The path I took to get to where I am now wasn’t a particularly straightforward one. It’s hard to know what to do with your life when you finish school/university, and it’s easy to feel lost. I’m pretty sure I made every mistake possible along the way, but I don’t regret anything. Now I’m doing a job I love, am self-employed, and I’ve never looked back. But it took me a long time to get here, and I feel like I had very little guidance when making those big decisions.
So here are a few things I wish someone had said to me:
Do you need to go to university?
Using my own experience here, I know a lot of people are drawn to events management degrees. Now I’m not going to say that they’re not useful, but to get into managing events within hotels, I found that employers were impressed by my experience, not my qualifications. I started working in Conference and Banqueting, which is basically the team that sets up the big events, and does all the on-the-day running of the functions. Chances are you’ll only get a casual contract (I worked weekends while also working a 9-5 job at first – hard, but worth it), and the shifts are long, physical and unsociable, but I can honestly say it was the best grounding for my events career. It gave me hands-on, practical experience and a realistic understanding of how events are run. So all I can say is have a really good think about what you want to do, then find out exactly what employers are looking for. With university fees on the rise, more and more people are looking at alternative routes into the careers they want.
Work experience. Work experience. Work experience.
I cannot stress this enough. Experience is so valuable. If you do decide to go to uni, find out whether work experience is organised as part of the course, and if the university has strong industry links – this would definitely be a plus. If not, try to organise a week or two over the summer. Yes, it’s probably the last thing you’ll want to do once you’ve finished all your exams, but trust me, it’ll be worth it. Be proactive, and push yourself. Try new things. Put yourself out there, and talk to people who are doing the jobs you want to be doing. Find out what they did and do the same.
The same applies if you’re still at school. If your teachers are organising work experience for you, make the most of it! Aim high, now is not the time to stay in your comfort zone. When I did my work experience at 16 I commuted to London every day and worked for an online magazine. It was scary, exciting, and I’m so glad I did it.
When you’re doing your work experience, ask questions. Find out the real ins-and-outs of the job, the good and the bad.
Be realistic about your career expectations
When you’re choosing a career have a good long think about what you want out of life, what sacrifices you’re willing to make for work, and some definite no-nos.
For example, are you willing to relocate for work? Your location will be a big factor in the jobs that are available to you.
What are your salary expectations? Do you want a six figure salary with a sixty hour working week? Or do you cherish your free time more than money?
Work out what’s important to you, what you’re good at, and where you want to be in ten years, and try to find a job that best fits that. Easier said than done, I know, but www.prospects.ac.uk is a great place to start if you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed. They have useful profiles for a huge range of careers, along with average salaries and necessary qualifications.
Say yes to training
If you’re in a job at the moment, make sure you get the most out of it. I have always aimed to get as far as possible in every job I’ve done, even if I knew I didn’t want to do it forever. For example, when I worked in retail I undertook management training. Even though I knew I didn’t want to work in retail management, I knew it would look good on my CV.
Again, look at where you want to be, work out what gaps you have in your skill-set, and fill them in. It sounds silly, but there is a lot you can teach yourself, and lot of valuable resources can be found online.
Build good, strong relationships with your colleagues. If you don’t have LinkedIn, get it. It’s basically an online CV, and a fantastic way to connect with others in your industry. Have a good, professional looking profile picture, and as you would with your CV, keep your page up-to-date and showcasing your strengths. People can write testimonials about you, and ‘endorse’ your skills, which makes you all the more impressive looking to potential employers.
Again, talk to people. Go to networking events, meet new people, and get yourself out there. Social media is making it so easy to interact with employers. Follow influential people in your chosen field on Twitter, and start getting noticed.
Apply for jobs the right way
It took me a long time to learn that you have to set yourself apart in the application process.
My top tip: don’t just fire off an email with your CV to HR, or the address listed on the website. Add a personalised cover letter that shows you know about the company you’re applying to. For extra points, (if appropriate), find out who your direct line manager would be, and email them too. It really shows you’ve gone the extra mile, and I know that doing this has helped secure most of my interviews.
Always have a question to ask in interviews
I used to think it was OK to not bother with this, but it really is a good idea to have an interesting and insightful question. A favourite of mine: “what do you like about working here?” This one takes balls to ask, but it’s a definite winner. It shows you’re really trying to imagine yourself working there, and the interviewer will enjoy sharing their own experiences with you.
Another top interview tip: relax! Always take them up on a glass of water; there’s nothing worse than dry-mouth, plus you can take a sip if you want a second or two to think about your answer. Also, don’t be afraid to ask them to repeat the question if you need it. You won’t lose any points!
It took me a lot of interviews before I felt confident and relaxed, but you’ll get there. Look up some interview questions to practice with a friend the night before, give yourself plenty of time to look your best in the morning, and remember that the worst that can possibly happen is you won’t get this job. But it will have been good interview experience, and you’ll be even more confident for the next one.
Send a follow up email
After an interview I find it’s not a bad idea to send an email thanking the interviewer for their time, and reiterating that you think the position sounds great (without being too over the top!). I once sent a follow up after an interview and got a call two minutes later offering me the job. I often joke that my job application style is ‘passion with a hint of desperation’ (so I was always careful to reign it in, for fear of coming off insincere!), but this one really does work.
Don’t be knocked back by rejection
The tweet at the start of this post pretty much sums it up doesn’t it? Applying for jobs can be soul destroying. You will almost definitely feel overqualified for most of the jobs that don’t even invite you for an interview. You’ll know that you would be ace at a job, and wonder why nobody else can see that. All I can say is: don’t lose heart. While I was job-hunting I would wake up feeling optimistic, then as the day went on, stressed, frustrated, tired, sad, angry and hopeless. Then I’d go to sleep, wake up the next morning, and start the whole lovely process again. Hang in there, I promise, you’ll get there. Tailor your application as closely as possible to the criteria they’re looking for. Read all the supporting documents – job description, person spec etc.- and cover each point in your personal statement/cover letter/CV. It will take a lot of work, but it will be worth it, I promise. It’s very important to not take rejection personally, as competition for any job nowadays is fierce. Take feedback when offered, to find out if there are any areas you can improve in. If you’ve got some spare time while you’re looking, it’s definitely not a bad idea to do some voluntary work. You’ll meet interesting people, gain valuable experience for your CV, and be doing something rewarding and fulfilling. Win-win!
Ultimately, wherever you are on your career ladder, don’t stress! It really is true what they say, your twenties are all about figuring yourself out. I didn’t take the most direct route to where I am now, but I don’t regret a thing. I met fantastic people, got great experience under my belt, and had a blast along the way. You’ve got to trust that everything happens for a reason, and that things will fall into place if you have the right attitude.
I’m sorry if this post was a bit all over the place, I was trying to make sure it covered as much as possible. I’d also like to say that I’m not a professional careers advisor, this is just based on my personal experience. As always, if you have any questions, please let me know in the comments, and I will do my best to answer them. Thanks for reading and good luck!