In this second post in our early-career blog series we are joined by Bridget Berlyn who - with her extensive experience in human resources within the environmental sector - offers some excellent tips for job seekers!
Note: In our final blog post in this career series will give you an opportunity to put your burning career questions to a panel of inspiring professionals from across the private sector, academia, and civil society. Please send your career questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will select several questions to put to the panel, but all of your comments or thoughts will be useful as we write the remaining blogs in the series.
If you’ve applied the advice in our first blog, you’re now armed with a vision for your career. You are now ready to leave all other job seekers in your blistering wake as you embark on your job hunt in earnest. But before you throw yourself into the job market, there are a few important things to consider:
1. Be prepared to sell yourself
That’s right folks, it’s time to market yourself. There’s no better place to start than with a killer CV and a cracking cover letter.
A common mistake that people make is sending out a sloppy CV. Bear in mind that many employers will scan a CV for only a few seconds before putting adding it onto the ‘yes’ or the ‘no’ pile. So your CV needs to be impressive, memorable and logical, both in content and layout.
Take the time to develop a CV that gives potential employers a well-rounded impression of what you care about, your professional experience, your achievements, your technical skills, and your education. There are many resources online (like this one, this one and this one) that can help you with advice about content and offer you free templates for improved layout.
Once you’ve got a CV you’re happy with, save it as a baseline CV and keep it safe. Whenever you apply for a new job make a copy of this baseline CV and tailor it to the job you are applying for, ensuring that your CV speaks directly to the requirements of the job.
The cover letter
Some people make the mistake of using a cover letter to simply repeat the details of their CV. Instead a cover letter should be used to summarise and contextualise the details of your CV for your potential employer.
A good place to start when writing a cover letter is to take some time to ask yourself three questions:
Then use your answers to write a cover letter specific to the job you are applying for, that ties your CV to the job advert. Be sure to keep it brief (1 page at most) and punchy or you risk losing the reader’s attention.
Open with a bang! For example: “I think that your company will benefit from my exceptional research skills and four years of experience in your industry”. Use the letter to draw the reader’s attention to the details in your CV that are most relevant for this particular job, and to paint a picture not only of what you have done in the past but what you would like to do in the future.
IMPORTANT! Before you send your CV or cover letter to any potential employers, get a kind and ideally grammatically-pedantic friend or family member to proof-read your CV and cover letter to ensure they are both free from spelling, grammar or formatting errors.
2. Google yourself before others Google you
It’s likely that a potential employer will look you up online. When they do you want to make sure that (1) they can find you, and (2) that they can only find the things you want them to find. So:
3. Oh Job Vacancy, where art thou? Prepare to search high and low
One of the best ways to find job vacancies is via mailing lists and websites. Here are some to get you started, but browse the web (and LinkedIN) for mailing lists that are most appropriate for you: ACDI (climate and development vacancies mailed out weekly), SANCOR, WWF, GreenMatter, NGO Pulse, and Indeed.
Don’t limit yourself to South African or sector-specific mailing lists – search as widely and diversely as your skills allow. The best opportunities can be lurking in unexpected places.
4. Ask professionals that you respect for referrals
Applying for advertised jobs is only one way to find work, and it can feel frustratingly passive and depressing at times. Using your existing social and professional networks to identify potential positions is not only more proactive and empowering, but often a more productive way of finding work (in fact, we believe so strongly in this that we are devoting our entire next blog to Networking!).
Set up meetings with people that you know and respect, and ask them for referrals and introductions to people you’d like to meet. For example, your Masters supervisor or your old boss might be able to introduce you to people within their network who might be willing to chat to you about your career path. People are often more receptive to requests for advice than requests for jobs, so steer the conversation in that direction. If they want to hire you, they will.
Always make a note to thank people for any support that they give you, and let them know if any of their connections bear fruit. By acting as if they are invested in your career, they may become invested.
5. Be willing to take small steps upwards
Finally, until that dream job comes knocking, an internship can provide a good way to find your feet and gain professional experience in a supportive environment (and yup, we’re dedicated another entire blog to this topic!).
You may have to take a few detours, but know that most experience is helpful in some way. For example, you may spend a year as a research assistant on a project that does not relate to your core passion, but the research and project management skills that you learn will be crucial in securing your next position. Be patient with yourself, especially early in your career. It might take quite a few positions until you find your niche within the sector.
That's it for now! Next week we turn our attention to the ins and outs of Networking, covering topics from elevator pitches to personal branding and power poses. It’s a goodie…you don’t want to miss it!
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the authors in their private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of the ACDI, or any other entity affiliated with the ACDI.