What I wish I’d known about job hunting! By Victoria Denton

Someone said to me in my final year of university, ‘The first job I got after my degree was £14,000 a year. Just take any job’. Although at the time, my desperation to earn money as soon as possible made this advice tempting, I did not follow it. And I’m so glad I didn’t.

Tips for job hunting

For me, job hunting is a painful process which nothing fully prepared me for. It is a journey of trial and error; a skin-thickener. Most importantly it is a science, not an art, and it is most definitely not luck.

I say that last bit with a pinch of salt. Of course, there will be outcomes that are strongly influenced by the sheer number of applicants, and the odds will generally be stacked against you. However, having finally come through the other side of the job-hunting process, I can confidently say that there is a formulaic approach to eventual success in the job market.

I spent a total of 3 years perfecting my applications and I would certainly not have ‘lucked in’ had I not learnt from earlier attempts.

There are so many things I wish I’d known about job hunting to begin with, but here are just a few of them:

Find out what type of jobs someone with your degree can go into

You need an awareness of all the jobs, and the various names of those jobs, that are available to someone with your qualifications. There is no typical route for an International Relations graduate, and this meant that I had to learn which fields, companies and roles actually existed for me to apply to.

I learnt about this through networking at events, researching different institutions and generally being inquisitive. This point sounds trivial, but it really is the first step to success in the job hunt. For example, within my field (security/IR) these are just some of the available options:

Political Risk Analyst
Policy Advisor
Threat Intelligence Researcher
Police Officer
Data Analyst
Protective Intelligence Analyst
Army Officer
Defence Consultant (this is what I went into)

And you could work for the government, a charity, a think-tank, a corporation, a bank, a small firm or many other places that you would not expect to find IR graduates!

Rejection and using feedback to help improve

You need to learn how to deal with rejection and how to use the feedback to improve on future applications. I don’t know how many applications I ended up sending out, but I was repeatedly rejected, sometimes quite harshly, from jobs that I knew I was qualified for. I had to learn that this was not a reflection of my character or ability, but rather the quality of my applications.

Plan how to manage competing offers

You need a solid plan of how you will deal with multiple competing offers. If you say yes to a job, but a week later you are offered a better one, what do you do?

Employers will want to have an answer in a very short timeframe, which does not give you much leeway to wait for better offers. 

Good practice is to ask for more time or, if pushed for an answer then be honest with the recruiter on what else is in the pipeline so the company can be prepared. Accepting a verbal or email acceptance of a job offer is legally binding, although in practice not many employers will hold you to it if you change your mind.

That said, if you really do not intend on taking a job, you should let the company know as soon as possible. If you pull out close to your start date, you risk damaging your reputation with that company or recruitment agency, which could affect future applications.

Carefully evaluate how jobs you apply for will help towards your career goal

Finally, don’t feel pressured to ‘take any job’. This isn’t to say that you should let good opportunities pass by on the off-chance that you will bump into your dream employer in the coffee shop, but it does mean that you should evaluate what each job offer will add to your current level of qualifications.

Look at the roles and responsibilities you will be expected to fill – will they push you towards your longer-term career goal, or away from it? If you don’t know exactly what you want to do yet, does the job role sound like something that you will find stimulating? Consider the transferable skills it might give you, and reflect on whether this role would progress or hinder your career, before making a decision.

In sum, job hunting should not be seen as a search for an unrealistic pot of gold, and nor should you devalue yourself just because you’ve had one too many rejections. Instead, you need to take a calculated and thoughtful approach in which you consciously work towards securing the first springboard for your career.