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How to stand out from the crowd

Sarah Moyne

Sr. Career Development Consultant at the University of Auckland
Feeling uncomfortable about self-promotion? Fear not. Senior Careers Development Consultant Sarah Moyne from the University of Auckland lends a hand.
A professional in a suite

What made you want to become a career advisor? 

I originally got into this line of work pretty randomly, to be honest - I didn’t even know this job existed when I was at University! After I graduated, I was looking through job ads and saw one asking for a ‘Positive, proactive people person’ to help support people and thought, ‘That sounds like me’ and it turned out to be a trainee role for a job coaching company and I’ve been in career development roles ever since.

How did you get to your current position and how long have you occupied it? 

I’ve been in the Career Development & Employability Services (CDES) team for 5 years now. Finding out about this job was a good example of the power of networks and building a professional reputation.  I worked together with my current Manager on a project role in my last organisation, before she moved to the University of Auckland. She forwarded me the job description for this role when it came up, and I was really keen to apply. Although I still had to go through the full recruitment process, I think it really gave me a competitive advantage that she’d already seen me in action and knew what I was capable of!

What does your work involve day-to-day? 

In a nutshell, I help students (from first year onwards) to figure out where they would like to take their qualification, and work out an action plan to build their confidence (and employability) alongside their studies. I love the variety in my work; group facilitation, one to one appointments, creating resources, researching the future of work and building connections with staff and students. I’m also responsible for contributing to some of the bigger-picture strategy for our team and workload scheduling. But it’s the people stuff that I really love!

Advice for students and graduates

How do I know what qualifications or experience looks good to an employer?

Short answer: It’s not IF your qualification or experience is valuable, it’s HOW

Long answer: Rather than looking for a particular qualification or experience, many employers at the graduate/entry-level of the job market are looking to answer three fundamental questions:

  1. Can you do the job (or can we teach you to do the job),
  2. Will you do the job (what’s your attitude and work ethic like) and
  3. Do we want to do the job with you (how well will you get on with the people in our team / organisation / our clients). If you know what they need and can articulate how your qualifications and experience will help to meet that need, you’re on the right track. 

“How?” I hear you ask…

  1. Do your homework first;  find out who they are and what’s important to them.  What do they do, why and how they do it, what sort of person they’re looking for (hint; you can find out a lot of this stuff from their website, a job ad and following them on LinkedIn & Facebook)
  2. Evaluate your qualification and experience – remember it’s not just what you’re learning (course content), it’s how (skills / capabilities developed). 
  3. Get clear on the skills you’re gaining through your study and your experience (think ‘skills and achievements’ versus ‘tasks and duties’ if that helps). 

What are some reliable ways to sell yourself to an employer?

Once you know who THEY are and what’s important to them – it’ll be far easier to identify the key things you have to offer (skills, personal qualities, experience from part-time or volunteer / community involvement, knowledge), that can contribute to what they are trying to achieve in their organisation or work. Make sure you have an example or two to back up each of your key selling points – if you can’t prove what you’re capable of, then how can it be a key selling point? This can be one of the trickiest parts of the job-hunting process, but your Uni careers team can definitely help you with it.

Sarah Moyne (left) facilitating a skills workshop at the University of Auckland.

What are some little-known or ‘bold’ ways to stand out from the crowd?

The best way to stand OUT is to stand UP – step away from the online space and make a personal connection. We tend to try and do most of our job searching online – and even questions or approaches to employers are often through email or text. If you really do want to be different from the crowd of graduates – pick up the phone and speak to employers. Even better, take advantage of the many employer networking opportunities on-campus and rock up in (well-dressed) person! 

I know, I know, it’s way outside peoples’ comfort zones. But here’s the thing about most humans: they find it FAR harder to ignore a person than a piece of paper (or email). So gather your courage, ask a friend (or career professional) to help you put together a script for what you want to say and use that ‘in-person’ bias to your advantage. The very least you’ll get from being brave is an increased confidence in talking to other people (handy skill for any workplace) and a connection you can then carry on through LinkedIn or email.

What are some common mistakes new students and graduates make when it comes to selling themselves?

I think the biggest mistake is believing that ‘selling yourself’ equals ‘boasting’ (maximum cringe factor for most people). In fact, stop worrying about trying to sell yourself altogether! 

Instead:

  1. get clear for yourself on how/where you think you can contribute to their mahi and purpose. 
  2. think of a couple of clear examples of when you’ve demonstrated that capability or attitude (i.e. ‘prove it’).

This way, rather than trying to sell yourself, you switch to just honestly communicating how you can contribute to what their team / organisation is trying to achieve. It tends to result in a more genuine communication

Is there a good way to approach the salary question?

Where possible, it’s good to do some research first and try to get an idea of an average salary for the type of role you are going for. Some job descriptions will have a salary range, but not all.

Salary may not be discussed in a first interview.  Often employers will wait to find out whether you would be a good match for the job / team / organisation before they think about whether they can afford you! If they do ask about your salary expectations, you could pass it back to them by saying something like ‘what sort of salary range have you budgeted for this role?’

If salary is going to be an absolute deal-breaker for you, you may want to call up before applying and ask about the salary range for the role – but be aware that you’re bargaining position is likely to be stronger at a job offer stage, once an employer has already decided that they want you.

One last point to keep in mind: salary is usually part of a wider remuneration package; there are often other insurance, health and training benefits that can make for a really great package overall – so make sure you have the full picture.

Are there any commonly held myths you see circulated about selling yourself that aren’t true?

The belief that selling yourself effectively, is all about boasting as opposed to genuinely communicating how you could be the solution to an employer’s recruitment problem.  See key points in the ‘common mistakes’ answer above!

Aside from being offered the job, how can you tell you’ve sold yourself well?

It depends on the situation really and whether you’re selling yourself on paper (CV / cover letter), online (LinkedIn) or in person (networking, interviews). 

A good interview should feel more like a conversation than a question and answer session.  If you go away feeling like you’ve connected well to the other person, you understand more about them, and they understand more about you, chances are it’s gone well.

To be honest, though, a pretty good indicator of whether you’ve sold yourself well is the reactions you get – either a call for interview, connection on LinkedIn or a job offer!

A word to the wise...

  1. Rejection is a sucky – and completely normal – part of graduate job search. I know it feels like EVERYONE BUT ME HAS GOT AN AWESOME GRAD ROLE ALREADY AND I’M NEVER GOING TO GET ANYTHING ARRRGH WHY IS ADULTING SO HARD – but the truth is, the average time to find a role after graduation is around 6months. This means that most students have to dig deep and find their resilience (it’s in there I promise, otherwise you wouldn’t have made it through all of those hellish exams and assignments). If you’d rather shorten the process, ask for help! Career professionals, friends, family. This is NOT a process you have to try and do alone (unlike those hellish exams and assignments) and in fact, you are much more likely to succeed when you reach out to support networks.
  2. Start early:  there are heaps of opportunities to find out more about different sectors and roles, both on and off-campus. Building connections as early as first year, when you’re doing career research, means you have a good network to reach out to when it’s go-time and you’re actively looking for a grad role.
  3. Get proactive and build experience: that could be through part-time work, internships (international and domestic), volunteer work or even going into a job and work shadowing for a day.