Saturday, 17 November 2012

Guest Post - Cracking Careers Fairs

This is an article I have been sent by one of my readers who is currently searching for graduate opportunities and wanted to share with my audience how their preparation for a Careers Fair is already starting to bear fruit. Enjoy.

What is the best strategy for making a great impression at a careers fair? I pondered this as I flicked
my free personalised Moo cards across the table. You see last year I took everybody’s advice and
created personalised business cards online, super excited at the thought of handing out my details to
prospective employers. They of course in return, getting in touch and offering me that opportunity I was
so eager for.

It didn't work out like that. As I strolled around the stands, speaking with each company’s
representatives, it suddenly dawned on me that maybe I should be taking their business cards. In fact
all but one of my personalised business card was handed back to me. This made me feel two things.
1, highly embarrassed, feeling like a rejected lover with no date to the prom. 2, slightly annoyed at the
effort that I had gone to, with clearly the wrong strategy.

So what did I do? Well I listened. Listened carefully to all of those representatives on those stands at the
careers fair. They were looking for something tangible, to show them that I would be a great fit for their
company. Aha I thought, a CV would fit the bill. What if I created a one page CV just for the careers fair?
This could highlight my best bits and show representatives that I truly would be a great hire.

A year later with my new masterplan, I got a little excited at the thought of careers fair domination,
creating a mega four page stapled pack that I would hand out. I was warned that this was excessive,
however, I reasoned that the more effort I made, the better my chances of scoring a date to the prom..
ahem I mean a career opportunity.

So I strutted around the careers fair, proudly talking to representatives on each careers stand,
introducing myself and learning about what they were offering on the day. If I felt that I would be an
ideal candidate, I would show them my mega pack. Surprisingly.. this worked! Two pages of my mega
pack were my CV, with the remaining pages detailing my references. I talked each representative
through my pack, with almost unanimous praise from them. I took the representatives details and a day
after the careers fair, I am connected to every one of them on LinkedIn. Not only that, but I have been
contacted with possible job opportunities!

I am now building relationships and networking with my new friends about possible career
opportunities. Oh, and those personalised business cards? Well they come in very handy when closing
my Interviews. Win – Win.

Friday, 9 November 2012

I'm Alive!

It is thought that a picture says a thousand words. Coincidentally, a typical two page CV amounts to roughly one thousand words in which you outline education, relevant skills, work experience and so on. I've yet to come across a picture which I would consider to be detailed enough to dispense with a traditional black and white resume, but wouldn't it be nice if it could?

Perhaps though there can be some sort of compromise. I'm quite a recent convert to Pinterest, and having got past the initial stage of drowning in pictures of dogs and cakes (sign up for an account and you'll see what I mean) I've been looking into ways of using pinboards for career purposes. Some of you will already be familiar with the page I created to help students identify placement opportunties but rather than just using Pinterest to slap some gloss onto a page of links, what about using the system to create a more aesthetically pleasing CV?

I'll happily confess I'm not the first person to try this (hat tip to Gail McGuigan for providing inspiration) but what surprised me was just how easy it was to create a Pinterest resume. In about 15 minutes I was able to throw together something which introduces me, my professional working experience, achievements, a link to my blog and social media contact details. I even managed to throw in some personal interests for good measure. Take a look for yourself and let me know what you think.

I'm not sure that I'm quite ready to advocate ditching the traditional CV in favour of something more creative. However, in future when I am asked by my students 'how can I make my application stand out?' I will suggest they consider using Pinterest as a means for providing colour context to supplement their application. Behind each CV there is a person with a story to tell; why not show recruiters that you are alive and more than just some text on a couple of sheets of A4.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Don't you forget about (S)ME(s)

Rewind the clock 17 years and it is November 1995. The internet is available through 56k dial-up modems, social media does not exist and The Placement Officer is still at school. It was a big year for British music and it came to pass that on the first weekend of the month, I had tickets to go and see two of the biggest bands in the country. On the Saturday I went to watch Radiohead play at Brixton Academy and the following evening Oasis played at Earls Court. I’d delivered hundreds of papers to save up the money to afford the tickets, and painstakingly made tape compilations for my Walkman (no such thing as ipods back then) made up of tracks from Pablo Honey, The Bends, Definitely Maybe, What’s the Story, and b-sides. This was going to be the best weekend of my life, watching two of my favourite bands in the flesh.

Once the weekend had been and gone, there was a very clear winner about who I thought had been the best band. It wasn’t Radiohead, who to my surprise were a pretty sterile live act, and with an honourable exception of My Iron Lung (which produced glorious scenes of carnage) failed to create the sort of atmosphere that I had been expecting. However, it wasn’t Oasis either, who were incredibly dull and static. The fact that I subsequently went to see them play the following summer at Knebworth with 125000 other people remains one of life’s great mysteries, as I’ve no idea why I subjected myself to that for a second time. No, the best band I watched in that star-studded weekend were a little known group from America called Sparklehorse, one of the support acts, who blew away the more recognisable artists with consummate ease. Ever heard of them? Probably not!

You may be asking yourself why am I taking this nostalgic look at my musical past on a blog that is supposed to be about placements. Well, as much as it is fun to hark back to the mid-90s, my experience with Radiohead, Oasis and Sparklehorse provides quite a good analogy for students looking for placements, when comparing blue-chip companies with small or medium sized organisations. While the audience at the Radiohead and Oasis gigs will have been filled with people who will have spent the last 17 years telling people it was the best show ever, there will be others like me who will have felt underwhelmed by the experience and drawn towards the smaller bands. The same principles apply with placement employers. While lots of students will aspire to work for the bigger names in the industry, others may find that a smaller company offering placements may be more appealing.

An SME will offer a different placement experience, but no less valuable than what you will get from working for a better known organisation. While you're looking through the range of placement opportunities advertised by your university, Gradcracker, Rate My Placement or whoever, fight the urge to overlook the companies you are less familiar with and take the time to find out what they have to offer. Your placement officer should be able to help you with this, as they may have worked alongside the SMEs in previous years and know about the students from your course who have undertaken placements with them. Tap into this information source and you could unearth a hidden gem, a Sparklehorse that you may not have otherwise known existed.