Careers advice

Expert job hunting tips for NZ’s Class of 2020

Some tips from graduate recruitment specialists.

2020 isn’t a normal year to be finishing education. Even with New Zealand currently coping better with Covid-19 than many other countries, the employment landscape looks very different from how it did in January.

So, if you’re part of the class of 2020, what should you expect from job hunting right now? Where are the opportunities, and how can you position yourself to land a role?

To find out, we talked to three experts who work with first time job hunters on a regular basis. Lacey Knight is the Graduate Programmes Leader at Auckland Council, while Deloitte New Zealand’s Laura Wiltshier (Talent Acquisition Lead) and Sonia Breeze (Partner leading the Human Capital Consulting team) work with graduates starting out in the organisation.

Here are their top tips:

Despite the current situation, there are still first-time jobs out there for Kiwis.

Be flexible in what you’re looking for

All our panel agreed that increased competition for jobs is the greatest employment challenge facing university and school leavers this year.

The best approach to this problem, according to our experts, is to consider a broader range of possibilities.

“Most of us don’t end up in a career based directly on what we studied anyway,” says Lacey, and now more than ever she’s encouraging those leaving education to “be open to opportunities initially, and then “make sideways movements until you find something that really grabs you.”

Similarly, Sonia explains that industries you might have set your sights on could have been disrupted by the pandemic, leaving fewer opportunities. However, while you might not get your dream job to start with, being receptive to different possibilities will allow you to make the most of your time during this period of uncertainty,

Sonia also points out that she’s seen an upswing in employers looking for contractors and temporary staff. She says that this can be a great way for first time job hunters to get a foot in the door and onto the employment ladder.

Work on your remote skills

We all learnt the value of being able to work from home during Level 4 lockdown, and our panel believes graduates should hold onto these remote skills.

Lacey explains that her team is interested in whether candidates can demonstrate an ability to work as a remote team member. Even though New Zealand is no longer in lockdown, she recently carried out remote digital assessments for the first time to see whether applicants can navigate this scenario.

Laura echoes the importance of remote capabilities, but this time as part of the hiring process. She says that many employers and recruiters saw the time and cost saving benefits of remote job interviews during lockdown, and are continuing with this. Therefore, you’ll need to be able to present yourself well on a video call or a phone call in order to meet this demand.

Our experts say education leavers should emphasise their remote working abilities.

Talk to people who can help (you’d be surprised who this might be)

“I’d never just apply for a job, I’d always try to make contact with someone who works there – take someone for a coffee,” Laura says.

This idea of networking is another one that all our experts highlight as particularly important in the current environment.

And, crucially, this isn’t limited just to people in the companies you’re applying to.. Lacey, Laura and Sonia all advise talking to those around you – your parents, neighbours, teachers etc.. “Let them know you’re looking,” urges Laura, “this informal network will probably surface opportunities for you.”

Take opportunities to get experience

If you’re worried about having little professional experience, our panel has several pieces of advice.

Firstly, Lacey says it’s important applicants don’t knock work experience they do have, just because they don’t think it’s 100% relevant to the job they’re applying to. She sees common student jobs like retail and hospitality are “great experiences to have under your belt – especially for employers looking for clear communicators and resilient staff”. It’s all about how you present this experience in your CV and cover letter. As she says: “Every job you have is about what you take away from it.”

As well as volunteer work, Laura and Sonia recommend getting creative with how you go about accumulating experience for your CV. For example, Laura suggests social media savvy grads reach out to local small or medium sized businesses and offer to help them improve their social presence.

Common student jobs like hospo and retail teach valuable skills you can take into your first full-time job.

Make the most of every application

“Your application is your shot,” Laura says, “once it’s in, it’s gone.” She recommends thoroughly researching any employer you’re going to apply to, and personalising each application. For example, if you’re going for a tech role, show you know what software or tools the company uses by stalking their website or social media presence.

Lacey says it’s crucial that you carefully check your CV prior to sending it in, and also stresses the importance of tailoring applications. “It makes a difference when I can see an applicant has taken the time to do their research before applying, particularly in their cover letter,” she explains.

Lacey has one other vital piece of advice – “keep track of all the jobs you’ve applied for”. She says it’s common for employers to ring candidates out of the blue, and nothing is more off-putting for the hiring manager than you forgetting which application their call is referring to.

Be resilient and keep learning

All our panelists recognised that job hunting is harder than usual right now, but all had the same message – resilience is key. It’s important not to take rejections personally, learn from every application, and ask for feedback on where you can improve for next time.