Updated 24 March 2022
What’s it like to step onto the career ladder for the very first time? And how easy is it to switch to a new career and try something completely different? Both of these are big life decisions that present similar challenges.
You’ll probably have between five and seven different employers in your lifetime, and the work you do may change significantly or stay broadly the same, depending on the kind of career you choose. This means that the first job you do may have a major effect on your later career path, by setting your overall direction. Choosing wisely is therefore very important.
Right at the start you may be thinking, ‘I just want a job!’ and feeling overwhelmed by the task ahead. But there are plenty of ways to help smooth your path into a fulfilling career.
If you don’t yet have a clear idea of the area you’d like to work in, start by listing your technical and personal skills, passions and interests. Ask yourself the following questions:
This exercise should begin to steer you in the direction of the type of job you’d like, and perhaps even the industry you’d like to work in. You may not necessarily be able to secure that job right away, but you can note it down as a short-term or long-term goal, and then work out the necessary career stepping-stones you’ll need to take in order to get there.
Once you have a clear idea of your strengths and interests, you can start exploring vacancies in particular industries. Research the ones you’re passionate about and the various departmental roles that exist within it. Everywhere has junior roles, so be prepared to start at the bottom in order to get a foothold. Finding a job in a company you already work for is at least 10 times easier than finding one through a standard CV application.
Every industry has its own language. It can really help to learn the correct terminology and use it to demonstrate your understanding as an applicant. But don’t bluff – it’s better to ask honest questions and be open about your lack of experience than to try and ‘wing it’. No-one expects a junior recruit to be an expert yet.
Research key industry professionals and visit their LinkedIn profile or personal website. Note their experience and skills to see what’s needed of you. Speculative applications can help to put you on companies’ radar, even if they don’t have any vacancies right now. Just send a CV with a polite letter to let them know you’re out there.
If your desired role demands knowledge in a particular area (e.g. coding, content marketing, blogging), it’s never too late to learn.
There are numerous online courses available to the public. Start by researching centres that are local to you and consider your budget. Some courses can be completed remotely (online), whereas others are classroom-based.
Any technical skills that you gain can be added to your CV and your LinkedIn profile. Be honest about the level of skill/qualification you’ve gained and list its source (for credibility purposes). You can also simply practice in your spare time – if you’re passionate about coding, for instance, you should be doing this most days anyway.
If you’re transitioning to a different industry then you might consider applying for an internship to get your foot in the door. Obtaining work experience can enable you to expand your network, develop skills and seize opportunities, especially if it’s a sought-after company.
However, consider your financial status, as most internships are unpaid. Some companies cover travel expenses or will pay interns a set rate, but this is usually a small amount.
Also think about the following:
Networking is one of the key short-cuts to finding work. You should try to attend networking events that cover the industries that interest you. Talk to people about their work, ask lots of questions and take notes. The more events you attend, the more comfortable and confident you’ll feel. In many industries, visibility is invaluable. A great many employers respond more favourably to people in person than they do on paper, so a memorable conversation that leads to a swapping of contact details may be worth any number of job applications.
If you’d prefer a 1-2-1 set-up then there are mobile apps, such as Shapr, that can connect you with professionals. This enables you to meet and talk to people in your chosen industry for career advice.
Use tools such as LinkedIn to connect with individuals. Introduce yourself, keep it brief and be specific. Make it personal (to that specific individual) and be clear that you’re seeking opportunities in their field. But never hassle anyone or make yourself a nuisance.
Utilise any contacts you already have. Are there any friends or family members in the same industry? Reach out and show you’re interested. Ask questions and see if they’re available for a call or to meet face-to-face.
Meanwhile, register with recruitment agencies. Research those local to you and look out for ones that specialise in your chosen industry. Most agencies cover a broad level of roles, from entry-level up to senior executive positions.
Take all the time you need to write an impressive CV. At the start of your career this will be more difficult, as you may have little or no work experience to include. So get out there and find things to fill it: voluntary work, charity work, community roles, personal achievements etc. Include anything from your school or university days that shows off your initiative and responsibility.
Also try and build a portfolio of work that’s relevant to your target industry. This may suit some jobs more than others, but there’s usually something you can show off – even if it’s just a set of beautifully constructed Excel spreadsheets.
Discover more of life’s big stepping stones in The Unbiased Guide to Life.