Feeling Qualified, yet underskilled? Simple strategies to avoid being the graduate that has the degree, but isn’t ready for the workplace
Complaints about the gap between the skills that employers require and those that graduates are receiving in university continue to rise. This article hopes to offer some solutions if you are one of those graduates or career changers that has formal qualifications, yet can’t find work in your industry of choice. You might be one of the hundreds of law graduates that is finding it tough to get work in the field or a career changer who doesn’t know how to get their foot onto a different industry ladder. This article is about simple strategies that you are in control of, that will improve your job prospects.
Of course it’s frustrating to have finished a degree or to have gained industry experience, yet to feel like there are no jobs out there for you. The job market and trying to land the next gig (especially a full-time one) can be tough, but with practice, the right mindset and the right support there will be a job out there for you. The trick is to get curious and to take seriously the variables that are in your control, that can help to land your CV at the top of the candidate pile.
So let’s get into it!
6 Strategies for maximising your chance of landing the job.
Get serious about the job application process
Applying for a job requires a broad range of skills that many of us chronically underinvest in. We regularly talk to mid career professionals who don’t know how to write an industry specific CV, how to properly prepare for an interview or even more broadly how to ask and seek opportunities within their close and extended community. The skills required to seek, to apply for and to effectively negotiate finding a new job are learnt skills that offer incredible rewards and will continue to reward you for the rest of your working life (and beyond in the extra dollars you will earn).
It’s easy to blame not getting a job on not enough jobs being available, but what if you had the job seeking skills to be competitive even within that big pool? This comes down to spending time and energy investing in the art of the job seeking process.
The great news is that there are so many tools out there designed to skill you up in this area. It is often a space where other graduates will fail to invest the required time and energy (relying on natural instinct and hope alone). It could be investing in coaching to prepare you for job interviews, researching and learning about tips for salary negotiation or hiring someone to help you improve your CV and cover letter.
Upskilling in this area will reward you for life. Forecasts average that today’s millennials will experience around 7-15 different jobs in different industries and all of these are dependent on how successfully you navigate the job search process, so set yourself up for success now!
One Basic Action Step you can take now = Subscribe to social media channels that focus on the job search and hiring process to ensure that you’re keeping up to date with the latest job search techniques available.
2. Find ways to micro or part-time upskill
Part of the challenge for universities and job searchers alike is that the skills we need for work are changing so rapidly. This means that while it would nice for universities and TAFE to be able to keep our skills relevant, at the end of the day it’s in your court. Now this doesn’t have to mean thousands of dollars on new degrees or training, what many now believe it means is more regular, affordable and incremental upskilling. It might be a day course or a part-time evening course to learn how to navigate a new program or a focused online course in a skill relevant to your industry.
Not all skills are of equal value in different industries so the art lies is in picking what skill to focus on, how to learn them effectively while not breaking the bank. This is the part that takes some research. You might want to call friends in the industry, key associations, scour job ads or even call the companies you are interested in to working for to ask what skills are giving graduates the edge into the industry.
While these upskill opportunities may not always be free, some are. Innovative providers are now making these learning opportunities affordable or free and available to all. Whether you are interested in touching up on your maths for business or electrical engineering, online learning offers you the potential to upskill every day.
One Basic Action Step you can take now = Look up 10-20 different job ads for positions you are interested in applying for and isolate key technical skills that are asked for that run throughout the different ads. What skill could you learn that would give you a competitive advantage and how can you learn that skill in a cost effective way?
3. Create free soft skill learning opportunities
This one of the key challenges for graduates today. 21st century skills or soft skills are all the rage with companies, increasingly demanding the need for advanced communication, problem solving, teamwork and creativity skills, to name just a few of the core skills.
It is interesting when reflecting on the prevalent demand of these skills in the changing world of work, that few of us (including through our formal education) ever deliberately invest in these skills. I think this might be because we have the expectation that simply because we use small elements of these skills every day, that we’re exemplary at them. Sadly, the honest truth is, just because you have conversations every day doesn’t mean you’re an expert in communication skills. The same is true for our teamwork or problem-solving skills. We all often muddle along with the personal mindsets and habits we built in our youth, wrongly equating how often we use the skill to how high our skills are. This is a dangerous trap.
When it comes to conversation skills, our ability to think critically or to empathise with others, we need to keep learning and stretching ourselves. How and where do you find opportunities to increase your soft skills? With soft skills it’s not as simple as enrolling in an Excel course.
The answer is to get curious and interested in learning about who you are and how you can actively shape the way you think about and respond to the world around you. If you start with learning about Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset which is the belief that your abilities are developed and learnt through dedication and hard work you’re off to a great start.
Once you realise that your soft skills (even the most basic) are things that you need to continually worked on you will become more conscious of areas for improvement. The key word here is ‘conscious’.
For example one of the most in demand job skills is strong communication skills. This is something that you do everyday and if you can become conscious of the current habits and mindsets you take into conversations and where your areas for improvement are, the potential to improve your skills is enormous. Plus, you get to practice and improve multiple times a day and it is totally free.
In summary, for many soft skills you can create free opportunities to develop these skills. The only catch is, you have to be deliberate and conscious in learning how and where you can improve. One key accelerator in this is, who can help? Who can help you to better understand your own habits, mindsets, blind spots and where your key areas for opportunity area?
One Basic Action Step you can take now = Look up a list of the most in demand 21st century soft skills and pick one that you would like to develop and that you believe will most advance your potential to land your next job. Think about three actions you can take this week to start developing that skill. For example if it is conversation you could:
- Read a book on the art of conversation
- Learn about 1-2 different conversation microskills and practice them in conversation this week (for example reframing or focused listening)
- Enrol in a conversation course
4. Look in forgotten places & think outside the box.
While there are hundreds of extra law graduates every year, there is a current drastic undersupply of students with skills in agriculture (800 graduates for 4,000 roles). Many of us flock to popular industries and companies because of their great reputations. This is not wrong, but this can be an extremely competitive path and is not for everyone. If you’re struggling to get internships or a grad position maybe you need to think more creatively about where else you could fit in the job market.
If you were to write down all of the skills that you’ve built throughout your experience and qualifications there is likely to be a great variety of things that you have to offer. These skills will also be likely to fit into a whole range of different industries and jobs. For example if you haven’t landed a job at one of the well known legal firms, maybe there are quite a few opportunities in the agriculture industry that will help you to hone your legal skills?
While we all need to narrow down our options at some point, many of us do it too early. For example, we say that the only successful outcome after finishing studying would be landing a job in one of the big accounting or tech firms and so we fail to look at other opportunities. This can create enormous pressure and at times unwarranted anxiety. Perhaps if you widen that lens just a bit and look in some forgotten or out of the box industries or places, your leap into full-time work could be much more effective. Strategies to do this could include focusing on growth sectors where skills gaps are emerging. It could also be working for a smaller startups and honing your skills in less popular industries where less graduates are looking.
One Basic Action Step you can take now = Make an ABZ plan. I love this tool used by 80,000 hours. It is a great way to make a number (but not too many) of career plans so that you can explore a number of different career options without getting overwhelmed.
Want to write an ABZ plan? Click here.
5. If the mountain will not come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain.
For some jobs you just need to be in the right place. If you are flexible and can move, it is worth considering whether the place that you call home is making it difficult to land the job. While this is not possible for everyone, it can be a great way to increase your access to opportunities.
6. Remember marks aren’t everything (for some companies).
Your GPA or marks aren’t everything, but lower grades do mean that you might benefit from being a little more savvy in how and where you apply for jobs. If you’re applying for a top tier law or consulting firm where they explicitly state your grade point average is a key consideration, perhaps it’s worth focusing your attention on other organisations who have a more open-mind to different candidates.
Your marks don’t have to be the thing that stands out during your application process so focus on really highlighting the things that you do best. What makes you and your application unique. For example, if you demonstrate exemplary citizenship and community service this could be incredibly important for some companies. It could also be the persistence and dedication that you show through your strong background in the arts or sport that gives you the unique edge.
So, don’t despair just because you don’t have an HD average. But, do be realistic and creative about where you apply to work and how you put your best foot forward on your CV.
One Basic Action Step you can take now = Look at your CV and the cover letter you’re writing. Does it tell the unique story of you and your strengths? Spend 30 minutes exploring articles on how to make your CV pop. You can start by exploring our article on 5 resume tips.
7. Ask for help!
Too often we feel awkward in asking others for help or in putting ourselves out there. Mustering the courage to ask someone for help in introducing you to a contact, or for their advice on a CV can totally change the game. Don’t be shy, reach out to others on any of the above steps and you will probably increase your chances of success while also increasing the depth and strength of that friendship – a win-win!
Let’s Sum it all up
We hope you’ve enjoyed these tips for landing the job and avoiding the job seeker catch-22. If you’re in the middle of the job search, don’t despair, thousands before you have made it into work and so will you. Keep focused on the things that are in your control.
Set yourself up for success by investing in learning how to nail the job search process, practice affordable upskilling in highly valued technical and soft skills and be strategic about which jobs you apply for.
As universities and TAFE try to evolve and adapt to meet the changing world of work, don’t get too caught up. Your learning is in your hands and you have the chance to make yourself the best candidate for the job!