At our Liberty Academy day for graduates looking to make a start in PR and marketing earlier this year, I was struck by the horror stories being told about how difficult life fresh out of university really is.
I was lucky enough to leave university debt-free (yes, it really was that long ago) with no real fears about not finding a job – a paid one. Sadly, higher education (and the enormous accompanying debt that now seems unavoidable) isn’t enough to guarantee you that privilege any more. It may not even be enough to get you an interview. According to research conducted by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), one fifth of university leavers are unemployed or in low-paid, menial jobs six months (and more) after leaving.
I don’t think it will be news to any graduates out there by now that work experience and internships are a key differentiator in today’s competitive marketplace. Liberty is fairly inundated with requests for anything from a day in the office to a full year’s placement – and we do our best to accommodate as many as we can, including offering payment. It might not be a full salary but it more than covers the costs of travelling to and from the office and buying lunch every day (assuming you’re not eating at Gordon Ramsey’s, that is.)
Of course, we’re not entirely beneficent in our approach. Some of our best candidates are found through the internship programme so for us it’s an effective recruitment tool. It also makes us feel good about ourselves – a little bit of ‘giving back’ in a fairly selfish world! So, for all the graduates out there looking for a bit of a break, here are a few tips to get you on the road to that vital internship – and maybe even a job at the end of it.
- Don’t limit your options. You don’t know whether or not you’re going to like a particular sector or industry until you try it. I would never have called the fact that I work in technology having studied history and politics – but I had the opportunity to try it and I loved it.
- Network. Contact anyone you know – friends, family, tutors, someone you met at a party once – who might either work in an area you’d like to get into or know someone who does and ask if they’ll meet you for a chat or introduce you to someone who can help. If that’s not an option, attend grad networking groups or join industry groups on LinkedIn.
- If you can avoid it, don’t use recruitment agents. Sorry to all the lovely and very helpful recruiters out there, but while times are tough, companies will avoid paying recruitment fees if they can. If someone comes to them independently with the same qualifications or experience as someone who comes through a recruiter, the former candidate will get the job.
- Read industry news. Contact the companies that stand out to you or are doing particularly well.
- Do your research. You might be desperate to get a job, any job, but try and think about the company you’re approaching. Two of the first questions I ask people when they call asking about internships or junior roles are ‘Why Liberty?’ and ‘Why technology?’ – many don’t even realise we’re an agency that specialises in tech.
- Be targeted. Pick up the phone and find out who the right person to speak to or email is. Don’t just send the same blanket email to a list of companies you found in PR Week. It’s obvious. Try and pick out a few key points about why the company or the sector they worked in appealed to you.
- That said, do play the numbers game. You might have to email 50 or more companies to even get one response. But do it right.
- Stand out. Catch someone’s attention with an amazing cover letter or quirky phone style and you’re far more likely to be remembered down the line even if there’s no opportunity available at the time.
- If you do get the opportunity to intern, work hard to prove yourself but don’t feel you have to stay until 9pm every day (or later). Prospective employers will admire the intern who gets the job done efficiently – it’s not about how many hours you clock up at your desk.
- Make sure you are learning. Of course you will end up with some of the less interesting aspects of office life, but make sure you’re asking questions about what you’re doing so that you’re clear on how it contributes to the bigger picture and ask for more opportunities. Once you’ve edited that press list, sit in on a client call or meeting, take part in a brainstorm. It doesn’t matter if you don’t or can’t contribute – just take it all in and then write down what you did so that when it comes to your next interview, you can confidently talk about what you have learned.