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Advice From Experts
Choosing your first job
The job market is a wide world of opportunities and challenges, ready and waiting for you to make your mark. The first thing is work out what you would like to do, based on your interests and skills. Make positive decisions, and don’t take the first job that comes your way if it doesn’t suit you.

Chop and change

Don’t worry that you are committing yourself for life when you take a job. Those days are long gone. Always keep an open mind and look for potential career development opportunities.

To make a good career choice, you need:
  • A clear understanding of yourself: skills, hopes, ambitions, personality and limitations
  • A good understanding of the range of career routes available
  • The ability to match your skills with the opportunities out there
  • Awareness of your circumstances, including debt and family pressures

Accurate self-assessment is essential in creating a convincing CV, handling job applications and interviewing well.

It’s all about the experience  

Everyone needs to start somewhere, so don’t expect to walk straight into a management role, no matter how good your qualifications. Be prepared to work your way up the ladder, and never miss the chance to chat to colleagues and learn from them about the different opportunities on offer.  

If you’re not having much luck getting into the role you want, work experience and temping are great ways to get your foot in the door. Work placements are respected by potential employers as they prove that you’ve got initiative, and both placements and temping are no-strings attached, so it’s easy to move if something bigger and better comes up.

While you’re on a short-term contract, have a nose around the organisation and see the bones behind various jobs. See if you can shadow other roles to see what they’re about before you commit yourself. You may be pleasantly surprised. To find out what your potential future employers are looking for speak to your HR department to see the kind of boxes they aim to tick when CVs and applications come in.

Placements can often turn into full time jobs, so make the most of the opportunity to impress. Even if your contract isn’t extended, they may remember you when a position becomes available in the future Once you’ve found an industry and company that appeals to you, start searching and applying for jobs immediately. If there is nothing available, it’s always worth writing prospective letters to companies to see if there are any roles available that aren’t currently advertised that would be suitable for someone with your skills.

Choosing your employer – there is a choice

There are various things that differentiate employers, and not just the industry they operate in. Number of employees, office culture, ownership, management structures and staff development are all key areas you should look into when deciding your ideal employer.

Everyone is different when it comes to the type of environment they’d like to work in, so decide your criteria and check out the companies that offer a good match. When you’re searching through job adverts, measure each against these points to give you an idea of what the company is like:

Style: Who wrote the material and why? View this as the organisational equivalent of a CV. Does it capture your attention or come across as dull?

Depth: How much detail are you being given? Do they mention specific goals you would be working towards or just give you an overall view of your responsibilities?

Omissions: Is there anything about the company they don’t tell you? Use the Internet to find out all you can about the organisation. They rarely tell the whole story in recruitment communications.

Frequency: Regular jobs adverts from the same company often suggest high rates of staff turnover which could be a sign that it’s one to avoid.

Keep your eyes open as you search for new jobs and never miss an opportunity to chat to friends and colleagues about possible openings. You never know what might turn up.


Choosing the right company

There’s a vast range of potential employers out there, from small start-ups to the biggest multinationals. Which type best suits you is for you to decide, based on your personality, your likes and dislikes and, of course, your experience. If you’re unsure, take the time to do as much research as you can.

Get on your favourite search engine and check out terms like ‘FTSE 100’ for the big boys, ‘best employers’ for lists of companies with the top working conditions, or specialist terms that apply to you like ‘single mother’ or ‘multi-lingual employees’. Use your imagination and don’t forget to ask around friends and relatives for ideas on companies they either work for or with to see if they can think of any that might suit you.

There are three main types of businesses that you can work for in the private sector, each with it’s own pros and cons:

Small companies

Due to their smaller revenues and profits, pay and benefits are often lower in smaller companies. You may also be working in a less secure environment as the business doesn’t have the stability to think in the long term. Many small business owners tend to micro-manage their operations, finding it hard to let go and delegate responsibility.

On the other hand, you’ll almost certainly have more involvement in a wider range of tasks than in a bigger company, along with the chance of quick promotion if you prove yourself. Working for a small company is also an excellent way of acquiring new, transferable skills.

Medium sized companies

You can expect to receive better benefits than in a small company, such as health care or a contributory pension. With a relatively small number of employees, there is often more flexibility in their pay structure so they can individually tailor financial packages. Medium sized businesses will be acutely aware of their bottom line, making hiring and firing decisions on the basis of clear financial goals.

They can be very demanding employees, with a high expectation that you will do whatever it takes, including long hours and changing levels of responsibility. There will be opportunities to put variety into your work, but not as much as in a small company. Often, due to the shallow organisational structure, the potential for advancement is very limited.

Large companies

The biggest plus with a large company is usually security and benefits, together with ample opportunity to move your career in the direction you want. Due to the large number of employees they have to look after, pay structures are often quite strict although due to their large financial backing, the starting wages are usually very generous.

They can be more impersonal and bureaucratic and lack the sense of a common goal or being part of a team that smaller companies offer. Large companies tend to hire people with specific skills to fit into specific roles, so don’t expect a lot of variety in your role.  

If you are at all unsure about what you’re getting into, it’s a good idea to arrange a trial period before committing yourself. An internship or temporary position offers the perfect opportunity to get a feel for people and the company. Part-time work is also an option, as it gives you the chance to try out two companies at once.

Alongside these groups, charities and public sector organisations also operate, again with their own pros and cons. One thing you will find when working for this type of business is that every penny spent must be justified, as they are ultimately accountable to people making charitable donations or the taxpayer.

Staying out of trouble

There are good places to work and there are awful places to work. Big companies with sexy offices can act as a smokescreen for a ferociously competitive business that you might find intimidating. Ask around, do your research and use your common sense.

Never be afraid to follow your instincts if a company doesn’t feel right. You’ll have to live with your decision if you get it wrong, so learn to read the warning signs. What happened to your predecessor? Promotion or P45? Watch how your interviewers behave during your meeting - if there’s tension in the air, it might be the sign of things to come.

Right company, wrong location

If you’re willing to cast your net wide in the search for the right employer, you may come across the perfect match, but at the other end of the country. Relocating for work is a big decision for anyone, but if you value your career and want to make the most of every opportunity, then it may be a necessary step. The Internet has made it easy to stay in contact with your friends, and you’re likely to make many more in your new surroundings.

What do I need to do to get promoted?

Wanting to progress your career is natural, but actually doing so can be a tricky business. Many people take the default position that getting a better job means changing employer, but there are often great opportunities for progression with your existing employer, and not just in the part of the company you currently work in.

If you’re working a small company, chances are you’ll know pretty much what everyone’s doing and who’s heading where. In larger companies, there’s likely to be a lot going on elsewhere that you may not know about, especially in other departments. It’s well worth keeping an eye on internal newsletters or notice boards, as well as refining your internal networking techniques.

Getting noticed by your superiors

Make a habit of getting into work early, and try to be the last out. In some organisations, this could mean taking in a sleeping bag, but don’t overdo it. Just let your bosses know that you’re on the money and not one of those who always seem to be looking for an easy ride.

You may want to copy some high level people in on an email early in the morning or late at night to emphasise the hours you’re putting in. You may have to be careful how you manage this if your company pays overtime. Don’t make it look as if you’re just stretching your day out to boost your earnings.

Make an effort to really enjoy your job, and let others know you do as well. To further enhance your prospects, build a reputation as someone who is always positive and good to be around. Be the first to volunteer for any tasks, whether work-related or social, like helping organise the office Christmas party or summer outing.

Always be prepared to do a bit more than is expected of you or is in your job description. However, if you do take on extra tasks or responsibilities, don’t over-promise and keep your head down until you have successfully completed the task. There are no prizes for loud-mouthing and then failing to deliver. As a general rule you should always under-promise and over-deliver.  

Pay attention to how you present yourself. Look at what your superiors are wearing, and go for something similar. Don’t however make it too obvious by copying a trademark item of your boss’s clothing. Look the part, and make it easy for them to see you working on the next tier of management.

Building a case

Although you won’t usually have to present your bosses with a CV in order to gain a promotion, having some documented evidence of what you’ve achieved will be a major bonus. Keep a record of everything you do that is successful and look at the records of your predecessors and colleagues in similar roles. If you’re performing better than them, let your boss know about it, but don’t put-down your colleagues or wind them up. It may come back to haunt you.  

Get on all the relevant training courses, and look around for other ways to enhance your profile. Make time to read the trade journals and share your knowledge with colleagues. Consider evening classes for specialist skill areas where training is not provided by your employer, like accountancy classes, advanced computer skills, or perhaps a formal business qualification like a diploma or MBA.

Managing former peers

If you land the promotion you were after, there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself managing your former co-workers. It’s a tough situation and requires sensitivity and tact in large measure. This is where many newly-promoted people fail, and find that they have to move back to their former position once their trial period has finished. That’s an experience you definitely want to avoid.

Never be afraid to ask your boss for guidance on how to handle these situations, and make sure you communicate clearly with your former equivalents and juniors. Use your common sense and think how you would like to be dealt with in a similar situation. Don’t let any simmering resentments explode into full blown conflict. If people have an issue with your new position, deal with it.  

Learn to see what inspires and motivates your staff and concentrate on that. It’s the best way to build a loyal team and to meet your management objectives. Don’t play the big ‘I am’ the minute you get promoted. Equally, avoid being too chummy with your new team. You are not there to be friends; you’re there to do a job.

The art of networking

Essentially, networking is getting to know people who can help you develop your career prospects. You don’t need to be a big shot or the most outgoing person in the world to network effectively.

Take it a step at a time. Begin with people you know, at work and in your social life. Keep your ears open and listen for information that could work to your advantage.

What are the benefits of networking?

A lot of good jobs never make it to the pages of a recruitment website or newspaper. They get filled by word of mouth and the more senior the position, the more often it happens this way.

Even if the job is advertised, it helps to know someone inside the new organisation who can give you the inside line. They may even end up interviewing you which will always make it a less stressful experience.

Like any other form of social behaviour, networking follows certain rules to follow:

  • First impressions count - both face-to-face and via the phone or email. Always stay sharp.
  • Don’t ask directly for a job - networking is not a job fair; it’s an opportunity to gather potentially useful information.
  • Give and take - networking is a two-way exchange, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
  • Do the groundwork - research your contacts before meeting them and always follow up good leads or they pass on.
  • Think laterally – try to expand your network outwards, beyond your comfort zone or usual sphere of operation.
  • Patience is a virtue – getting involved in networking is being in there for the long haul; don’t expect to land a plum job at your first meeting.
Building your network

Even if you’re new to the game, you may have lots of worthwhile contacts you hadn’t seen in that way before:
  • Old school, college or university classmates
  • Distant family members
  • Your friends’ family
  • Your doctor, lawyer or accountant
  • Former colleagues or bosses  
  • Club members or anyone else you meet socially  

Keep good records of who you meet and the conversations you’ve had - there’s no point building a network of contacts that you then forget. Also aim to stay in regular touch even when you’re not after anything specific. You don’t want to be known as the person who only ever gets in touch when they’re after a favour.

Networking events and conferences are good ways to build a network if you’re not sure where to start. Make sure you know why you are there and what you want out of it and make sure you have a few copies of your CV or some business cards to hand out to the important contacts you meet.

Don’t wait until you’ve lost your job before picking up the phone to speak to people in your industry – even if you’re happy in your role and the company is in a stable position, there’s never any certainty as to what could be around the corner.

Networking 2.0

If you’re not used to the idea yet, networking can be scary; like it’s something for super-confident types who get all the best jobs anyway. But that’s not the whole story. People are well-used to networking as a valuable business tool.

The Internet has made networking a viable option for everyone and there are many forums and business networking sites which enable business people to share and discuss their views and knowledge.

As long as you can keep a good barrier between your personal and professional online presence, this is a great way to pick up on the latest goings on in your industry, but can never completely replace actually getting out and showing your face.

CVs: The basics

Whether a potential employer asks to see your curriculum vitae, CV or resume, they’re looking for one thing – a document that proves why you’re the ideal candidate to invest their time and money in. Essentially it’s a sales brochure, pinpointing the interesting USPs (unique selling points) that make you stand out from the crowd.

There’s no universally accepted format, but your CV should cover these elements:

Your details  

Include your name, address, phone numbers and email address so any interested employers can contact you easily. Information such as nationality, age and driving licence status are optional.  

Personal statement

One paragraph that immediately captures the attention of your reader and entices them to find out more about you. Be careful not to cram too much in. Instead take your main skill and relate it to the job you’re after to show employers why you meet their needs.

Work experience

List your most recent position first, continuing in reverse chronological order including the name, location, website and dates of your employment for each company you have worked for. Aim to use bullet points wherever possible to highlight your responsibilities and achievements in each role so the person scanning your CV can quickly match up your experience with their job description.


Again, in reverse chronological order, give brief details of your academic and professional qualifications along with the grades you achieved. If you’re looking for your first job since leaving education, include this information above any work experience.


Whether you realise it or not you will have picked up many skills over the years, some tangible, some less so. Include every IT package or programme you have used as well as any foreign language skills you have gained, and state whether you're at a basic, intermediate or advanced level. Skills such as communication and project management are harder to substantiate and should be backed up with examples.

Hobbies & Interests

Including these is optional and often used to fill up space at the end of the document. The idea is to give the interviewer a more rounded picture and, perhaps, something more personal to discuss at an interview.


It’s not necessary to list referees on your CV, but you should state that details are available on request. If this is your first job, it’s a good idea to nominate tutors or mentors. You’ll obviously need to choose references that you’re confident will give positive remarks, but you should also make sure they would be easily contactable by potential employers when the time comes.

A clear and simple layout

Always keep your CV to two pages of A4. It should be clear to anyone reading your CV where to find the information they’re looking for, with enough ‘white space’ to ensure they’re not overawed at first glance.

The purpose of this document is not to get you the job, but to get you an interview. Always remember you’re not writing a CV for yourself, you are writing it for your reader. As you write your CV, put yourself in their shoes. Keep it short, to the point and, above all else, interesting.

Due to the high volume of applications they receive, a recruiter will generally spend at most 20 seconds initially reviewing each CV, so it’s important to get it right. If you follow the structure outlined above, you’re on the right track to presenting the information in a clear, concise and persuasive way.

Things to watch out for Time spent making sure your CV is crisp and relevant is always time well spent. There are plenty of simple mistakes that are often overlooked that will turn your readers off before they’ve gone much further than your name and address.

  • Resist the urge to jazz up your CV with images or colour
  • Steer clear of long paragraphs
  • Careful use of bold type can be effective, but don’t overdo it
  • Underlining should be reserved for website links only
  • Use typefaces like ‘Times New Roman’ or ‘Arial’ - they’re easier to read
  • Avoid using font sizes smaller than 11pt, employers won’t strain their eyes to read it  
  • Don’t use txt speak and only use abbreviations if they’re universally known

And finally…

Check for spelling or typographical errors. Any errors are your responsibility and are one of the first things employers use to weed out the weaker candidates. Even if the role you’re after doesn’t require a high level of literacy, spelling errors scream lack of care, which is an undesirable quality for any recruiter. Don't put all your faith in a spell checker as many are set to American settings as a default. If you're not sure about a word, look it up in a dictionary.

Before you distribute your finished document or upload it to the Internet, get someone to look over it. Professional CV checkers see hundreds of CVs every day and can immediately spot things that may put off a potential employer.

Explaining gaps in your CV

There are many reasons why your CV may have gaps and recruiters don’t look down on candidates with them. They are suspicious however when these gaps are not clarified, so make sure they are explained in a positive manner.

Here are a few common gaps and how to give them a positive spin:

  • Extended holidays - Communication and organisational skills are always important, so say how your break helped you develop these areas. Any languages you may have picked up will also be a major bonus.
  • Family issues - There’s no need to go into detail on personal reasons for taking time away from work, as essentially it’s nobody else’s business. A three or four word description is enough.
  • Prison Time – A tough one. At present, there are no laws regarding discrimination against ex-prisoners. However, employers are likely to be more understanding if you used your time inside to gain a new qualification or learn a new skill.
  • Nothing in the market - It happens, so don’t hide it. Try suggesting you were waiting for the right opportunity to come along, employers may even get the impression that you were in demand.
What needs to be included in a cover letter?

In the days when all applications were sent by post, the cover letter was the first chance you had to ‘wow' a prospective employer. Now the process is largely electronic based, nothing has really changed.

Whether you're emailing your application or submitting it through your My Monster account, you have the chance to write a few choice words that will entice your reader to take a detailed look through your CV.

In the beginning…

Address your reader – if you know their name always put “Dear Mr Bloggs” rather than “Dear Joe” as over-familiarity at this early stage might suggest an unprofessional attitude.

The first sentence should then clearly state your intention to apply for the job. Recruiters are often covering many vacancies at one time and can get easily confused as to which applicant is applying for which job. Include any reference numbers provided to make it easy for them.

You want to reference your aptitude to do the job successfully, but your cover letter is not your autobiography – the main bulk of your experience and abilities should be included in your CV. The focus should be on how you meet an employer's needs so avoid the perception of being self-important.

Pick the main responsibility they're looking for you to undertake in the role and give an example of why you're the person they're looking for. “My experience of managing Network Support Engineers will help to ensure the smooth running of your computer systems to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your business.” is an example of a need that can be met.

Watch the length  

Two short paragraphs is plenty of room to sell yourself. You want to be as punchy as possible as your reader will probably be a very busy person with limited time to trawl through a long letter. Concise and compelling is the way to go.

You may want to include a ‘next step' for your reader, such as “To see how I could take your marketing to the next level, take a look at my CV to see the achievements I've had during my time with ABC Widgets.” This clearly points the employer to the part of your CV you think will persuade them to give you the job.

If you're applying to a number of similar positions, chances are you're tweaking one letter and using it for multiple openings. That's fine, as long as you are customising each one. Don't forget to update the company, job and contact information - if Mr. Jones is addressed as Mrs. Smith, your application will go straight into the bin.

Be sure to include your contact details so they can get hold of you when they need to. This information should also be on your CV, but there's no harm doubling up.