Help desk: work dilemmas solved by experts

No one will interview me
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I graduated in 1995 with a 2:1 in Business and Economics. After a year out temping, I was offered a job as a research associate to one of my former tutors. He was beginning a project on market aspects of Third World Debt. I was also registered as a PhD student.

However, due to lack of funding, the project was abandoned after six months. In the following year I attempted to use that experience to start a career in emerging markets with a bank or other financial institutions. To this aim I sent out over 600 letters, but only got one interview.

I have tried changing my CV format but to no avail. I am 26 and feel that my academic qualifications, knowledge and skills I have acquired equip me for any graduate training programme, although I am starting to worry about my age.

Ann Peach, Campus Recruiting Director, Barclays Plc:

Don't get over-concerned about your age. The demographics of the graduate population have changed dramatically over the past years, and as a result the pattern of when graduates apply to businesses has changed. Employers are increasingly looking at graduates who may have taken between 1 and 3 years off before starting work, and are much more understanding about `older' first-time hires, providing the individual has used the intervening time productively.

In order to establish a foothold with potential employers, it is important to distinguish yourself from the other applications which employers receive. Barclays, for example, receives between 10,000 and 15,000 applications per year. Try to build a network through individuals who already work for the company to whom you are applying, in order to get a speculative interview with a manager within the business. If all goes well, the manager will then recommend you to the Campus Recruiting team for inclusion in the assessment centre process for the graduate training program.

Another valuable way of getting a foot in the door is by offering yourself for an internship with the company. (In the past, potential hires have even offered to do this for free!) This is a great way to established credibility with a potential employer so that they understand your skill base. As employers, we regard the internship as a two-three month interview, and the intern consequently has a much better chance of securing a full- time position over the unknown quantity - the raw graduate from the external market.

Charlotte Scott Beveridge, Head of Middlesex University Careers Services:

The impression you give is that you are not clear or focused about your career aims. I suggest you visit a university careers service where you can get detailed information about the careers that might suit you. It is important that you research these and try to get some work experience in your area of interest.

Before applying for a particular post, gather as much information as you can about the organisation and the position. When applying or sending a speculative application, it is important that your CV and covering letter is specifically targeted to the post and organisation for which you are applying. You need to demonstrate in a positive way how your skills and qualifications will be an ideal match for both the post and the company.

Once you have identified your career interests, you will want to apply for graduate training programmes within those sectors but also any job that will start you off and give you the necessary experience to move on within that sector.

Simona Tappi, Associate at Search & Selection, Herst Austin Rowley, part the HW Group:

You have clearly made a huge effort to contact a large number of companies, however, you have not been using your resources to best effect. Instead of sending out CV's on a purely speculative basis, you should identify recruitment firms who specialise in the Financial Services sector. By registering with them you will be able to explain exactly what you are looking for and receive expert advice. The consultants will assist you in preparing a strong CV which they will then be able to put forward to potential employers who are actively looking for people with your skills. This will drastically improve your strike rate from one interview in every 600 letters.

Compiled by Carmen Fielding

If you have a work problem and want expert advice, write to Carmen Fielding, Fast Track, Features, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL; fax 0171-293 2182; e-mail