26 September 2010

21st Century Job Hunt

I consider myself a very resourceful person. I am passionate about what I do. I work hard.

I took everything my university careers service had to offer: I attended alumni talks, career fairs and humanitarian career forums, had my CVs and cover letters polished to perfection, read past job descriptions and landed my first degree-related internship in London through them. I signed up for recruitment agencies and newspaper job databases/alerts (I do not use them anymore as it appears to me that EVERYONE does the same thing), regularly check websites of organisations I'm interested in and which I have bookmarked. Moreover, I relied on my extensive internet research.

I like trying unconventional things. When I did not find a job and had the means to, I went to live in Malaysia for several months and had, to date, the best summer in my life there! The internship itself was unpaid but living costs were minimal and AirAsia had just started its low fare London-Kuala Lumpur route. Since I had the most amazing experience there, I have no regrets.

And yet, a couple of unsuccessful applications after my earlier post on the "graduate job jungle" and in total, two months of rejections later, I thought it was time to evaluate my job search performance and give it a reality check.

Online Application Forms – Compartmentalising the Masses
Whenever I routinely copy/paste the gazillionth nine page online application form, well-knowing that it will most likely drown in a pool of paper or will just be Ctrl+F -ed, I often wonder whatever happened to good old-fashioned "Send us your CV and cover letter". Every single one of these forms takes several hours to complete. A list of 4x14 mandatory skills (professional, IT, languages, other) with five respective choices of competency levels (1- excellent 5-not at all) in the drop down menu do not surprise me anymore.

The most annoying thing is entering the whole values into the forms AGAIN when "due to an unexpected server error, your request cannot be processed right now" - two hours before the deadline and then inexplicably works again just two minutes before midnight. Or cases where the online application is so badly designed that it is virtually impossible to navigate between tabs without losing information or losing access to forms that only appear after finishing all prior tabs in a linear fashion or that force you to fill out ALL boxes in all tabs in one single session if you do not want to risk losing half the first tab (yes, I do not get the logic either).

Then again, the internet also turns out to be the medium for finding inspiration to solve the issues caused by increased inter-connectedness and increasing comparatibility of professional and educational experiences in the age of globalisation. Some of the insights I will share here:

Be proactive:
Look up the company's website, contact details of the responsible person in the department that interests you and email them your CV directly EVEN IF THERE IS NO VACANCY ANNOUNCED. You can also correspond with them about their expertise before that and let them get to know you. Then they will be more likely to think of you later. Generally, don’t regard them as an asset but as a person. Nobody wants to be seen as a means to an end. Rather, try to see the job as the means and the inspiring and interesting people you meet through it as the end.

Being proactive also extends to those currently in an internship: The Guardian has interviewed a few interns who managed to turn their internships into full-time jobs. I had mixed feelings when I watched the video, mostly because even if you give your best, the charity/humanitarian sector offers not as many opportunities to become a full-time member of staff. For example, a HR director from CARE International, revealed at an international development careers event at the LSE that she recently received 600 applications for one job at the aid agency!

Always try to get feedback about your application. That way, the number (wo)man hours spent on the application will hopefully be transformed if not into a job, into insight how to spend less of your time in vain. However, many organisations already indicate in the job ad that they are not able to answer individual queries. Whenever they didn't, they said so in an auto-reply when I emailed them for feedback "due to the large volume of applicants... please consider your application has been unsuccessful at this occasion if you have not been invited for an interview".

Networking, networking, networking:
It often helps to get introduced by a common acquaintance. Business graduates have an advantage to social scientist graduates in that they have less self-consciousness and more peer encouragement in approaching people for jobs this way than graduates from “morally (over-)conscious” fields like arts & humanities and social sciences, I find. Networking does not have to be selfish. Remember to offer more than you ask!

I like going to conferences and events anyway, so I thought of graduate business cards and instantly remembered a friend of mine (not surprisingly, MBA) who once showed me his card. I googled and found out that some universities actually offer their students business cards from their campus print shop, precisely for the use of networking for jobs (graduates+) and research (Masters, PhDs).

Suggested information often includes your major and fields of expertise, organisations you interned with, perhaps what kind of work you'd be interested in (ie they say if you studied/are graduating from Computer Technology and decided to get work as "software engineer", then write "John Smith, Software Engineer"). Contact details nowadays also extend to linkedin, xing, twitter, facebook, blog or website. The physical address has become largely obsolete in the digitalised and mobilised world (thank God, else I would have to order a new set of cards four times a year).

I tell myself that while it appears novel and possibly even a little pretentious to me to hand out business cards (and as a graduate at that!), it is very likely that they exchange cards so often in the course of their work life, that they are used to being approached for networking. It's all about appearance, presentation and communication (in come the secrets of body language).

Finally, inform everyone you know you are looking for a job! You never know what might come their way: 80% of jobs are never advertised (the so-called "hidden job market").

Finding a job is a full-time job. So much was clear. The modes of how to land one seem to me almost like secret lore. I realise now the extent to which familiarising yourself with the company you are applying to and writing customised expressive CVs/cover letters/personal statements are by far not enough. I need to actively push my comfort zone and improve my (self-)marketing skills on paper, on the phone and in person. Confidence is key.

Coming up next:
- What I did this summer: Of weddings, families and journeys
- Best of job ads: How to retain your optimism and sense of humour while hunting for a job
- Minggu Melayu: Meeting three Malaysian friends in a week
- UNHCR High Commissioner Antonio Guterres speaking in Oxford

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