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How to get a graduate job in New Zealand

James Davis

Careers Commentator
Getting a grad job can be rough, no matter where you are or how great your resume. Fortunately, there’s some good advice to remedy that.

You’ve likely done the hard yards. You’re either most of the way through your degree or completely finished and your CV’s looking sharper than blue cheese. What you need to do next requires a bit of finesse via:

  • Careful targeting
  • Arranging your CV objectively
  • Goal-oriented cover letters
  • Adequate job interview preparation

These are by no means the full breadth of activities you can take part in to improve your employment prospects, but are certainly large contributing factors. Let’s get right into it.

Careful targeting - what does that mean?

A lot of graduates like to ‘scatter-shot’ their CVs with generic cover letters attached. The purpose of this is to hit as many employers as possible to maximise their chances of success. The issue with this is no employer wants a half-baked application. They want to see effort and interest potentially indicative of your future performance. Basically, it’s better to put in ten well-crafted applications to employers carefully chosen than it is to send hundreds to everyone.

So how do you ‘target’ employers? Simply put, by doing your homework. Learning about a company’s recent projects, past achievements or current goals is a surefire way to understand whether or not your interests and skills are suited. A company you can get excited about is one you can more easily apply and work for. It gives you more to talk about and relate directly to you and the value you can provide to their clients, customers or processes. If you’re an environmental lawyer, you’re going to struggle applying for that coal-happy megacorp. Why even bother applying? That’s time you could be spending on another, better application.

Go through the following checklist to see if the corporations you’re looking at are worth your time. If you answer ‘yes’ to all of these, you’ve got yourself a good target for an application.

  • Do I understand to the best of my ability what this corporation does and aspires to be?
  • Am I passionate about what they’re doing?
  • Do I have most or all skills required for any of their open positions?
  • Can I prove with experiences or projects that I have most or all skills required?

Once you’ve found a handful of choice employers, you’re ready to start thinking about next steps.

Arranging your CV

This is likely the easiest step, as your achievements ought to be laid out factually and consistently. Anything that may attest to your abilities in a given area can be put here in chronological order, from university club activities to events, competitions or workshops you’ve participated in. Just about any sort of work experience is valuable too, regardless of what it is. Being able to commit to a schedule is an all-too uncommon skill that all employers want to see. If you’ve got a job, you likely know how to manage your time. A CV is designed to be a fairly comprehensive insight into your work history, so putting all of it on there’s the right call.

One thing you may be tempted to do is embellish or use overly descriptive language. There’s time for that in the cover letter and interview, but now is the time for showing off what you’ve done. It’s OK to state what you achieved throughout these experiences, or perhaps the skills or duties you were required to observe, provided there’s little embellishment.

Example of a good CV entry:

December 2018 - February 2019

XYZ Accounting - Intern

Performed research, reconciled accounts, worked with bookkeeping software and worked with teams to analyse data, track information and support clients.

This is good because it describes exactly what you did and why you did it without going off the rails with flowery descriptors. Says exactly what it needs to, nothing more.

Bad CV entry:

December 2018 - February 2019

XYZ Accounting - Intern

My research was invaluable to the organisation. Expert understanding of bookkeeping software. Used excellent teamwork skills and an affinity for data to meet client needs.

Even far less cocky versions of this aren’t a good idea. Try to communicate what you did with as little bias as possible instead. Profess your virtues later! Perhaps when you’re twenty years into your career you can get away with this sort of thing, but even then, it’s safer to just let your achievements do the talking.

You can also include a dot-point list of key responsibilities after this blurb, or in substitute for one. This is a great way to objectively lay out your duties. So long as you understand the purpose of your CV, this format decision comes down to personal preference.

Goal-oriented cover letters

What you’re looking to do here is talk about why you’re great for the job, but you still don’t want to go too wild with your language. You can do this by checking out our guide to great cover letters. If you don’t feel like clicking away, here’s the gist:

  • Make them nice and concise.
  • Get straight to why you’re well suited to each key requirement of the job.
  • Clear structure.

It’s tempting to dismiss the term ‘goal-oriented’ as a vapid buzzword, but in this context it refers to adherence to a purpose. If your firm of choice requires critical thinkers, team players and successful time managers, your cover letter will list why you have those qualities in the order presented, even if it means a dot-point list of one-sentence justifications. The goal you’re oriented towards is appeasing job requirements. No more, no less.

Job interview preparation

You’ve sent in your application and now they want to interview you. Well done! There are a couple things you can do to make a good impression while still accurately portraying who you are.

  • Dress appropriately. We’ve actually written an article about this here.
  • Learn about the company you’re interviewing for.
    • What have been their recent achievements?
    • Which achievements have taken your interest?
    • What are some of the most interesting aspects of this company in your opinion?
  • It’s not an interrogation, so try to have some insightful questions lined up to make it a two-way conversation.

You should now have a much better understanding of what getting a graduate job in New Zealand entails, although if you wish to work in Australia or other countries, these should still serve you well. If you can target potential employers effectively, assemble a detailed CV, write a concise cover letter and perform well in an interview, you can go far. No matter where you take these skills next, we wish you well!