Applying for a graduate job can seem like a largely technical exercise, especially when your first challenge is often to get past an applicant tracking system. You’ve already found plenty of advice, some of it contradictory, on which skills and experience to highlight, and how to write a graduate CV for each graduate job you apply for. But there’s room for your personality, too! The strongest applications give graduate employers a sense not just of what you can do, but how you’ll fit in with the rest of the team.
Some roles are highly personality-driven—sales positions tend to benefit from a certain outgoingness—while others welcome a range of personalities. Every hiring manager, though, has at least a general sense of the sorts of people who’d fit in best. When you let a bit of your personality shine through, you help the right hiring managers make the right choice. Let’s look at four ways to add just the right personal touches to your application and interview.
1. Include your interests and activities in your CV
Your CV should be clear and swiftly written, but it can still highlight aspects of your personality that might appeal to the right graduate employer. As a recent graduate, your interests and hobbies are necessarily a big part of your history as an adult, and it’s entirely appropriate to list them. Even if your hobbies have little to do with your academic training and professional interests, they can make a positive impression. Think about it: if one applicant for a programming job listed coding as a hobby and another listed boxing, who would you secretly be more interested in interviewing?
If you were involved in any societies at university, go ahead and list them—even if you chose them because they had nothing to do with your course of study, and even if you didn’t have a leadership role. They won’t detract from the seriousness of your CV. Rather, they’ll show that you can collaborate with others in a wide variety of circumstances. Every job benefits from nicely developed social skills and communication habits, and membership in extracurricular organisations suggests that you’ve got those qualities.
2. Be ready to discuss things that don’t appear on your CV
When you land an interview, remember that this is your opportunity to go beyond your CV. Sometimes that means digging a little deeper and discussing how you used your skills on the job, or how your academic work helped you overcome obstacles. But the bulk of many interviews is devoted to getting to know you better.
Well-rounded candidates tend to be better problem-solvers, so be ready to go off-script and describe a few hobbies and activities that your interviewer doesn’t know about. These needn’t be all that impressive. To flip our earlier example on its head, imagine a candidate who says ‘I thought I’d hate boxing, but I gave it a try and…I hated it. Tried my best, but I was just rubbish.’ Out of next to nothing, our candidate has produced a little anecdote that shows their sense of humour and willingness to try new things, even when they’re not entirely comfortable with the idea. Which is exactly the kind of candidate most interviewers want to hire.
3. Show your enthusiasm
Most questions you’ll be asked on applications or in interviews can be competently answered with a handful of words. To really shine, though, you’ll need to elaborate on your answers, especially when they touch on topics that are of genuine personal interest to you.
You can add a little of yourself to the most straightforward answers. When you’re asked whether you’ve ever had to use a particular characteristic on the job (leadership or teamwork, for example), don’t wait for the interviewer to ask for more than just ‘yes’. One good way to structure your elaboration, and to keep it succinct, is to use the STAR technique: describe the Situation, the Task assigned to you, the Actions you took to fulfil it, and the Results of your brilliant work. Keep it brief, and let your interviewers follow up with further questions if they wish.
4. Consider a test run. Or five…
A bit of nervous excitement can help you bring your best to an interview, but unchecked nerves can keep you from showing interviewers who you really are. Most people benefit from a bit of practice before an interview. Draw up a dozen or so interview questions you’ll face early and often and have a friend, relative or mentor put you through your paces. Be sure to include a healthy number of questions about yourself away from work. Take notes on what you considered to be your strong and weak points, and ask your questioner for their opinion. If you feel your performance is still a bit rough after a few rounds of practice, you might consider formal interview training by a mentor. Practising with a mentor that is within your chosen industry can really benefit you as they are an expert in that field and will know exactly what aspects of your personality will need to shine through to be successful and give you helpful tips on how to do so!
Your personality won’t just help you land any old graduate job—it can help you find a graduate job that’s a particularly good fit for you. The more graduate employers know about how you think, how you relate to others, and how you carry yourself in various situations, the better they’ll be able to gauge your suitability for the role you’ve applied for.
Best of luck!