How graduates can improve their career prospects

Technology can level the jobs market but only if people embrace the new rules of engagement.

Students who graduated in 2020 are facing the biggest challenge since the class of 2008. Due to the impact of the pandemic, there are relatively few sectors unaffected by job losses and with even more redundancies likely to happen as the furlough scheme draws to a close, competition for jobs will be higher than ever.

With COVID-19 placing restrictions on physical events it can be difficult to strike up relationships and build professional networks, but digital communities and forums, social media platforms and online profiles can all be a great way to showcase your skills and build a rapport with the right people who can help to influence your career.

Technology can be a real leveller; democratising the recruitment process and making it less about who you know, and more about what you know and how you communicate this knowledge, but there’s still an etiquette that needs to be followed.

Put the pro into a professional profile

The elevator pitch in the world of online networking is your professional profile. 

A professional profile photo should represent who you are and make you look approachable and professional. A professional headshot photo is great if you have it. But if you don’t, choose a picture of yourself that you like so you’re comfortable with it. 

Try to avoid jargon, buzzwords and hyperbole when describing who you are, your achievements and where you see your career going. Most of you will be at the start of your career and seasoned professionals will see through any inflated claims. Your attitude, openness, interests, strengths and any links to your online work or projects should speak volumes about who you are and why you would be an amazing hire.

Listen before engaging

In professional online networks, rather than launching straight into a sales pitch, it’s so important to listen before engaging. It’s about having conversations with like-minded people, so instead of impatiently waiting for your turn to speak, think about how you can add value to what someone else has just said, whether that’s asking a question, offering useful information you have on that subject, or asking their opinion on a related topic.     

It’s far more beneficial to have a close network of strong contacts who you engage with on a personal level than thousands of meaningless connections. And on that, do think about how you introduce yourself when you connect to others. For many senior professionals, no context = no connection.

Whilst somewhere like LinkedIn is a good place to start, it can feel a little detached and impersonal. Seek out professional networking apps like Guild, niche communities and forums, and formal and informal industry or membership body groups to find contacts to start conversations with. 

Read the room

Without the non-verbal cues we take for granted in speech, it can be difficult to fully comprehend tone in text, which can lead to misunderstandings. Raised eyebrows, pauses in conversations, eye rolls, smiles, inflections and stresses in words can all have a big impact in the overall meaning of any given sentence. Be aware of these nuances and subtleties both in the way your writing is likely to be received, and how you read the text of others.

For this reason, it’s also worth thinking seriously before making attempts at humour, or before sharing particularly opinionated views. While this might be ok on your own personal social media platforms, be wary of sharing this kind of content on a professional site –  you wouldn’t want to unconsciously ruin your chances before you’ve even got a foot in the door by giving a misleading impression of yourself. It doesn’t mean you can’t voice opinions, just make sure you do so politely and respectfully and understand that others may not always agree with you.

Exercise caution

From behind a computer screen or mobile phone app, professional networking can feel very different, and while it could be easy to become very comfortable in your surroundings, it’s also important to remember to maintain a professional attitude at all times. Becoming overly familiar with people you don’t yet know very well yet on a professional platform isn’t advisable. Also, be aware that organisations have social media and corporate governance policies in place where employees can’t share or divulge confidential business information. If you freely share information that would make an HR person widen their eyes in a professional platform, you may raise some red flags amongst potential connections or employers. Remember, you can’t be sure who other people know, so if in doubt, don’t share.

All in all, networking online follows the same principles as it does face-to-face; it’s about building valuable long-term relationships that have the potential to open up really exciting opportunities in your career. But particularly when it comes to conversing online, it’s worth taking a moment to pause, listen, and reflect before typing. This can help recent graduates stand out in the right way in a competitive market.  

Ashley Friedlein is the CEO & Founder of Guild, an app designed for businesses, professional groups, networks, universities, students and communities who want the advantages of messaging – ease of use, immediacy, intimacy, engagement – but who also care about proper privacy, quality, legal compliance, and professional standards of support and service.

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