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How to get that perfect first job

Read NCE's invaluable guide to making sure that first job is the right job.

First, decide who you want to work for and why. Find out about companies in your careers library, read newspapers and magazines, such as NCE magazine and website, to find out what firms do and for an independent view of them. If you like the look of them, check out their websites. Your university may also have links with particular employers and be able to tell you more.

Try an employer out
It is worth starting to look at potential employers well before you get to your final year so you have a good idea of which ones are best for you when it comes to the crunch. Try working for some of them in the holidays to find out what they are really like.

Apply carefully
Most major companies have sections on their websites for graduate recruitment and online forms to complete. Read the instructions carefully and follow them. Complete the form offline and before you send it, read it through – reading it aloud is a good idea – to make sure that what you’ve written makes sense.

Contact the right person
If you are asked to send a covering letter and CV, do so. For many small and medium-sized companies this may be how you apply in the first place. Make sure you identify the right person to approach at the company, and ensure that, if you send a letter, it is addressed to that person.

Tailor your application
Don’t just send out your CV and a covering letter to as many employers as you can think of – tailor your letter to each employer, but keep it short and to the point. If you have worked for them in the holidays, remind them.

Be accurate
Your CV should be no more than two pages long and should follow a standard format. Check your spelling and grammar. Check you have spelt the name of the company and the person you are applying to correctly. Get any of this wrong and your application is almost guaranteed to go in the bin.

Show you are interested
If you are keen on a particular job, telephone the department that you have sent your application to, to find out if it has been safely received. And you can ask when interviews are likely to be. They won’t mind: it shows you are interested. But only call once don’t stalk them.

Expect a call
Companies will contact you to tell you the interview time. These may be group or individual interviews. Be prepared for a telephone call. Many firms conduct telephone interviews before deciding on a shortlist of candidates to see face to face. So start answering the phone in your business voice.

Prepare for the interview
When it comes to the interview, everything about you – how you look, what you do, what you say (and do not say) – will be taken into consideration when they decide whether to offer you the job. So make sure you get the right message across. Try to make the most of the experience and use it to find out if you really would like to work for that company.

Click here for the information you must include on your CV

Click here for the CV's dos and don'ts

Click here for standard interview questions

The interview
Only a few people really enjoy job interviews, but here are some hints to take some of the pain out of the process. Use them to help you plan your campaign to get that dream job.

First, do your research. The more you know about the job and the company the better. Look at the company’s website for case studies and background and find out who its competitors are. Don’t be afraid to take notes in with you and make notes during the interview – it proves you
are prepared.

Be punctual. It’s always better to be half an hour early than a minute late.

When faced with a difficult question, don’t panic. Interviewers ask challenging questions to see how you can think on your feet and cope with stress.

- Faced with a difficult question, there is nothing wrong with a brief, contemplative pause before answering.
- Don’t be afraid to ask the interviewer to repeat the question if you don’t understand it.
- Try to work out what the interviewer is trying to find out.
- Look for opportunities to turn the question round and sell yourself.
- Don’t ramble.
- Remember the interview is a two-way process. You are there to listen as well as talk.
- Always give positive information.

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