Shyam Visavadia had good academic results as a graduate in geography and urban and regional planning. He had a CV filled with part-time jobs and involvement in student societies and sporting events. But still, when he applied for real estate and surveying firms’ graduate schemes, the rejections flooded in. ‘I was demoralised, hurt and genuinely shocked,’ he says. ‘I had been confident that I would gain a role at a reputable real estate organisation first time round, but this didn't prove to be the case.’
‘I soon realised I wouldn't be getting onto a graduate scheme that year, but I couldn't see myself working in another field. So, I decided to undertake further study and gain an RICS-accredited postgraduate diploma in surveying.’ He did some research, questioned current students on courses and enrolled in a College of Estate Management course via distance learning. He stayed at home and funded his course via a graduate loan, the help of his parents and running his own laptop repair business. He also spent that year making himself more employable, and he has some tips for you on how to ensure you get a job first time around.
'One mistake I made when I started applying the first time round was writing generic answers for all of the application form questions and not tailoring my applications to the specific company I was applying to,’ recalls Shyam. ‘This time around I tailored my answers and got interviews from most of my applications, so this does work!’
Tailoring your answers to the employers isn’t actually that difficult, although it can take a little time. It centres around three things:
- Demonstrating your knowledge of the employer whenever you can. So, if answering questions about why you want to work in the industry say that you particularly want to work in property for that firm ‘because…’ If answering questions about why you are applying for a job with the firm, say something specific about the company instead of something generic. Show how your interests and values align with the company’s.
- Actually answering the question you’re being asked – write your answer from scratch even if the examples you use are the same as you’ve used in questions for other firms.
- Show that you have the skills they want, using the same language as they do. For example, if you are asked about your interpersonal skills, use this wording in your response rather than social skills, even though they mean almost exactly the same.
Keeping an eye on the news affecting the companies you are applying to will help you with this – and is key to getting work experience.
Shyam found that a bit of organisation really helped him to get hired. First up: the power of the diary! ‘This year, I’ve kept a diary scheduling my time and work. I’ve used it to schedule networking meetings, assignments, work experience dates, application deadlines, lunches and my social life. In the first few months I hardly wrote down anything, but now I write in it three to four times a day! I honestly believe that this is how I manage to get everything done.’
As he points out, the diary is also evidence of his good time management: ‘I’ve also showed this in an interview to prove to the interviewer that I am more than capable of fulfilling the time management and multi-tasking element of the role.’
The other tool he used in his job hunt was MS Excel. ‘Make a spreadsheet with all the companies you would like to work for,’ he advises. ‘Write down open/closing dates and what schemes, jobs or internships you are applying for. Use a traffic light system to identify your progression. Also write down the name of the person you’ve been liaising with and their contact details and keep them as a point of contact.’
When approaching job-hunting, Shyam’s advice is to break down the task of “getting a job” into smaller ones. ‘I believe setting small achievable goals is a way to achieve long-term goals.’
‘I probably drafted over 100 CVs before I found the most influential one,’ says Shyam. When drafting CVs, take a look at the TARGETjobs graduate CV templates for some ideas, and ask your careers adviser to check through your CV and give you pointers.
‘Because my course was distance learning, I was able to take the initiative and to apply for work experience at a number of firms.’ Most firms he applied for speculatively by writing a covering letter and sending a CV, and he carried out a lot of research on the firms by following them in the industry press, national newspapers and via Twitter, research he then used when writing his covering letters. He used his Excel spreadsheet to keep on top of his applications, and he was rewarded with six separate placements.
Most placements lasted under a month (some just a week) and some were unpaid. However, he is convinced his time was well spent in proving his interest in the sector to employers and reassuring himself that he had made the right career choice. ‘Surveying is such a diverse profession and, as someone without a surveying undergraduate degree, I was bewildered by where I would best fit in. Hands-on work experience helped me to work this out,’ he says.
Shyam didn’t just go for placements in one area of surveying, but tried out different areas, including project management, building surveying, planning and development, commercial, residential and auctions. This was a good thing to do because when applying and interviewing for graduate schemes in particular areas, he could talk about how he had tried out different areas and decided that this one was the best area for him. All employers like you to have made a considered career choice.
How to get the most out of your work experience? ‘While on work experience I would work my socks off, ask questions to gain a better understanding of the task I was doing and make suggestions to add value to processes and projects where appropriate. Companies want to see that you can not only do the work of a graduate trainee, but can also add value to the company in the long run.’
As well as work experience, Shyam worked hard to build a professional network. ‘Networking is key,’ he says. ‘Without a doubt, LinkedIn was my saviour!’ He set up a graduate surveyors’ group on LinkedIn and was active in promoting and updating it. ‘I used this social media platform to voice my concerns, conduct research and to question those professionals already part of the sector, which helped me gain a better understanding of the values, ethics and morals involved in becoming a surveyor. People who I have met via social media have given me advice which I will cherish for life. They have also given me a helping hand and offered me work experience.’
In turn, through these media, he also found out about sector initiatives and competitions. He joined his local RICS Matrics group for networking purposes, attended events such as Ecobuild and entered the sector competitions that will get you noticed. He has also been active in joining and creating discussions on industry trade press forums. All of this has got him noticed and has added to his CV.
By getting work experience and being active in the industry, Shyam has shown that he is passionate about property – evidence that was perhaps missing from his applications first time. His final tip is to do what you can to follow your heart: ‘Follow a career which you are passionate towards. Don’t go looking for the highest paid job. Remember those who succeed in life don’t dwell on money itself. If you are not waking up feeling enthusiastic about your daily activities, you’re working towards the wrong place.’
As well as getting a variety of work experience, Shyam believes you can capture this is by mindmapping on a piece of paper why you want to go into surveying and which employers you’d like to work for and why.