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How Do I Get My First Job? – A UK Guide

How Do I Get My First Job

Embarking on your career journey, especially when seeking that pivotal first job, can be both exhilarating and daunting. With many opportunities available and equally numerous paths to tread, it’s natural to feel a mix of anticipation and anxiety. This guide aims to be your compass in this venture, offering tailored insights into the UK job market. From honing your CV to networking strategies, from understanding apprenticeships to handling rejection, we’ve encapsulated essential advice to equip you for success. Whether you’re a recent graduate, an international job seeker, or someone looking to pivot into a new field, this guide is designed to light your path. Dive in, and take your first steps towards a fulfilling career in the UK.

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Highlights And Key Takeaways:

  1. Getting your first job is easier if your tailor your CV for the UK market and job description.
  2. It is vital to research industries and job roles.
  3. Volunteer workpart-time workinternships, and apprenticeships can lead to a real job.
  4. To get on the career ladder, it is crucial to utilise all job searching resources, from job boards to networking.

Preparing A CV And Cover Letter

Preparing A CV

In the quest for your first job in the UK, presenting yourself as the perfect candidate starts well before the interview. Your CV and cover letter are your first impressions, and as they say, “first impressions last.” Let’s dive into how to ensure yours stand out for all the right reasons.

Tailoring your CV for the UK Market

While it’s tempting to use a one-size-fits-all CV for multiple job applications, customising your CV for each specific role is essential. Recruiters often scan CVs for relevance to the job advertisement, searching for keywords and experiences that match the role. To boost your chances of passing this initial screening, review the job descriptions thoroughly. Highlight your skills, experiences, and qualifications that align with what they’re seeking. You can tailor an initial CV to a role by reviewing a job description template for your targeted job. You can find an example job description here for any 2,579 job titles in our database.

The Importance of a British-format CV

If you’re new to the UK job market, be aware that there’s a particular style and format recruiters expect. For instance, while some countries may include personal details like age and marital status, these are typically omitted in the UK. Furthermore, a British CV is often limited to two A4 pages. Prioritise clarity, brevity, and relevance. There are many CV templates and online resources available to help you craft a CV that meets UK standards.

Highlighting Transferable Skills and Non-traditional Experiences

Not all experiences come from a traditional 9-5 job. Perhaps you’ve volunteered abroad, or maybe you managed events at your university. These are all valuable in the eyes of an employer. Focus on the skills you’ve gained from these experiences, be it teamwork, leadership, or problem-solving. By showcasing these transferable skills, you present yourself as a well-rounded candidate.

Crafting a Standout Cover Letter

Your cover letter is not just a formality; it’s an opportunity. It gives you the space to tell a story that your CV can’t – why you’re not just suitable for the role, but the best candidate for it. Our top tips to write cover letters include:

  • Address the Employer Directly: Start by addressing the employer or Hiring Manager by name, if possible. It adds a personal touch and shows you’ve done your homework.
  • Make it Concise Yet Impactful: Remember, Hiring Managers sift through dozens, if not hundreds, of job applications. Keep your cover letter to the point, ideally within a page. Begin with a compelling opening that grabs attention, followed by why you’re a perfect fit for the role and the company. End with a strong closing statement, expressing your enthusiasm for a potential interview.

Researching Your Industry And Role

Researching Your Job Role

The job market is a vast and varied landscape, and to navigate it successfully, you need a clear roadmap. That roadmap is built on research. Understanding the industry you’re venturing into and the specifics of the role you’re targeting is paramount, not just for securing the job, but for excelling in it.

Deep Dive into the Industry

Before even considering a particular role, it’s essential to have a thorough understanding of the industry. Here’s how:

  • Industry Trends: Stay updated with the latest news, innovations, and shifts in your chosen sector. Websites, journals, blogs, and industry-specific magazines can be invaluable resources.
  • Key Players: Identify the leading companies in the industry. What are they known for? What’s their company culture? Understanding these aspects can help you tailor your application and align your aspirations.
  • Challenges and Opportunities: Every industry has its set of challenges and growth areas. Recognising these can give you talking points during interviews and can also help you identify areas for personal development.

Understanding the Role

Every job has its specifics, and while a job title might sound familiar, the responsibilities can vary significantly across companies and employers:

  • Job Descriptions: These are goldmines of information. Beyond just the listed responsibilities and job requirements, they offer insights into what the company values in a candidate. Highlight the recurring keywords or skills, and ensure you address these in your application.
  • Day-to-Day Reality: While job descriptions provide an overview, speaking to someone currently in the role can give you the day-to-day realities of the job. Platforms like LinkedIn can be great for this kind of networking.
  • Growth Prospects: Research where the role could potentially lead. Is there a clear path for progression? Understanding this can not only help you make a long-term decision but also showcases your ambition and foresight in interviews.

To get on the right track with potential employers, you can research a specific profession by reviewing the:

If you still need further tips and guidance on determining a career path, we have the article for you. Read our blogs – How Do I Know What Job Is Right For Me? and What Job Can I Do With No Experience?

Setting Career Goals

A ship without a destination is merely tossed by the waves. In the same vein, a career without set goals can feel directionless. Setting career goals, both short-term and long-term, provides a roadmap for your professional journey.

Benefits of Short-term Goals:

  • Immediate Focus: These are usually achievable within a year or two and offer immediate targets to work towards. Whether it’s mastering new software, expanding your network, or securing a junior role with your ideal employer, these goals keep you engaged and motivated.
  • Building Blocks: Every achieved short-term goal becomes a stepping stone to more significant aspirations. They provide tangible milestones that chart your progress.

Benefits of Long-term Goals:

  • Clear Direction: These goals, often spanning several years or even a decade, give your career a clear direction. Be it reaching a managerial position, leading a project, or even transitioning to a different sector, they act as your North Star.
  • Informed Decision Making: With clear long-term goals, you can make informed choices that align with your vision. Whether it’s further education, a job change, or a relocation, every decision becomes strategic.

In essence, setting career goals transforms your professional journey from a series of random events to a purposeful and strategic path. It instills a sense of purpose, drives motivation, and most importantly, offers a clear vision of what you aspire to achieve.

Gaining Relevant Experience And Transferable Skills

Entering the job market armed with a degree is good, but coupling it with relevant experience and a suite of transferable skills makes you stand out.

Relevant Experience:

  • Internships and Work Placements: These offer a taste of the professional world, allowing you to apply academic knowledge in real-world scenarios. They also offer networking opportunities and often act as a foot in the door to potential full-time roles.
  • Freelance Projects: For many roles, especially in the creative and tech industries, freelancing can be a way to build a portfolio, earn while you learn, and gain hands-on experience.
  • Volunteering Experience: Beyond just the goodwill, volunteering can offer experience, especially for roles in sectors like social work, community engagement, and environmental projects.

Transferable Skills:

  • Soft Skills: Skills like communication, teamwork, problem-solving, and adaptability are valuable across employment industries. They can be honed through various experiences, from group university projects to part-time roles in unrelated sectors.
  • Digital Proficiency: In an increasingly digital world, skills like familiarity with basic software, digital communication tools, and even data analysis can set you apart, irrespective of your core role.
  • Multitasking and Time Management: These skills, often developed in high-pressure academic settings or part-time jobs, are invaluable in the professional world and contribute towards you being seen as a good fit.

Gathering relevant experiences and cultivating a range of transferable skills not only bolster your CV and add to your work history, but also prepare you for the multifaceted challenges of the professional world. It’s about building a holistic profile that demonstrates to organisation, both your expertise and your adaptability.

Understanding Apprenticeships

Understanding Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships provide a unique blend of hands-on work experience and formal learning, allowing you to earn while you learn. In the UK, apprenticeships are structured training programmes that span a variety of sectors, from engineering and finance to healthcare and digital media. They present an excellent alternative to traditional higher education routes, as they equip participants with industry-relevant skills and often lead to recognised qualifications. Additionally, apprenticeships are divided into different levels, catering to various educational backgrounds – from those leaving secondary school to individuals pursuing degree-level apprenticeships.

As an apprentice, you’ll be employed by a company and spend a significant portion of your time working alongside experienced professionals, gaining practical insights and honing your skills. The remainder of your time will be dedicated to formal education, usually at a college or training provider. This dual approach ensures that you’re well-prepared for the demands of the job market, armed with both the theoretical knowledge and the practical experience that employers value. Moreover, apprenticeships often lead to full-time employment with the training company, offering a seamless transition from education to a rewarding career.

Becoming A Trainee

Embarking on a trainee programme is often the first step into the professional world for many recent graduates or those transitioning industries. As a trainee, you’re introduced to the workings of a particular sector or role under the guidance of experienced mentors. These programmes are typically shorter than apprenticeships and may or may not come with a formal educational component. The primary focus is on gaining practical experience in a specific area, making them perfect for those who have a clear idea of their desired career path but lack the hands-on experience.

While traineeships might not always come with the promise of a qualification at the end, they are invaluable for networking, skill acquisition, and understanding the day-to-day operations of a particular role. Many companies view traineeships as a vetting process for potential future employees. Performing well during this period not only equips you with industry-specific insights but can also open doors to permanent positions within the organisation.

Finding Graduate Schemes

Graduate schemes are structured development programmes offered by many large employers to attract top talent fresh out of university. These schemes typically last between one to two years and offer a comprehensive introduction to the company and its various departments. Participants rotate through different roles or projects, gaining a holistic understanding of the business. These schemes are highly competitive, attracting candidates from various disciplines, and often conclude with the offer of a permanent position.

When searching for a graduate scheme, it’s essential to start early. Many companies open their application windows a year in advance, so researching potential employers and understanding their requirements should begin during your final year at university. Utilise university career services, attend job fairs, and network with industry professionals to identify opportunities. Additionally, crafting a standout application and preparing rigorously for assessment centres and interviews is crucial.

How To Start Searching

In today’s digital age, online job platforms have transformed the way we search for employment, offering a vast array of opportunities at our fingertips. For those seeking employment in the UK, several of the top UK job sites stand out due to their comprehensive listings and user-friendly interfaces:

  • Reed: One of the UK’s leading job sites, Reed offers thousands of vacancies across various sectors, from finance to creative fields.
  • TotalJobs: This platform provides a multitude of listings, alongside valuable resources like career advice and salary checker tools.
  • Jobsite: With its advanced job search tools, Jobsite assists job seekers in pinpointing roles that match their skills and experience.
  • Check-A-Salary: This site assists job seekers with free CV templates, salary data, career advice, and UK job listings.
  • Monster: Beyond job listings, Monster provides valuable insights into different industries and offers CV advice to job seekers.
  • Guardian Jobs: Aligned with the reputable Guardian newspaper, this site offers premium roles across various sectors, including non-profit and education.
  • CV Library: Hosting a vast database of CVs, employers often head to CV Library to scout potential candidates, making it essential for job seekers to create a profile here.
  • Jobs Today: Catering to local jobs across the UK, this platform is excellent for those looking for roles closer to home.
  • Fish4: This site offers a diverse range of job listings, from part-time roles to full-time career opportunities.
  • Indeed: With its global presence, Indeed offers a vast array of UK job listings and also aggregates job postings from other sites.

Are you wondering which channel is most popular for finding work? Read our latest blog – How Do People Find Work According To The ONS.

Networking To Build Connections

While digital job searches have their merits, the age-old adage “It’s not what you know, but who you know” still holds significance in the job market. Networking, both online and offline, can open doors to opportunities that might not be publicly advertised:

  • LinkedIn: This professional social networking site is a treasure trove for building connections. Regularly update your profile, engage with industry-relevant content, and connect with professionals in your desired field.
  • Professional Bodies: Joining professional organisations or industry-specific groups can offer access to exclusive networking events, seminars, and workshops.
  • Alumni Associations: Your university’s alumni network is a goldmine of connections. Attend reunions, utilise online platforms, and engage with former classmates who might be established in your desired industry.
  • Networking Events: Whether it’s industry-specific conferences, seminars, or informal meet-ups, attending these events can help you meet potential employers, mentors, or peers.
  • Informational Interviews: Reach out to business professionals in your field of interest and request short, informal interviews. This not only helps in understanding the industry better but also establishes connections.

The interview is your opportunity to shine, to bring your CV and job application to life, and to convince potential employers that you’re the right fit for their business. Proper preparation is crucial:

  • Research: Familiarise yourself with the company’s history, culture, products, and recent developments. Employers appreciate candidates who’ve done their homework.
  • Practise Common Interview Questions: While every interview is unique, there are typical interview questions that crop up frequently. Prepare your responses but ensure they sound natural, not rehearsed.
  • Dress the Part: Your attire should reflect the company culture and the role you’re applying for. When in doubt, it’s better to be slightly overdressed than in a business casual dress code.
  • Body Language: Maintain good posture, make eye contact, and offer a firm handshake. These non-verbal cues can say as much about you as your verbal responses.
  • Ask Questions: An interview is a two-way street. Prepare thoughtful questions to ask your interviewer; it demonstrates your genuine interest in the role and the company.

For International Job Seekers

International Job Seekers

The UK’s diverse job market attracts talent from all over the world. If you’re an international job seeker, there are additional considerations to bear in mind:

  1. Visa Requirements: Ensure you’re aware of the visa processes and work permit requirements. Some roles might be contingent on your eligibility to work in the UK.
  2. Cultural Nuances: Familiarise yourself with UK workplace culture, communication styles, and expectations.
  3. UK CV Format: As highlighted earlier, ensure your CV is tailored to the UK format, which might differ from your home country.
  4. Professional Qualifications: Check if your qualifications are recognised in the UK or if they need to be evaluated or supplemented.
  5. Network: Join groups or associations related to expats or international professionals in the UK. They can provide invaluable support, insights, and connections.

Handling Rejection And Staying Resilient

Job hunting is challenging, and rejection is an inherent part of the process. However, it’s vital to remember that every ‘no’ brings you one step closer to that coveted ‘yes’. Our tips for handling rejection include:

  1. Don’t Take It Personally: Many factors influence hiring decisions, and not all are within your control. A rejection isn’t necessarily a reflection of your abilities.
  2. Seek Feedback: If possible, ask the interviewer for feedback. Constructive criticism can offer insights into areas of improvement.
  3. Refine and Adjust: Use every rejection as a learning opportunity. Adjust your approach, refine your CV, or work on the areas highlighted in feedback.
  4. Stay Positive: Surround yourself with a supportive network of friends, family, or peers. They can offer encouragement, provide perspective, or even open doors to new opportunities.
  5. Persist: The job market is competitive, but persistence pays off. Continue applying, networking, and improving. Your next application might just be the one that clicks.

If you still can’t find work, we have further resources for you to explore. Get further job hunting tips in – I Can’t Find A Job (What Can I Do?)

First Job Search FAQs

Next up, we answer the frequently asked questions of students who have finished school, graduates, and job candidates on preparing to find their first job:


Kick-starting your career as a beginner might feel daunting, but with the right approach, you can set yourself apart. Start by tailoring your CV to the position you’re eyeing, highlighting any transferable skills from non-professional experiences. Networking, both online and in-person, can unlock opportunities, so consider joining industry-related groups on platforms like LinkedIn. Finally, stay persistent and be open to entry-level roles, as they often pave the way to your desired position. 


Gaining experience before your first job isn’t paradoxical. Here’s how: Offer to intern, either paid or voluntary, at organisations related to your field. Participate in university clubs, societies, or community projects to showcase team skills. Consider freelance projects or work placements that align with your goals. And remember, even part-time jobs in unrelated sectors can equip you with transferable skills. 


Landing that first job can be tricky, but if you’re facing hurdles, there could be a few reasons. Maybe your CV and cover letter need a revamp to better match job descriptions. Perhaps you’re limiting your search too narrowly or not effectively showcasing your skills and experiences. It’s also possible that networking and connections are missing from your strategy. Keep refining your approach, seek feedback, and stay persistent. 


Securing your first job in the UK involves a blend of preparation, research, and networking. Familiarise yourself with the UK job market, tailor your CV to the British format, and use job boards. Networking events and local industry groups can also prove invaluable. For international candidates, ensure you have the right visa and permissions to work. 


Here are 10 steps to get on the career ladder: 1. Self-Assessment: Understand your strengths, skills, and the kind of roles you’re interested in. 2. Research: Dive into industries and companies that align with your interests and qualifications. 3. Tailor Your CV: Ensure it’s in the UK format and highlights your transferable skills, education, and any relevant experience. 4. Craft a Cover Letter: Make it role-specific and demonstrate your passion for the position. 5. Use Job Boards: Platforms like Indeed, Reed, and Totaljobs can be instrumental in your search. 6. Network: Attend industry events, join online forums, and leverage platforms like LinkedIn to make connections. 7. Prepare for Interviews: Familiarise yourself with common questions, practice your responses, and understand the company’s ethos. 8. Follow Up: After interviews, send a courteous email thanking the interviewer and expressing your continued interest. 9. Stay Resilient: Rejections are a part of the process. Seek feedback, refine your approach, and persist in your efforts. 10. Celebrate When You Land the Role: But remember, this is just the beginning of your professional journey!


An apprenticeship is a structured programme that combines on-the-job training with academic learning. It usually lasts for a specific duration, often a year or more, leading to a recognised qualification. Apprentices are considered employees and earn a salary while gaining hands-on experience in a specific trade or profession.On the other hand, an internship is a short-term work experience, typically ranging from a few weeks to several months, offered by companies to students or recent graduates. Interns may or may not be paid, depending on the arrangement. The primary purpose is to gain practical experience in a particular field, and it doesn’t necessarily lead to a formal qualification. Internships can offer insights into a profession, help build a network, and potentially lead to a job offer. 

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