Over the years we have spoken to hundreds, if not thousands, of graduates looking for meaningful employment. Listening to their experiences has been a reminder that getting employed is definitely not all about qualifications!! Sadly it seems that things are not really improving; degree or not, the majority of young people coming out of education are struggling to find career opportunities that enable them to realise their potential.

These conversations inspired one of the team, James Mills, to share his experience of finding a job when he moved to London back in 2005. Although at the time he was a fairly recent graduate, the lessons contained within the story can be applied to any job search and certainly have helped to support others in securing new roles.

Today is Part 1 of James’ story where he shares the frustrations he faced in his job search along with his drive and determination to overcome them. Make sure you check out Part 2 to find out how speaking to 80 organisations in 2 weeks worked out for him!

At the bottom of the article is an explanation of the two key lessons to be learnt for graduates and any career professional;

  1. Qualifications, knowledge and experience alone are not enough!
  2. Bold decisions require a high level of commitment, research and planning.

Leaving Home to Find My Dream Job Part 1 – James Mills

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Struggling to Find a Job

I remember vividly sitting on the train leaving Waterloo after an intense day at an assessment centre and yet another rejection on the phone from a different assessment centre where I had given my all.

I felt an extreme sense of frustration, desperation and loss – topped off by lashings of sympathy from my family as I told them the news (and I really hated sympathy!). I was living back home in my hometown with my parents and felt like a complete failure. In spite of the fact I had invested thousands of pounds and several years of my life in my education, I couldn’t find a job that utilised the skills and knowledge that had cost me so much – I was starting to feel desperate.

I didn’t know what more I could do. I felt I was an honest and hardworking person with a degree from a top university, spoke a couple of foreign languages and had professional experience with respected companies in a variety of industries. On paper I felt I was extremely employable and I had a great CV, but the biggest drawback was not having a job with the sort of prospects and opportunities I was expecting in my career.

Something Had to Change – Starting With My Self-Belief

But I wasn’t sure quite what. Slowly but surely it felt like the dreams for my life I had been nurturing whilst at university were disappearing in a sea of frustration; setting up a foundation to develop leadership in young people, helping people understand the reality of living in the developing world, starting a family, perhaps even starting a business… these seemed like impossible aims when I couldn’t even convince one interviewer to invest their trust in me to be employed! It didn’t matter how qualified I was or even what experience I had; I lacked the confidence and self-belief to back myself. A lack of self-confidence had been something that had dogged me for my entire life and I found it rearing its ugly head again – one job rejection at a time.

But I was adamant that I would find meaningful work; I knew my dream job was out there, although I wasn’t sure what it was! I had read books and completed various exercises, personality tests etc, but they didn’t really help in terms of finding actual opportunities.

So I decided I needed to ask for help. A friend introduced me to a coach in training who helped me to become clearer on what I really wanted to do, even though I couldn’t find any immediate opportunities. Above all, our conversations were different to those with friends and family; focusing on what I really wanted rather than the disappointment and frustration – I felt I had someone who understood what was most important to me and was backing me to do something about it, rather than naively hoping someone would just give me an opportunity.

A Creative Approach To Jobhunting: The 80-1 Shot Challenge!

With this extra support I made the bold decision to move to London without a job – enough was enough! I set myself a challenge named the 80-1 Shot Challenge (speaking to 80 organisations in 2 weeks to find a dream job), I found new accommodation and quit my old job!

My dad asked me what would happen if I ran out of money and I said that I would probably just move back! But I had decided I was going to make this work. In preparation I attended a youth leadership programme which helped to rebuild much of the confidence I had lost over the past year; reconnecting with my values and the positive difference I wanted to make as well as making some useful contacts in London. I also emailed my entire network about my challenge – asking for people and organisations I should speak to.

I received a range of responses – some were as excited about the idea as I was and offered help, whilst others either didn’t reply or gave a sceptical response. So with renewed confidence, a sense of hope, a clear vision and some supportive people to help, I pulled together my life savings to last me two months in London, packed my bags and embarked on my new adventure….

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What Did I Learn From My (Frustrating) Job Search? 🙂

By James Mills, Associate Partner & Mentorship Coach, Lighthouse International 

1. Qualifications, Knowledge & Experience Alone Are Not Enough!

This very much goes against what we have been taught growing up. Many people talk about the importance of a CV to find a job, but the reality is that organisations employ people – not pieces of paper! The main reasons for my struggles were my lack of clarity on what I wanted to do and a lack of self-belief to present myself in a way that employers could feel comfortable in employing me. Many people overlook these ‘personal skills’ when preparing to get a job because we typically aren’t taught just how important they are beyond the odd comments you hear about needing to have a ‘well-rounded CV’! I also learnt that when I started to build a support network that things started to change – involving others in my job-hunt proved to be a catalytic turning point.

2. Bold Decisions Require a High Level of Commitment, Research and Planning…

Making the decision to invest everything into the move to London wasn’t made on a whim – there was a decent amount of reflective work where I wanted to take control of my life, creating a vision for what I wanted, developing a strategy to really get myself out there in a differentiated way whilst also building my confidence to follow through. This was especially important given the amount of setbacks I had encountered. Consistent disappointment was the price I had paid for not being clear on what I wanted and for not investing in my ability to build the right relationships. What I did was invest time, money and effort into discovering what it was I wanted to do rather than expecting opportunities to just fall on my lap. I had a deluded sense of entitlement that was sabotaging my efforts to make any meaningful progress and stepping out of my dependent attitude was key to making a positive stride forward. Challenging this story I was telling myself was key to the start of making this breakthrough!

Click here to read part 2 of James’s story…