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Preparation: The Key to Success

What does it take for an ordinary person to wake up one day and decide that they're going to run. Really run. For a person to decide that they're going to embark on a marathon and run for anywhere up to six hours straight. They know that they'll face a mentally grueling track, possible injuries and certain exhaustion and yet they decide they're going to do it. 

Such a decision takes preparation. To reach your end goal and achieve success, no matter how unthinkable that goal might be at the time of inception, you need to put in the groundwork.

So how can you ‘put in the groundwork’ where your future career is concerned?

1. Have a killer CV

Your CV is your own personal advertisement. It’s the tip of your very own marketing strategy iceberg. So it needs to be good. And catchy. Make sure your name and personal details – i.e. contact number and email – are clearly visible….at the top of the page is advisable.

If you've got a couple years’ experience under your belt, highlight these first. If you’re still at school / university or you’ve just finished, these details should go first. Other things to include are: skills, interests, awards and achievements, references.

And remember, a CV is a hook. You want to draw an employer in. You don’t want to give them your whole life story. So highlight the best bits, and go in to an interview prepared to expand.

Need some help? Look at our guide to How to write a good CV.

2. Write a brilliant Cover Letter

It’s often hard to write that all-important first introduction of yourself. But here are a couple of rules we advise sticking to...

a. Address it to a real person. If you don’t know who – spend some time researching or call up the company and ask.

b.  Name drop. If you’ve been personally referred or know of someone in the company who would be willing to endorse you, make sure you utilise the connection. Employers are much more willing to meet ‘well-vetted’ candidates and often trust the judgement of their peers.

c. Don’t be generic. There’s nothing worse than a blanket or template cover letter. Employers are looking for candidates who really want to work for them. Why does their company interest you? And why would you be the right person for them? …or for the role?

d. Be confident in your writing style. You have the skills and qualifications; you’ve done your research; you know the company. Don’t be arrogant…but do sign off with ‘I look forward to hearing from you’.

Have a look at our example cover letter written by Jake Schogger, author of City Careers Series. 

3. Do a practice run

In 2013, Mo Farah pulled out of the marathon just before the half-way point at Tower Bridge to loud applause and warm support from the crowd. He’d kept up a comfortable pace with the front-runners from the start, but his decision to pull out was a calculated one built around the all-important notion of preparation.

In his own words, the marathon was ‘a huge learning curve’ and an experience that will boost his mental strength next year. And we agree with Mo. It’s important to know and appreciate your own personal limitations, and to not be pressured into doing something that you’re not ready for. In terms of your career practice sometimes really can make perfect.

Go to as many job interviews as possible, do some standard numerical reasoning tests on the internet, take every ‘failure’ in your stride, and ask for feedback so that you can learn from your mistakes.

4. Seek out a mentor or personal coach

If you’re really stuck, and not getting as far as you’d hoped. If you need to learn some extra skills for a particular role. Or if you just need that extra bit of encouragement … seek out a mentor or personal coach. If you're thinking about looking for a mentor, why not look at our page: How To Get a Mentor.

And one last thing… even if you’re not searching for your first job or opportunity, or on the look-out for a career change, it’s important to get everything in order for a time when you will be. Don’t leave it to the last minute. As John F Kennedy once said, 'the ultimate time to repair a roof is when the sun is shining.'

Next: Ten Things to Help You Kickstart Your Career