Three blue blocks in a sky connected by ladders with one person on each, symbolising early-stage workers climbing a career ladder.
Image: © Nuthawut/

Top tips for early-stage workers to land their first job

30 Aug 2023

Hays’ James Milligan shares his expert advice on how those with less professional experience can shine when stepping onto the career ladder.

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When you’re just putting your foot onto the career ladder, it can be hard to know where to start. You likely have very little professional experience to add to your CV and therefore, it may be harder for you to show off your skills.

One thing to bear in mind is that there are plenty of companies on the lookout for early-stage talent and graduates through internships, scholarships and other such programmes, which expect you to have less experienced than those further up the ladder.

Still, you may wonder how exactly you can stand out from an ocean of other similar candidates at the same stage in their career. To find out, we spoke to Hays’ James Milligan to get some advice on how best to approach the job search, the CV and the job interview.

Application process

“Do your research around the type of organisation that you want to work with,” he said. “Some people have a very clear idea of who they want to work for and what they want to do, and some people don’t.”

However, it is the ones who are unsure as they enter the job search that are more susceptible to being passed over because knowing what you want will make it easier to prove why you want a particular role, and that goes for CVs and cover letters and your interview.

“One of the things that happens, I’ve seen this time and time again, is when people have a conversation around why they want to work for an organisation or why they want to work in the sector, they just say, ‘I’ve applied everywhere’. But that’s the worst possible answer you can give.”

In order to avoid this mistake, Milligan said early-stage workers need to define what they want to do before applying for any jobs. Start with the sector you want to work in, the role you want or the type of work you want to do. When you’ve done that, you can start looking at roles through the lens of your newly made list and suddenly, you’ll have a much clearer idea of why you’re applying for each one and will be able to communicate that better in your application.

With this in mind, the second step will be to tailor your CV to each role. “When you get to the application stage where you’re going to send the CV, there may be some degree of additional screening that’s likely to be done via automation these days,” he said. “If you don’t put the right inputs into that with your CV, you’ll immediately be screened out before you even get the chance to speak to a human being.”

Interview stage

Once your application has passed those initial barriers, you will likely get a screening call to begin with. This will most likely be someone who works in talent attraction, internal recruitment or the culture team who will ask general questions such as why you want to work at that organisation, what your ambitions are, what attracts you to the role and other similar questions. This is where knowing why you chose to apply for this particular role will be vital.

“It’s almost like the pre-screen phase that somebody’s likely to run before putting you into a more formalised recruitment process,” said Milligan, adding that doing your research and keeping a record of who you applied to and what you said is really important to ensure you remain consistent.

Once you move onto the formal process, you will likely be asked about your more specific skills, including technical abilities for tech-related roles. While this process can vary greatly between organisations and programmes, it may include an assessment centre to help suss out your strengths, such as technical tasks, ability to work as part of a group or communication skills.

“The reason why people run assessments like this is to see how an individual performs in an environment. Now, organisations are becoming more flexible in their recruitment process, so different parts of assessments don’t necessarily suit all different types of people [and] organisations are more cognisant of that now.”

Showing off your skills

While you may not have a list of jobs to add to your CV, you will likely have other ways of showcasing your skills. “Looking at what you have done and what you can do to add value beyond your academic experience is really important,” said Milligan.

“Internships are one key thing, if you’re a hobbyist or you’ve done work, let’s say you’re a coder or you’ve been involved in hackathons or you’ve done coding challenges, or you’ve built some projects, all of that is invaluable during that process because it shows an interest and a propensity and a way to demonstrate the skills that are required.”

Another way to show skills, is any work for a charity, a sports club or other such extracurricular activities. For undergraduates applying for graduate programmes, your degree is likely to do the work around your technical abilities, but it is these extra hobbies and other work you may have done that will set you apart. For the interview itself, you will likely be asked competency-based questions, which means you should get acquainted with the STAR method for answering these.

Assess your options

Milligan said it’s important to also remember that an interview is a two-way process, and it’s important to also ask your own questions to figure out if the role is the right fit for you.

“The objective of going for an interview is not to take that job. The objective of the interview is to get a job offer so that you can evaluate what’s the best fit for you moving forward, and if you have multiple job offers, then you have decisions that you can make off the back of it,” he said.

“I’d always say to somebody, go into the interview process, even if you feel as though it’s your second or third option. You need to go into every interview process with the objective of getting a job offer. It may be that actually as you go through the process, you’ve learned something can become your preferred organisation.”

The most important thing early-stage workers should remember is that it’s good to create options for yourself rather than put all your eggs in one basket.

“I’ve seen it so many times, where people don’t get the job they wanted but they end up in the job they were meant to be in, and they love it.”

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Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the editor of Silicon Republic in 2023, having worked as the deputy editor since February 2020. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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