You’ve graduated, what now?

stepping stones

What should be your next step?

If you have just graduated, do not yet have a job (or further study) lined up, and you are beginning to wilt in your search for employment, here are a few pointers that might help revitalise or re-position your search.

Job hunting: you have already read all the great CV writing and job-hunting tips on gradireland; registered on gradireland to receive job alerts; and utilised the gradireland Careers Report tool already, I’m sure. In which case, now might be time to reconsider your approach. Have you smartened up your online social profile (if you’ve even got one)?

To start with, create a complete and professional personal profile on LinkedIn and you have your CV on line for all to see. Then upload all of your email contacts so that you have a foundation of contacts to build upon: someone in your network might have relevant connections to give you some inside knowledge into the companies you want to work for. LinkedIn forces us all to do more research on jobs and companies. So much information is online now that it’s created an expectation that you’re doing your homework.

Internships: gradireland research has consistently found relevant work experience to be one of the most important things employers look for when recruiting graduates. But how should you go about getting a good internship? The main programmes currently running are listed below, with a brief outline on what they are, how to access them, and how they differ. Check out the relevant websites for full details.

IBEC Export Orientation Programme (EOP): this is IBEC’s graduate placement programme. This scheme allows Irish exporting companies to develop their international marketing and export capacity, while providing recent graduates of all disciplines with a valuable introduction to international business. The placement is typically twelve months duration, usually with a minimum of six months spent outside of Ireland. The EOP has a unique accreditation process and provides paid placements.

Graduates 4 International Growth programme (G4IG): this scheme is run by Enterprise Ireland and has a closing deadline of 12 August 2011 for applications. This programme places graduates with Enterprise Ireland client companies for 18 months, with a minimum 12 months spent overseas.

JobBridge: this is the new National Internship Scheme announced by the government this summer, with 5,000 six-to-nine month placements available. Eligible interns will receive an allowance of €50 per week on top of their existing social welfare entitlement, payable for the period of the internship. In order to be eligible an individual must be currently in receipt of a live claim (Jobseekers Allowance/Jobseekers Benefit/Signing for Credits) on the Live Register, and have been in receipt of this claim for a total of three months or more in the last six months.

FÁS Work Placement Programme (WPP): this scheme offers the chance to keep your skills fresh in a real work environment. Anyone who is unemployed is eligible to apply for the Work Placement Programme. If you are a graduate with a level 7 qualification you can apply for both the graduate placements and the non-graduate placements. Otherwise, you can apply for all non-graduate placements. The placement is unpaid. However, if you are already in receipt of certain social welfare payments, you may be allowed to retain your payment while on a placement.

Why mentors matter

I recently picked the brains of several senior Irish business people while researching an article on successful leaders in the workplace. During these various conversations I noticed an interesting (and slightly unexpected) theme recurring.

The one thing that almost all of them spoke gratefully and with feeling about was the mentoring that they’d received during the formative years of their careers.

‘The beauty of a mentor is that they help you see situations from another perspective’, explained the director of a Dublin-based multinational. ‘Acquiring one was a key career milestone for me. When you lack experience you need a person who isn’t your manager to bounce ideas and concerns off.’

‘Find yourself a mentor’, replied the chairperson of an Irish legal practice when I asked what advice she could offer graduates embarking on their careers. ‘I can’t stress how invaluable they can be. For many years I didn’t have one and in retrospect I would have benefited greatly from one.’

This is all good advice, but what exactly is a mentor? What do they do? What’s the difference between a ‘mentor’ and a ‘buddy’, and how do you go about getting one?

Well, a mentor is someone who should ideally be completely unconnected to where you work. They don’t even have to be in the same profession, but should be more experienced than you, and willing to give you honest, impartial advice based on their own experiences.

A ‘buddy’ is a colleague who is often assigned to a new starter at a company. They provide a friendly face and general support with the process of settling in. They are usually assigned for you by a manager and work in a similar role to you.

If there is someone in your network that you look up to and feel would be a suitable candidate as your mentor (a favourite tutor for example), then approach them and ask them directly. The chances are they’ll be delighted to give you the benefit of their experience. Best to leave parents, relatives and friends well alone though – they could find it hard to remain impartial.

Taking time out – is it career suicide?

road leading to mountains

Time out could lead somewhere in the long term.

I met a recruitment director from a high street bank recently and he had spent the first two years after university doing voluntary community work. He wasn’t all that old either, so clearly the fact that he had not gone straight into ‘serious’ employment after graduation didn’t arrest his upward career trajectory. In his view, it actually helped because by the time he was ready to commit to working in the commercial world, he was more focused on what he wanted and more eager to get there quickly.

I mention this because, at this time of the year, there will be many recent graduates contemplating a bit of ‘time out’ either as a response to not getting a job or because they are knackered after several years of unbroken study. Now it’s entirely up to you what you do with your life but I just wanted to say that, whatever your motive, if you did want to do something different for a year or two, something that may be related or unrelated to the career that you want to pursue, then it won’t necessarily hold you back.

The key issue, according to my high-flying recruitment director from a high street bank (and he should know), is that whatever you do, wherever you go, it all should have some sort of  ‘explainability’ built in. This means that when you find it’s the right time to apply for the job that you want to do, you can clearly explain the huge benefits to you as a person and a potential employee arising from the experience. In all his many recruitment interviews, he says that he never holds a period of time out against the applicant – as long as it was genuinely useful and can be explained as such.