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How to pick your first job?

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As a graduate, you’d naturally like to start working as soon as possible, because you're enthusiastic about earning your own living and eager to show the world what you're worth. So, should you accept the first job that comes along, or is it better to keep on searching until you've found your dream job? We spoke with employment market specialist Robby Vanuxem, Managing Director of Hays Belgium.

Is it a negative thing to accept a job that's below your level?

Most companies regard experience as being very important. An initial work experience tends to make candidates more adult, more mature, and they develop a better idea of what they really want. So many companies find it more of a net positive that candidates have already worked below their level, instead of not having worked at all. Moreover, starting out beneath your educational level while awaiting the job that perfectly matches it can also be perceived as signalling motivation. The only possible pitfall is if you don't continue looking for that “right job”. Above all, make sure that you don't wind up working for, say, 5 years below your level, because then it only becomes more difficult to find something above that again.

We recommend that freshly-graduated candidates start working in the field where they ultimately wish to find themselves with their degree. An Electronics-ICT Master, for example, who wants an IT role on the Master level (e.g. Functional Analyst) would do well to start in an IT helpdesk where he or she can give support on specific business software applications. That way they get to know business processes and build up a certain amount of baggage that will be useful for their future role. The choice for the IT field is the crucial thing.

What is the recommended search time?

Your search mustn't go on too long. If you still haven't found a job after six months as a recent graduate, then you'll have to take a critical look at your search process: am I applying for the right openings? That's why we're also here as a selection agency, we look together with the candidate at what possibilities are out there without exclusively targeting jobs that are an ideal match for the degree earned. We call this ´stretching´ our candidates, namely disseminating their profile more widely in the market than the candidate had initially foreseen, sometimes due to having too narrow a focus.

After six months it is recommended to become less choosy and accept a job below your level, although the decision should be well-considered: a marketer who opts for an administrative position at Coca-Cola can easily justify that choice, since he or she is looking for a job in marketing: Coca-Cola is a big international company with a large marketing team and plenty of possibilities for development. But choosing an administrative position in a small construction company, for example, would be harder to justify.

Is getting too much education a negative?

In certain sectors, like supply chain & logistics, we're seeing a trend to over-education. Many graduates have two master degrees, which is inevitably producing a certain devaluation on the market. People with too many diplomas don't always have an easy time of it on the employment market, either. Moreover, we've seen from experience that the degree isn't always the decisive thing: there are other factors that also play a role for a successful career.

What tips can you offer for recent graduates?

A job search is often frustrating and even exhausting. But there are different ways to deal with rejection. The most important message is not to give up. Refine your search and be patient

A few mistakes that you should avoid making when looking for a job

  • Putting things on your CV that aren't entirely truthful
  • Applying for every job you come across
  • Not pitching your cover letter adequately to the specific job opening
  • Having social media profiles that are unprofessional
  • Not following up on your applications

So start your search in a well-considered and strategic manner. The only thing haste does is ensure that you will rapidly grow tired of looking.

Be prepared

It also helps that you keep your ambition and goal clearly in mind. That way you'll be less likely to wander off the path you want to follow. For example, come up with a five-year plan:

  • Where do I want to be in five years?
  • How do I want to get there?
  • How will I know when I've reached my objective?

If you know this, you'll feel a good deal more sure of yourself when considering job openings.

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