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How to find the right graduate job first time around

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After leaving university, graduates are bombarded with pessimistic assessments of the difficult job market that awaits them. It’s therefore no wonder they end up applying for every job in sight and saying ‘yes’ to something which they don’t really want, or which isn’t really right for them.

Your first job can play a crucial part in your career trajectory and employers are often a little wary of job-hopping graduates, so it’s worth taking the time to make the right choice. However, this begs the question – can you ever really predict the right role for you?

Whilst it’s probably a matter of trial and error to know for certain if you’re going to enjoy your first job in advance, there are some things you can do to maximise your chances of making a sensible choice.

For most people the ‘right’ job will fulfill four criteria simultaneously; it will allow you to do things that you enjoy and are good at, and it will propel you towards your long term goals, whilst also fulfilling you practical career ‘wants’.

With this is in mind, asking yourself the following four questions before starting your job search could help you avoid making a hasty decision that you may later regret.

1. What do you like doing?
Your first priority is to assess your likes and dislikes across all of your education, employment and extracurricular activities. This may seem like an enormous and slightly unrelated task, but by reflecting on your past experiences you’ll be able to pinpoint what it is that you’re likely to enjoy in the future.

Consider which university modules you favoured and why you enjoyed them. Think about extracurricular activities you take part in or any hobbies you have; which aspects of them do you enjoy? Perhaps you were president of a university society and loved chairing meetings, but hated having to persuade companies to sponsor you?

If you’ve interned or worked whilst at university, think about the tasks you loved, and those you loathed.

With these points in mind, make a list of the skills you enjoy using and tasks you enjoy doing, then compare the listed results to the descriptions of jobs you’re considering applying for. This will help you to make a shortlist of really attractive roles.

2. What are you good at?
Finding a graduate job that enables you to do the things you enjoy is obviously the ideal situation for any grad, however, it’s important to find a role that you’re going to excel at. Therefore, the second key task is to ascertain where your strengths lie.

Your likes and strengths will often overlap, but this isn’t always the case. Let’s say you enjoy analysing data, but if you’re not very good at it you’re not going to do well in the workplace – will struggle to impress your employer, fail to hit targets and limit your progression.

Still thinking about strengths, reflect on what you have been praised for in the past by former teachers and tutors, friends and family.

Which subjects did you have a flair for at school? Which modules at university did you find yourself getting to grips with really quickly? Which skills come naturally to you?

As before, make a comprehensive list and refer to it when examining job descriptions to ascertain which roles tick the boxes.

3. Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
Although your aspirations will likely shift as you work your way up the career ladder, it’s helpful to have some rough mid to end goals in mind.

The reality is, your first job after graduating may not be engaging all of the time, and many junior positions include elements of support work or administration. This makes it important to always have a vision of your future career destination in mind – it’ll provide you with the motivation you need to persevere through the less riveting parts of your job.

4. What do you want from your job?
Long term career aims are obviously important, but don’t overlook the more short-term, practical aspects of your future job, as these can also dictate your job satisfaction.

Are you looking for money, prestige, a professional challenge or a good work-life balance? Some people will be happy to work 12-hour days as long as they are doing something they love. Others will place more importance on their spare time. Some will want a career which allows them to travel regularly, while others prefer to remain in one place.

Don’t underestimate these key day-to-day aspects of your first job. If you choose a role which doesn’t hit the majority of your requirements then you’ll soon have itchy feet.

The job market is still a tough place for graduates, but that doesn’t mean you should panic and accept the first position that comes your way.

Explore all your options thoroughly and compare how well they fit with your likes, skillset, aspirations and needs, so that you can get your career off to the best possible start.

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