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For young people assessing their career prospects as they leave full-time education, the pandemic has only raised anxiety levels. But it has also improved the range of online resources available — and their access to virtual training.
A recent survey by the Prince’s Trust, a UK charity that helps young people through mentoring and training, has found that two-thirds of young women “always” or “often” feel anxious, and 57 per cent believe their mental health has worsened during the pandemic.
Yet Rozzy Amos, director for south of England at the Trust, says more women have participated in its initiatives now that more of them are online. “Childcare had been a real barrier and that was suddenly overcome because they could access our support in their own homes,” she explains.
While many employers have delayed or cut their hiring and workplace-based work experience in recent months, because of Covid-related economic disruption or physical constraints, others have expanded digital schemes to provide advice and support.
“We’ve scaled up access online,” says Bank of America’s Katy Ingle, who oversees learning and diversity for Europe, Middle East and Africa (Emea).
The bank is providing a 10-week virtual summer internship to 1,800 young people across the world, as well as a women’s insight programme, in which future jobseekers are able to learn about an organisation — and what they can do now to increase their chances of later being hired.
“Online has enabled more chances to engage a larger audience virtually, to take sessions to wider groups with different time slots that are more easily accessible,” Ingle says.
For Karen Kimura, learning and development manager at the Girls’ Day School Trust, which operates 23 fee-paying schools and two academies in the UK, young women should explore careers while still at school. Questions to ask include whether to go to university, try an apprenticeship that combines training with work, or even another route.
“You should ask every single person you meet what they do . . . what does a typical day look like, and what do you like and not like about it,” she says.
This applies globally and for older students, says Allyson Zimmermann, executive director for Emea at Catalyst, a non-profit that advocates for women at work. “Most people like to talk about themselves — interview people in areas you want to work in, [ask] what’s it like . . . don’t be afraid to talk to people.”
While different countries and employment sectors have different attitudes to inclusion, Zimmermann advises young women everywhere to seek out employers that show signs of progress on diversity in recruitment and leadership. Often in international organisations, the culture of the headquarters location “will determine what is valued and rewarded”.
Kimura points to a growing range of resources, provided by university careers services, charities, employers and training organisations. Future Learn and other training platforms offer many online study courses, for instance.
“You might think you are interested in a career in forensics because you enjoy watching [US television drama] Dexter,” she says. “It would be even better to do a course by a brilliant university on the subject.”
MI5, the UK security service, offers an observation skills test to help potential applicants find out if they have the necessary ability. Bright Network, a careers platform, provides tests on different career choices, as well as internships in industries where women are under-represented, such as tech and engineering. Stemettes offers resources for young women interested in science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) careers, while Upreach offers advice and experiences to those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
When applying for jobs, Mark Gale at the Young Women’s Trust, which offers support and advice, says a lot of young women leave some excellent skills off their CV because they have not understood what is required for the job. “So, they are not presenting the most relevant ones, and miss out experience like voluntary work and hobbies.” Ask a friend or family member to review it and give feedback, he suggests.
Kevin Hogarth, UK chief people officer at professional services firm KPMG, says women often “need to get over any discomfort in what they might feel is being slightly arrogant in promoting themselves”. As for finding detailed information on jobs, work experience and insight programmes, it is there but “you need to do your research. There’s no shortcut.”
And the apparently limited experience of some candidates need not curb their chances. “There are lots of different life experiences they can draw on to demonstrate skills and maturity — such as carers, who show great resilience, decision-making and judgment,” Hogarth says.
Two years on: tips from a graduate
In my final weeks of university, exams behind me and graduation day on the horizon, I had one question, writes Hannah McGreevy. What’s next?
The structure of school and university means life there is mostly mapped out. For the first time, I was unsure what lay ahead, with only a vague notion of which industries and roles would appeal. I must have looked at hundreds of graduate schemes, internships and professional courses, but with so many to choose from, it was difficult even knowing where to start.
Two years on, I have learned a lot of hard lessons about the current jobs market, including the importance of being adaptable in regard to entry-level positions.
There are many things I wish someone had told me before I started firing off applications so, bearing that in mind, here are my top tips for finding an entry-level job:
Apply for entry-level schemes: Grad schemes and internships are a great way to get your foot in the door, often paying you for work that is relatively hands-on. Work experience can also give you a taste of how companies operate and offers chances to forge connections and bolster your CV.
Be open to extra courses: Completing a new qualification specifically tailored for your industry or learning a new skill such as coding, design software or search engine optimisation will help you stand out.
Sign up to industry-specific sites: Websites like Indeed are well-known to graduates, but there are specific online job boards that list entry-level positions specifically matching your interests. As an arts graduate, for me this included sites such as The Dots and Creative Access.
Join the mailing lists: When new internships and graduate schemes come up, you will be the first to hear about them — and the earlier you get your application in, the better.
Track your progress: Creating a table or chart to track deadlines and progress will help you to keep on top of your applications properly.
Sacrifice quality for quantity: While I would advise sending in as many applications as you can, there is no point if none of them is crafted well enough to catch the attention of a potential employer.
Apply only to the big players: Hugely successful companies have extensive hiring processes, where your application may be lost in a sea of thousands. By starting off somewhere small, you will be given more responsibility, which will make you a stronger candidate for the bigger companies later on.
Underestimate the power of email: Most applications involve submitting a CV online without ever speaking to anyone at the company. In reality, there is always a way to find someone’s work address to contact them directly, and building up a rapport can be just as valuable for when a new vacancy might become available.
Ignore the needs of the employer: In your cover letter, you need to explain why you want to work there, what you admire about the company and, most importantly, what ideas you would bring.
Use the same CV for everything: While you are just starting out, you need to be flexible about which roles you apply to — and tailor your CV to match.
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