The 101 guide on how to get a job
The process of getting a job has changed since the days of newspaper classified ads and daily visits to the job centre. It’s never been so easy to find job vacancies and applying for them is often now as simple as clicking a few buttons. But whilst most people think they know how to get a job, it can be easy to approach the job hunting process in the wrong way – for example, by applying for hundreds of positions without customising your job applications or being as effective as you need to be.In the new frontier of job hunting, our 101 guide on how to get a job will help you find the right position and stand out to maximise your chances of getting an interview and ultimately landing the job that you want.
- 1 Gather your information
- 2 Finding vacancies
- 3 Preparing your CV or résumé
- 4 Writing a cover letter
- 5 Acing the job interview
- 6 After interview post-mortems
- 7 We also liked…
Many people think they know how to get a job because it’s common knowledge right? You start the job hunting process by creating a standard CV or résumé to send out, right? Wrong! This is absolutely the wrong way to go about getting a job. The reason is that each job application you send off needs to be tailored to the role you’re trying to land.
A good place to start is to gather all the information together that you’ll need to be able to create individual CVs and résumés for your job applications, when you’re ready – and save this information on your computer in a job information sheet. Don’t worry, you won’t have to create every single CV or résumé from scratch. You’ll have all the info you need in one place, and it’s just a matter of copying, pasting and tweaking each time.
The words CV and résumé are often used interchangeably. CV is used a lot more in the UK and résumé is used a lot more in the US. Actually, they’re not the same thing: a CV tends to be more detailed – at least a couple of pages long, whereas a résumé tends to be a single page. The job you’re applying for will usually tell you what they want you to send to them. If not, prepare a CV – it’s the safest option.
Create a new file in Microsoft Word and start adding in your information. You’ll need:
- Contact phone number
- Email address – make sure it looks professional
- Your website, if it is a professional one
- Whether you have a driving licence and if it’s clean
- All of your previous work experience, most recent first – including the company name, the location, the months and years worked there, the job title, your responsibilities and any successes
- All of your education – including each school/institution, the location, the years attended and the qualifications obtained
- Any training courses that you have attended including the dates
- Any professional memberships that you have
- A list of your hard skills
- Your references, if you have them
- Date of birth
- Marital status
- Number of kids
- Race or nationality
Why not? Your prospective employer doesn’t need this information to help them decide whether you are the best person for the role, and it could result in them exercising prejudice towards you – even though this should not be the case.
We would advise that you don’t mention in your CV that you have a disability. Don’t give prospective employers a reason to discriminate against you.
If you have a disability and you are offered the job, it is up to you whether you disclose any disabilities to your new employer that may not already be apparent. Click here for an article that will help you decide.
If you’re early on in your career or you’ve never had a job, you can be a risky prospect to a would-be employer. Even if full training is offered, your employer will want to know as a minimum that you will show up on time, you can follow instructions, you will take care in your work and you can be trusted. The answer to this is to volunteer. Yes, it means working for free – but even a few weeks of work experience is better than nothing at all. You’ll find opportunities across a wide range of sectors from working in retail outlets to helping out with marketing and website work.
Here are some great UK sites for finding volunteer positions:
Here are some US sites offering opportunities in the States:
- List of US volunteer opportunity websites
- VFP (Volunteers for Peace)
If you’ve never had a job before or you have little experience, you might also be wondering what skills you can include on your CV. The reality is that you probably have a lot more than you think you do!
Check out our list of hard skills for some examples of the type of thing employers would be interested in: List of hard skills.
If you’re still not sure what to include, the National Careers Service has a skills assessment tool which can help you identify what skills you have. It can take a little while to complete but it is very useful. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and select your qualification level to get started. The qualification table helps you identify what qualification level you’re at for the purpose of the assessment. After you’ve completed the assessment you can generate a detailed report which not only highlights your skills but also provides suggestions on the job families you might like to consider.
Although again many jobs offer full training, your employer will want to know that you have a basic standard of literacy and numeracy as a minimum, and can work with computers should your job require it. If you don’t have qualifications to back this up, taking some free courses can be a useful way to add some confidence to your CV. Watch out for companies that offer free courses of dubious value, just so they can charge you to supply a certificate at the end.
Vision2Learn has details of a number of free courses which you can study online in a wide range of subjects that are worth looking at: Vision2Learn. These are completely legitimate – they are funded by the Government Skills Agency and won’t cost you a penny. They are quite basic but if you have few other qualifications, having the Essential IT Skills courses (Levels 1 and 2) on your CV which cover spreadsheets, word processing and presentation, is likely to be a positive in any prospective employer’s eyes. Just be aware that if you don’t finish a course that you enrol on, you will be liable for a fee of around £65.
GCSE English and GCSE Maths will always be the two most desirable basic qualifications on a CV for an employer. If you don’t have these, consider taking them through a distance learning course (unless of course you are able to get into college). Loughborough College has an e-learning programme for GCSE English and Maths that you may be interested in.
Finished noting down all your information? What you’ll have is a source of information for every CV and résumé you complete. This saves you writing the information out each time and it allows you to customise your individual applications. Want to see an example of what you should have? Click here.
If you’ve got a good idea of the job role you’re looking for, you can get on with finding some vacancies. However, if you’re not too sure what kind of role you’d like, try the National Careers Service Career Tool – Choose a career.
Ready to go job hunting? Let’s find some vacancies that you’re interested in. The easiest place to start is online!
Universal Job Match – replacing JobSearch, Universal Job Match is the Government’s search facility for jobs it has listed. Search for jobs by location, title, distance, hours, working pattern, when listed and more.
Fish4jobs – ever popular job site allowing job searches by sector, distance and title.
Monster – popular jobs site with jobs updated daily – thousands of jobs and a great CV builder that helps you create an online CV for job advertisers to find.
Reed is a London-based recruitment agency turned job site, offering more than 100,000 jobs across many industries. They get around 3.6 million hits a month.
Total Jobs has over 100,000 jobs currently listed, making it a site worth checking regularly. The ability to search for jobs within a sector makes searching more effective than on many other sites. Total Jobs is the group behind CareerStructure.com, Caterer.com, Catererglobal.com, CWJobs.co.uk, RetailChoice.com and Salestarget.co.uk.
Click here for more job sites and don’t forget to do a search for industry-specific job websites – for example ‘legal + jobs’ gives you Totally Legal, Simply Law Jobs etc.
When you’re reading through vacancies, watch out for scams and jobs that seem too good to be true. Sometimes you’ll find information about a job which will invite you to apply if you’re interested in the role. Within minutes of sending them your details, you’ll be offered the job – but then be asked to spend money on extra training or asked to do a free week trial.
Total Jobs has a good page explaining the types of scams you need to be wary of: How to spot scam emails (it doesn’t just apply to emails – you’ll find scam job advertisements aplenty on recruitment websites too).
These days, social networks are used extensively by recruiters to find jobseekers, and to headhunt those who haven’t even considered a new job. 93% of recruiters use, or plan to use, social networks such as LinkedIn and Facebook to support their recruiting activities (JobVite, 2014).
Find out more about supercharging your LinkedIn profile here.
Many of the best jobs aren’t advertised anywhere. When most companies have an opportunity, they first look to the people they know, or people who are recommended by people they know. That’s why networking is so important for job hunters – making and maintaining good contacts will open up the door to a wealth of career opportunities that you won’t find on the job boards, now and in the future. Want to know how to network effectively? Read our networking guide.
Job agencies can be really helpful in many ways. First, they can find you work while you’re hunting for a job, if you’re unemployed. This is all great experience for your CV and gives you a foot in the door. Perform well at a temporary placement and you may find that you get a job offer to stay on long term. Second, they will assess your skills and if they like you, they’ll recommend you to their contacts. (From experience) the best job agencies work hard to build good relationships with businesses local to them. They therefore will only recommend ‘quality’ candidates. If you’re lacking in skills and experience, don’t be surprised if they don’t send many interviews your way. It is still worth getting on their books and taking up the offer of temporary work, to build your experience up.
If you go for an admin role, you’ll often find the job agency will test your skills in house. For example, they may give you different typing tests, or check your ability to use various software packages. This can be an advantage as if you perform well, they are more likely to recommend you for a temporary placement.
There are a tonne of different places you can find job vacancies besides those mentioned above. These include:
- Local and national newspapers: If you’re not sure what papers cover your area, try the Hold the Front Page website.
- Industry relevant magazines and newsletters: For example, the Journal of Legal Executives and the Law Gazette both feature plenty of legal jobs.
- The National Careers Service: Their offices advertise vacancies with local employers. These may be immediate vacancies or training vacancies, such as Apprenticeships. Even if they don’t hold any actual vacancies, it’s likely they’ll be in touch with local businesses so they might have the inside track on who’s expanding or recruiting. You can find out where your nearest office is and make an appointment by calling the National Careers Service Advice Line (0800 100 900).
- Google Alerts: It’s worth setting up Google Alerts to get an email notification of events that might lead to a job opportunity. Professional careers coach and author of ‘You’re Hired! Total Job Search 2013’ Jeremy I’Anson offers an example: “…placing the simple search string, insurance, jobs, Yorkshire in Google Alerts led me to a news item referring to a large insurance group that is planning to open an office in York creating over 300 new jobs for insurance professionals”.
- Contact employers directly: If you hear about a possible job opportunity then it’s worth contacting the company directly. Make the effort to research the company using Google or LinkedIn and try to find the right person within the company to approach.
- Send speculative applications: Even if you’re unaware of any openings, it’s worth sending a direct or speculative application to the right person. Doing your research is the key and it’s quality rather than quantity that’s important. Blanket emails to hundreds of companies never pay off but carefully researched and customised emails or letters to the right person can really achieve results.
- Job hunting flyers: A more unconventional method of job hunting that’s worth a mention is the Job Hunting Flyer. It’s like the blanket email approach but there’s more in it for the employer and it’s been proven to work time and time again.
If you have few qualifications and little experience, an apprenticeship can be a good career move. Apprenticeship minimum wages for apprentices aged 16 to 18 and those aged 19 or over who are in their first year are much lower than for regular jobs: currently £2.76 an hour (from Oct 2014). All other apprentices are entitled to the National Minimum Wage for their age – £6.50 per hour if you are 21 and over, or £5.13 per hour if you are 18 to 20 years. Granted, these are low wages, but you’ll be trained on the job and you’ll also get a foot in the door at the Company you work for – impress them and they’re likely to want to keep you on.
Once you’ve found a role that you’re interested in, the next step is to prepare your CV or résumé. The best place to start is with a free CV template or a free résumé template. For most jobs, it’s best to choose a template that is simple, without too many graphics, fancy borders or pretty fonts.
The right choice of design for your CV or résumé depends on what job you’re applying for. For a professional role such as a lawyer, doctor or accountant, a formal design with a conservative font – Helvitica, Garamond or Times New Roman for example – would be an excellent choice. Keep graphics and design details to a minimum. Here are our top choices of CV or résumé template for a professional role:
NB – although the above CV templates have example content for particular roles, they can be used for just about any role or industry.
For some roles, where there is more of a creative element, you may want to choose a template with a little more flair. An example would be for a graphic designer or web designer job application. Our favourite CV and résumé templates with a little more ‘pizzaz’ can be found on our graphical CV templates page.
The key to creating a successful job application is customising your CV or résumé for the role you’re applying for. This might mean not putting everything you included on your job information sheet into your CV or résumé each time, or giving less information about past roles that are not particularly significant. Did you see our example job information sheet? Imagine Ella Jones is seeking a new management position at another restaurant. She would not need to include any detail about her past experience as a waitress, housekeeper and cleaner. She might want to keep the waitressing and housekeeping roles on her CV as from a management perspective, it’s good for managers to have ‘shop floor’ experience, but there would be no need for her to go into details about those roles. Conversely, if Ella decides to take a stepback from management and seek a waitressing position, she would be well advised to include details about her waitressing experience on her CV and minimise the information on her management position. In her Objective/Summary, she would need to explain the position she was looking for and why – otherwise, recruiters may suspect that she is only applying for the waitress job to get a foot in the door and may be difficult to manage herself.
When applying for most jobs, you will usually include a covering letter to tell your prospective employer why they should consider you for the position. This is your opportunity to pick out the qualifications, experience and skills from your CV or résumé that are most relevant to the job advert, and highlight them to your prospective employer.
Address the cover letter to the correct person (as stated in the job advert).
Include your address and contact information, even if it’s on your CV or résumé.
Make reference to the job position you are applying for.
Explain where you saw the advertisement.
Include a copy of your CV or résumé (unless the advertisement specifically states otherwise) and say you’ve done this.
Make reference to the experience, qualifications or skills you have that match any special requirements of the role as mentioned in the job advertisement.
Keep your cover letter brief and to the point.
So your hard work paid off and you got invited to a job interview – how do you ace it? There’s a lot to getting interviews right and it takes quite a bit of practice to be ‘good’ at them. We’ve written some comprehensive guides to help you:
- Body language: Your body language plays a huge part in how you come across. This article helps you master body language basics to give you the best chance of getting it right in your interview.
- Job interview questions: Wondering what your interviewers will ask you? Here are some common questions that it’s wise to be prepared for.
Once the interview is over, it’s a matter of waiting to hear if you were successful. This could be a matter of days or weeks – and some companies don’t even bother to tell you. It’s therefore a good idea to carry on job hunting, and in the meantime now you’re an expert on how to get a job, this will be no problem for you! If you do hear that you didn’t get the job, try our evaluation article “the cold truth” which will help you figure out what you could do better next time.
Did you enjoy our guide on how to get a job? Here are a few additional articles that hit the spot for our recruitment team: