How to get your first job

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Photo of a desk at work, illustrating how to get a job for the first time

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Getting your first job can be tough, and pretty daunting too, but once you’ve got one foot on that career ladder, it becomes much easier to climb. In this article, we provide guidance on how to get a job for the very first time.

1. What kind of job do you want?

When it comes to the question of how to get a job, it really boils down to what you're looking for. So first, ask yourself what kind of job you're after. Is it a weekend or holiday job to earn some cash while you study?

If so, have a look at these 15 Saturday job ideas for some inspiration, and read our blog on how to find a summer job as a student

Or have you finished school, college or university and are now looking for a permanent job? If so, the advice below is a really good way to get started.

2. Think about your career plans

When simply finding work is your priority, it can be tempting to apply for anything and everything that comes up. But during the early stages of your career, you are in a great place to think about the kind of career path you’d like to follow.

Mindmapping your interests and passions can really help bring focus to your job hunt, and will also mean you’re playing to your strengths when you make your applications. This video shows you how to use your strengths and attitude to get a job:

Always talk to your career adviser – they'll be able to tailor their guidance to your own future plans and give you speficic, targeted advice on how to get a job.

3. Get some work experience

Photo of a girl with a cameraWork experience is probably the single most important thing you can do to get your first job. It makes your CV more attractive, teaches you important practical skills and, if you impress the boss while you’re there, can even lead to a job offer too.

If you still need convincing, here are five reasons why work experience is worth it.

Ask your teacher or careers advisor for help

Your teacher or careers adviser at school should be able to help you find work experience, and you could also consider asking friends and family – word of mouth is a great way to find out about opportunities.

Be proactive: Go hunting

Be proactive too – write a list of jobs you’re interested in and then find local businesses that offer these kinds of jobs. Have a look on their website to see if they have any information about work experience opportunities there. If they don’t, give them a ring or email them to ask.

Volunteer to get experience

Another option is to do some volunteering, which is a great way to spruce up your CV, while giving you the feel-good factor of helping a needy cause.

If you need to have checkout, data entry, or filing skills, you can easily get these by spending a few Saturdays in a charity shop. If you are looking for more advanced work experience, don’t be afraid to contact employers. You can do this with the police and fire service, while plenty of employers offer summer internships for school and university students, some of which are paid (see below).

For more info, read our guide on finding voluntary work to help your career.

Don't forget transferable skills

You will have gained many skills from your time at school. For instance, a job in a leisure centre might require you to have initiative or leadership skills.

If you have been in charge of a school society or sports team, you already have a good base to build on and you should include this on any job applications.

4. Do an apprenticeship or internship

There are lots of options for school and college leavers. Apprenticeships are becoming more popular and there are currently up to 25,000 apprentice vacancies in the UK, so there’s no shortage of opportunities.

The good thing about an apprenticeship is that you’ll learn practical, on the job skills, but you’ll also gain a qualification too, helping you with your future career. This is great for people who want to earn while they learn.

Find out all about apprenticeships here.

Other options are school leaver programmes and internships.

5. Look for jobs

It’s never been easier to search for jobs, apprenticeships and school leaver programmes because most companies post opportunities online.

As well as talking to your teacher or careers adviser at school, you can also be proactive yourself by searching job vacancy websites, looking through local and national newspapers and getting in touch with recruitment agencies.

Search online

Photo of a boy looking at his smartphone

A lot of companies also advertise vacancies on social media now, so if there are any particular ones that you’d like to work for, make sure you follow them so that you can be one of the first to know about any opportunities (if this is basic stuff for you, you could even consider a career in social media management).

The government’s Universal Jobmatch is a good place to start, as well as websites like Indeed where employers regularly advertise. There are also sites which advertise vacancies in particular industries

Top tip: Save time by setting up personal accounts on job sites and saving vacancies you like the look of, so you can focus on the new opportunities next time. It’s also worth signing up for email alerts where possible so you don’t miss out on vacancies if you forget to check.

Our jobs and courses tool is specially designed to help school leavers find jobs or the experience needed to pursue their chosen career path.

Take a look at this infographic for more ideas on how to get a job by searching online (right click and select "Open image in new tab" to see a bigger version):

Search offline!

Recruitment companies can be a great way to spread your CV to a wide audience in a targeted way. It requires very little effort on your part, freeing you up to go after the roles that really matter to you.

Sometimes the old-school methods are the best. For example, it's always worth looking in local shop windows as you go past. You never know where an opportunity might present itself.

6. Be realistic

When shortlisting roles to apply for, be realistic. If they ask for a degree in astrophysics and the closest you’ve got to this is visiting the National Space Centre, then there really is no point in applying. 

Writing a really good job application is time consuming and can take a few hours, so don’t waste your time on roles that are clearly out of your league – concentrate on applying for jobs where you meet the criteria that they’re looking for – you’ve got plenty of time to reach the top of that career ladder.

7. Prepare a good CV

Your CV is your very own, personal advertisement. It’s where you get to show employers exactly why they should hire you.

But how do you write a good CV when you’ve never had a job before? This is when things like work experience and volunteering really come into their own.

If you’ve never written a CV before or you have but want to make sure you’re on the right track, have a look at our first CV template and our tips on how to write one to get you started. 

It’s also worth checking out our CV dos and don’ts to make sure that you’re not making any of these common mistakes.

8. Tailor your covering letter to the role

A lot of people put loads of effort into their CV, then fall down on their covering letter. A covering letter is just as important as the CV because it’s where you tell employers exactly why you’re perfect for their job.

Imagine you work for the company that you’re applying for and you’re working your way through 300 job applications. You’ve got one covering letter that is a few sentences long and has some typos in it, and you’ve got another one, which is enthusiastic, well thought out and written.

Which one is going to get your attention? It doesn’t matter how good the first person’s CV is if they can’t be bothered to put the effort into their covering letter.

Avoid this problem by engaging with the job at every stage. Your covering letter must outline what drew you to the vacancy and why you are a good fit and how your skills match the points in the job description. It must also give a sense of what you can bring to the role that other candidates can't.

Keep it punchy too. Unless you have a very good reason, a covering letter should always fit on one side of A4. Be honest as well. You will be asked about some of the points you make in your cover letter if you get through to interview.

Finally, make sure you cover the basics. Your covering letter is a letter, so make sure it fits the bill (think back to English class). Try to find out the name of the person reviewing applications so you can address it to them personally.

Find out how to write a good covering letter here.

9. Ace your job interview

Photo of someone being interviewedYay! You’ve submitted your top notch CV and covering letter and it’s done the trick – you get a call to say you’ve been shortlisted for an interview.

Firstly, don’t panic! Yes, interviews can be scary but with a bit of prep, they’re nothing to fear. Knowledge is power, so do some research on the company to find out as much about them as possible. 

Doing your homework will really pay off in the interview because it’ll show your potential new boss that you care about, and are interested in, the company.

At the end of the interview you’ll probably be asked if you have any questions so make sure you have some prepared - ask any boss and they’ll tell you that one of their pet peeves is people who don’t ask any questions in an interview. 

Plan your route to the interview and leave plenty of time so that you’re not late, or arriving a hot, sweaty, stressed out mess.

For more tips, read our advice on how to succeed in job interviews and keep our checklist of job interview dos and don’ts handy. And why not finish up with these great tips just to really make sure you clinch it?

10. Don’t give up

Getting rejection letters – or worse still, no response at all – can be really soul destroying. But don’t get disheartened because it happens to everybody.

The important thing is to dust yourself off, stay positive, and keep trying. It may not happen today, tomorrow, next week or next month but you’ll get your first job and it’ll be worth the wait.

And to cheer you up in the meantime, here are 15 people who failed before becoming famous. We hope that with our advice you're a lot clearer on how to get a job. Good luck!

Quick resources

Use these resources provide for specific guidance on how to get a job:

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