant professional groups – trade associations or social clubs – and go to meet-ups
  • If your family or friends know someone interesting, ask them to put you in touch.

Networking isn’t about asking for a job, it’s about getting info. You could get valuable CV pointers from someone who knows the industry inside out, advice about further training – and possibly a heads-up when they do have vacancies. If there’s not much going on locally, you can start online: try Twitter or LinkedIn (which has tons of career advice and professional groups, too).

4. You don’t get interviews

You’ve got CVs in a whole range of fonts, styles and clip art, but you still don’t get invites. Why, oh, why?

Fix: Your application should answer two questions: Who are you, and why are you essential to this role? If something doesn’t answer those questions, leave it out. While you’re at it:

  • Read the job ad and use the same keywords when talking about your employment history or skills
  • Don’t just say what you did, show how you did it and what difference you made
  • Make sure you address all the criteria on the job ad
  • Make the most of your cover letter: it should be a compelling introduction over a couple of paragraphs, not a Tweet.

5. You don’t get feedback

Whether it’s your CV or your dazzling interview performance, some companies just don’t do feedback. You don’t know where you stand or, worse, know you didn’t get the job but have no clue what went wrong.

Fix: Remember that it’s often not personal. There could be any number of other reasons, from there already being a preferred candidate to the luck of the draw.

  • Set your own deadline: if you don’t hear anything in that time you can assume it’s a ‘no’ and get on with your life. (Already had an interview? It’s OK to call for an update – and show you’re still keen)
  • Have your CV, cover letter or interview technique critiqued by a mentor or careers advisor instead – and tackle any issues that come up
  • Make notes as soon as possible after interviews. What went well? Which questions tripped you up? What would you do differently?
  • Don’t get hung-up on employer feedback: not meeting key criteria, or not making it obvious enough on your CV that you do, are things you can (and should) find out for yourself. You can then concentrate on landing the next job rather than dwelling on the one that got away.

Looking for a job can be full-time work in itself – only unpaid and twice as brutal. It’s easy to get discouraged after the first few applications, but find ways to keep going. Keep learning, earning (see point one above) and take breaks when you need to, whether it’s a night away from scouring job ads or a whole weekend slobbing out. For even the most qualified folk, job hunting can be part numbers game: you’ll need perseverance to win this lotto.

Ruth Bushi, Editor, Save the Student

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