Alumni advice: Don’t you…forget about me

10 years ago, I had just left school, started college and found  a part time job (fairly easily) that I could work around my studies. Halfway through my course I decided I no longer enjoyed my part time job and left, I found another one within a week that also easily fitted around my studies. After finishing college I found a full time job as I no longer lived with parents; after 3 years I left that employment and again had found another job within a month. My CV ten years ago was written in half an hour, I hadn’t even attempted a cover letter that was more than “Hi here’s my CV” and in the time between finishing school and beginning University, it never changed.

Today, I have just completed my degree and been accepted for an MA. I have 3 years of volunteering experience, 7 years of workplace experience, additional qualifications and I am finding it harder now to obtain employment than when I left school.

I am over qualified for the menial jobs and inexperienced in the roles I am qualified for. The world of employment has changed dramatically in a decade. It is no longer possible to leave employment with even mild reassurance that you will find another job, and degrees have become so commonplace that without an extremely high grade, volunteering, work experience and virtually everything else except the kitchen sink, you struggle to pass the first two obstacles; Cover Letter and CV.

So how do you get a job today?

Cover Letter

The cover letter has to stand out as well. Many employment websites now tell you the number of other applicants, usually 100+, which can mean anything up to the thousands! The reality is that there simply isn’t time to read through that many CVs word for word. Some companies don’t open the CV if the cover letter isn’t great.

You have to think of the cover letter as a work of literary art in itself. It can’t just be a list of achievements and it cannot be generic, it has to be tailored to each specific job, and it has to have personality yet still remain professional. Cover letters are often overlooked and become a last minute attempt when applying. It is important to dedicate some time to writing a good cover letter, write it, leave it, go back and re-read it, then amend it. Then get someone to proof read it. Remember the Cover Letter is your first impression.

When writing and amending consider the writing rules of George Orwell

  • Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  • If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  • Never use the passive voice (e.g. “Bones are liked by dogs”) where you can use the active voice (“Dogs like bones”).
  • Never use jargon if you can think of an everyday equivalent.

If you really struggle with Cover Letters then look at websites that offer templates and advice. About Careers provides information on Cover Letters, examples of different kinds and templates for writing one.


The next way to stand out is with your CV, and volunteering has become an expected part of a resume. A good idea with volunteering is to think outside of the box. Yes, it is important to have volunteering relevant to the career and job you want, but other volunteer opportunities can give you transferrable skills and credibility that sets you apart from other applicants.

Charity: Many big companies are becoming hugely involved in charity, with employees and senior staff taking part in fundraisers, charity runs, events, bike rides etc. By becoming involved with a charity or organisation either with participation in events (like a 5k run) or organisation (bake sale, helping at an event) it shows personal attributes to an employer that can benefit the company.

Transferrable Skills: First Aid courses can be self-funded and can be completed within a week, although they can be pricey so consider how beneficial it will be beforehand. Short courses in most subjects and skill enhancement are available through Medway Council and various other local councils for a smaller fee than through a University or Home Learning organisation, and some are available free of charge. These courses include subject specific qualifications such as Floristry, Beauty or Accountancy to general certificates of competency in transferrable skills such as IT, administration and employment skills, and these can show a company a commitment to continued self-development and self-motivation. They can also fill a period of time between employments to help mask gaps in a C.V. Becoming familiar with computer software like Microsoft packages (Office, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, and Publisher), Photoshop, InDesign, CAD, Sage Payroll is something you can do at home in your own time and will give you extra skills and knowledge.

Languages: Languages are a coveted skill and can be self-taught through discs or online, if you can demonstrate a fluency in a language, a formal qualification normally won’t be needed. However qualifications are available and local councils offer short courses and certifications at different levels. Again consider how beneficial an additional language. View the courses available through Medway Council.

Cover Letters and CVs have to adapt and change as you do. They are works in progress and always subject to improvement, whether that is by adding or by amending. Every opportunity I can find to improve my CV I jump on, every second of time between opportunities I fill with engaging a new skill. Re-evaluating my current CV, looking for ways to enhance or highlight skills. Comparing my resume to job applications, to see if I have matched the required criteria, what I have left out and what can be cut out.

Unemployment is not about waiting for an opportunity it is about making an opportunity happen and having a resume that cannot be forgotten is the first step to making that happen.

– Emma Whyman graduated from University of Kent with a BA Honours Fine Art, is about to begin an MA History and Philosophy of Art and has just begun working as part of the Customer Service team for Tesco.


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