As a graduate looking for jobs, I’ve learned that the advice people give about job hunting tends to revolve around vague, meaningless and clichéd turns of phrase that occasionally inspire productive job hunting – but most of the time don’t. Here are the six things people need to stop telling me about job hunting.
1. ‘Be yourself and you’ll get the job’
This is trying to get at the fact that if I go into an interview in finance acting the way I think a ‘finance person’ would act, I’ll probably make a fool of myself. If I end up getting the job anyway, I’ll eventually make a fool of myself when colleagues realise I’m just copying them. So yes, best not to invent ‘the perfect candidate’ and try to be that person. However, there is no straightforward opposite to doing that. ‘Be yourself’ implies that I have a golden piece of my personality that I can dig out and show to recruiters, and they’ll automatically hire me. The truth is that writing covering letters and attending interviews require skills such as self-reflection and the ability to communicate ideas clearly. I practise them every time I apply for a job – I’m not born with them. ‘Be yourself’ downplays the hard work and practice that goes into job hunting, and that doesn’t help anyone.
2. ‘Do what you love’
Yes, that would be ideal. But does it work that way for everyone? ‘I do what I love’ is a standard phrase in documentaries about inspirational individuals, but I can’t always picture exactly what this means as a universal goal to strive towards. Is it loving spending time with your colleagues? Is it thinking that your tasks are fun on a daily basis? And if you are lucky enough to know exactly ‘what you love’, what if you just can’t get there? How long do you wait for the perfect job before you need some cash? I do spend a lot of time thinking about what I love doing, but when others give me this piece of advice I get the impression that what they love is to hear themselves sound like someone in an inspirational documentary.
3. ‘You just have to get yourself out there and apply for every single job you see – something will come along!’
Applying for jobs is a time-consuming process, especially if you’re applying during your last year of university. Crafting those applications does (and should) take up a significant amount of time, and having people around me act like quantity is going to equal success puts too much pressure on me to apply to more jobs than I can manage. This is especially unhelpful since setting foot in the wrong career or job could cost me a lot of time if I need to start from scratch later. Every job needs to be considered carefully before I apply so that I end up on a path that works for me, so there’s really no point in trying to get any old job that comes my way.
4. ‘There are plenty of jobs in sector X’
For obvious reasons, this doesn’t help me unless I’ve got a degree that relates to the field in question. Even if a job is suggested to me that could work with my degree, it’s still not very helpful when the person saying it knows nothing about me and my goals. It can be tricky to answer, as it sometimes makes me sound picky to say things like ‘Yes, I’m a history student – but I don’t want to be a history teacher.’ At the end of the day, considering a sector as a last resort devalues it. Better for me and the job market if I don’t make all my plans according to whatever my family and friends think is the best sector to get jobs in at the moment.
5. ‘The best way to do it is to show your face – go deliver your CV in person’
This advice is good on many levels: it can be a good strategy to make yourself known to the employer you’re interested in. This will make it a bit more likely that they remember you, it shows that you’re interested enough to not just shoot CVs in all directions via email, and you get to experience what it’s like to interact with members of the organisation very early on in the process.
However, as a piece of advice about job hunting generally, it’s getting outdated. Many employers don’t want random CVs via email or in person, but will ask you to wait for positions to be advertised and apply via online forms. Delivering a CV in person or making a spontaneous phone call will not make it more likely that I’ll get the job if a role is being advertised. It’s tiring to hear people insist that it’s better to ‘go there and show your face’. In some sectors, like journalism or design, this might still be a thing, but it doesn’t work as a universal piece of advice.
6. ‘If you don’t get the job, it’s their loss!’
That’s very sweet of you to say, grandma. But technically it is my loss, because I still need a job while the employer filled the position as planned. I’d rather accept the fact that people have to work hard to get jobs and that you can’t always be successful, than tell myself that if I don’t get the job something is seriously wrong with the employer and with the world itself. Thinking that any employer who doesn’t hire me is crazy prevents me from analysing what I could have done better, and I will have learned nothing for next time.
Ebba Strutzenbladh, University of Aberdeen history graduate