A few years ago, I was on the verge of being kicked out of home, with a criminal record. Now I’ve cleaned up my act, started working, and can call myself a young professional with some solid experience under my belt. If I can find a job, any young person deserves to have a chance. Here’s how I did it.
At the start of September, the crunch was on. My contract at a small media non-profit was up at the end of October, and as a young person in this climate’s job market, I thought that I had better get a shift on if I was to get anywhere. I had to have something secure by the time I was due to leave in a month – my mental health and finances depended on it. After an apprenticeship and a placement, I was also tired of taking year-long one off shots. Granted, my last job as a project assistant was great for experience, but I now felt ready to take on something more concrete and be part of something.
So I started looking. I started applying at the beginning of September, re-doing my CV, trawling through arts and charity websites and filling out forms for anything I thought I was best suited for. By the
15th September, I had an offer of a great job and a great company, and then on the same day I got another offer for a job which I hadn’t even dreamed I was get, as I thought I was batting far above my league!
The context is pretty surprising. At the age of eighteen, I was in prison as a result of alcohol abuse. I suffer with severe mental health problems, and don’t have any qualifications outside of GCSEs and a few unfinished A-Levels. University has never been on my radar. I’m transgender and had to have surgery last year. I’m openly queer. Everything I’ve got, from my position with a project working with the likes of BBC across the country, Channel 4, The Sun, and CBBC, has been out of sheer experience and my work repertoire. Where graduates and experienced workers are getting turned down or not even being called to interview, here are my tips for bagging a job as a young person looking to succeed in a professional environment.
1) Amend your CV. I mean it. Seriously. Prepare multiple CVs and cover letters for every industry or job you want to apply for. This can not only save you time when applying for multiple positions, but a personalised CV and tailored cover letter can make you stand out from the rest of the other applicants. Make sure you get someone to read over it, and don’t make it longer than two pages of A4 paper. Only write relevant skills and make it bullet pointed. Try and use key active verbs – created, managed, implemented, initiated – that make even the most boring of administrative tasks sound like they were done by a CEO.
2) Know your sector. Research the key websites and job listings that you can use to find work. If you’d like a job in the arts sector, use artsjobs. If charity is your back, charityjobs. Other places can be more general, such as Gumtree, or cater for a specific kind of person – such as The Guardian job listing, which lists artsy/writing/charity/non-profit/social work for graduates and young professionals to management levels.
3) Practise filling out forms. More and more jobs are rejecting the traditional method of CV and cover letter for a huge form that can suck the life from even your dream job. Have a few as templates – sometimes, the same questions are used, especially if you’re applying for similar roles. Save yourself time; don’t make forms any harder than they need to be.
4) Keep references on hand. Make sure you have an employment or educational/voluntary reference, but two would be better. Rifling through your phone and emails for details is draining, so make sure you have it on a post-it note on your desktop, ready to copy and paste across.
5) Mass apply. When the crunch is on, make a list of positions you’d like to apply for, in date order of when they close, with a link to the job description, how likely you feel you’ll get an interview, and key points of why you’d like the position. If you’re feeling swamped, you’ll be able to prioritise the ones you’d most like to apply for.
6) Make sure you’re organised. Feeling clear about your job search will make you feel better in yourself and more confident in what you’re applying for, where your application forms, CVs, and job descriptions are saved.
7) Before an interview, make notes on key job description points and how closely you match the criteria. Think carefully about what questions they might ask you, but don’t memorise it like a script. Examples are key in an interview, so think about what things you’ve recently done that your interviewers would be interested in.
8) Be punctual to interviews and replying to interview requests. Be polite, but don’t overcompensate – it’s a little cringey sending a paragraph long, grovelling email to an employer thanking them for the opportunity of an interview.
9) Be confident. Because I’ve felt I had to overcompensate as a candidate due to my relevant lack of academic qualifications, the main thing that’s helped me succeed during interviews is confidence, enthusiasm, and preparation. Smile, and talk more rather than less. Always have a few crucial questions at the end (this can also help you get a bit more in – such as ‘where do you see this project going?’ or ‘what would you like to do with marketing in the future?’ could lead to a sneaky suggestion of what you’d like to see happen – give an example of what you’ve done or found has worked well).
10) When you do bag that job, make sure it feels right. Getting stuck with a manager who’s mean or a contract that’s inflexible or dodgy is never ideal, especially if you’re looking for something long term. With my current job, the organisation sent a covering letter with the JD about their satisfaction rating of employees – it was in the high nineties. Now we’re entering an age where desk times are more flexible, fitting your job around medical or other appointments is acceptable and shouldn’t be punished, and time-off is given for extra work done. Don’t burn your self out, be mindful of yourself and capabilities, and make sure that your team has some strong people working for you, willing to teach and guide where you need it.