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Applying for your first job: dos and don'ts

When it comes to finding a new job after getting certified, it’s all about standing out from crowd. But how to do you cut through the noise and get noticed for all the right reasons?

You know the type of job you want, all that’s left is to go out and get it. To help you secure the job of your dreams, here’s our list of job application dos and don’ts…

Don’t: wait until the last minute

If you’ve made good progress on your course already, there’s nothing to stop you from starting your job search before you’ve actually got the certificate. Get ahead of the game.

Showing potential employers you’re actively improving your knowledge base is a real tick in the box for them. If they can see how motivated you are to sharpen your skills, you’ll make the right impression. And although you haven’t actually got your certificate, they’ll get a feel for how rounded your skills will be afterwards.

If nothing else, you’re getting practice time at the job application process and fine tuning your techniques for when it really counts. Plus you’ll start to get into the groove and really understand the market, what’s out there, and what’s right for you.

If it’s a promotion within your own company you’re after, you might try to catch the head of the team at the water cooler for an informal chat. Casually drop in that you’re working towards a new qualification and probe for information on the types of things they value in their team members. “Oh hiiii James, you enjoy working with people who can X? I love doing that. Oh and did I mention I’m working towards my Y?”

This casual conversation works a treat for little tips and advice you won’t get during a formal application – plus you’re planting the seed for when a position may become available.

Do: detox your CV

Your conversation with a potential recruiter starts – and could end – with your CV.

Focus on your skills first rather than your work experience. A dedicated skills section acts as a checklist for the employer; they’ll scan it to make sure you tick all the boxes before reading on.

Best advice is to study the job description, highlight the key points and mention each specific skill requirement in this section.

Note: only do this if you actually do have that skill. Lying on a CV never works, it might get you an interview but it’ll all come crashing down when the employer wants you to ‘tell them about a time when you used *insert skill you don’t possess*’

It’s great to have lots on your CV, it shows you’ve been working hard and have experience in abundance. But make sure you’re only including things that are totally relevant for the position you’re applying for.

The paper round you had at 16 is only taking up valuable space, which could be used for other really relevant skills. Be ruthless – if it won’t help you get the job, delete it.

If you’re a student with the Learning People, our dedicated CV detox team will help you detox the hell out of your CV, scrap the stuff that’s stopping you getting a job and big up the skills that’ll help you bag a call back.

Learn more about CV detox

Don’t: overlook your cover letter

Gone are the days of almost identical cover letters only differing by the owner’s use of the ‘find and replace’ tool to insert a new company name.

You’ve spent hours on your CV; don’t waste it with a non personal cover letter. Make sure you’ve looked at their website and can relate your new skills to what it is they do. It helps to mention particular projects and clients you’ve read about on their site.

It’s easy to think it’s all about you you you. But try to think about it from their point of view. What are they missing from their team and how can you fill that gap?

Be sure to focus on the skills you’ve just learnt through getting certified too – your most up to date achievements could be the reason they hire you over someone else with similar experience. Ask yourself how will your recent learning experience benefit the company.

Fact: companies will not waste their time on applicants who clearly haven’t even researched the company before applying. All it says to the employer is that you don’t care enough or have a real passion for working there. And you don’t need us to tell you that’s not a good thing.

Do: be active online

There’s no getting away from it, employers do look at your activity on social media. It can work in your favour if you’re socialising online in the right way.

Don’t underestimate your LinkedIn account. If you haven’t got one, get one, and if you’ve got one but haven’t really padded out your profile, now’s the time to get it sorted.

Firstly you need to build your profile, use it as an online CV, showcase your skills and make sure you add all the extra curricular things you’ve done, courses, volunteering etc – you’ll be seen as a highly motivated go getter – who wouldn’t want to hire one of those rare diamonds?

Grow your connections with people in industries you’re looking to get into, engage with relevant content or publish your own. Employers will see you really know your stuff and it adds to their experience of you before they meet you. So make it count.

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are all social accounts employers might also check out during the hiring process.

You might be thinking ‘why the hell do employers want to snoop on my personal – yet totally and utterly, couldn’t be more public – social media accounts?’

But really, it’s not something you should worry about too much – employers like to get a feel for your character. They want to see whether you’re a well rounded person who would fit well with the team.

Of course, it’s no bad thing to show some personality, but make sure you’re careful about what you post out there into the ether. Would you be happy for your interviewer to find picture evidence of your questionable decisions at Glastonbury?

Probably not, unless of course they had a number of identical experiences – in which case they might be more keen to hire you because they think you’ve got good banter. But it’s best not to risk it – try to keep some pictures private.

Do: be like George Michael and have faith, faith, faith

Our last piece of advice is to stay positive. Believe in the skills you’ve learnt throughout your certification, and sell what a great candidate you really are. If you can demonstrate to the employer ways you can help them save money or make money – you’ve got a way in.

And remember, if you do get knock backs, don’t worry. We know it can feel like banging your head against a brick wall but you’ve just gotta make like Monty Python and look on the bright side.

If you don’t get a position for any reason, make sure you ask for feedback and really use it, scrutinise your applications and keep on improving and you’ll get there.

Remember we’re here if you need us…