Tips on how to secure your first role

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Tips on how to secure your first role

By Sara Cornwall

I recently had the pleasure of delivering a CV workshop to a fantastic group of young adults who are participating in the Nourish program run by the fabulous OzHarvest. Aside from covering off some general “do’s and don’ts,” our main focus was on the question of what to do when you don’t have much experience.
It’s an issue everyone faces at the outset of their career: I need experience to get the job, but I need the job to get experience! We’ve all been there, and it can feel like an insurmountable problem.
When you’re a “junior” candidate (less than 2 years of work experience) you are competing against a large pool of candidates who all look very similar on paper. So how do you stand out from the crowd when you don’t have a long, relevant career history to fall back on?
Take care with your CV:
If you don’t have much to write about in your CV, the look, feel and formatting of your CV becomes even more important. Ensure your CV has consistent formatting, a professional font, an easy-to-read layout and no spelling or grammatical errors. If you have limited experience your CV probably only needs to be 1 – 2 pages.
Take advantage of the Cover Letter:
A good cover letter is a great way to stand out from the crowd, particularly when you are applying for entry level roles that don’t necessarily have a lot of strict pre-requisites. It’s an opportunity to demonstrate:

  • Your personality*
  • Your written communication skills
  • Your genuine interest in the company, industry, and role

Your cover letter only needs to be a page long, and should be tailored to the specific role and company you are applying for.
*Showcasing your personality is great, but be sure to keep it professional. I’ve seen some cover letters that were clearly intended to be humorous but which unfortunately came across as immature and unprofessional. This is best avoided!
Include extracurriculars:
If you are light on experience, you can highlight other activities. As an example, the Nourish crew had worked on OzHarvest’s massive CEO Cookoff event. This event saw them doing food prep and event support for an event serving 1,500 guests. This is no small feat and we talked through all of the skills and activities that were required to pull the event off; teamwork, communication, food prep, problem solving, customer service… the list filled a white board!
Any voluntary, community, school or entrepreneurial activities you are involved in can be included in your CV to illustrate that you are self-motivated, hard-working and capable of contributing within a team.
Don’t get discouraged:
It can feel pretty depressing when you’re struggling to “get your foot in the door.” Resilience is absolutely crucial – expect to be rejected over and over and know that it’s not personal – you are competing against a large number of your peers and often up to 200 people will apply for 1 role.
Be proactive:
As a recruiter, I really shouldn’t say this – but cut out the middle man! If you have a “hot list” of the top 5 companies you want to work for, tell them! Reach out on the phone, via Linkedin or by emailing their careers, recruitment or HR team (these details are often freely available on company websites). Finding new staff is difficult – it takes time, energy and money that many companies would rather not spend. If you are proactive and reach out to them, you are saving them resources and doing the work for them. The worst thing they can say is “no,” but you just might get the break you’ve been looking for.