It’s not easy for graduates these days.
First there’s the sheer number of graduates applying for similar roles at this time of year. Then there are the long online application forms, personality tests and nerve-wracking telephone interviews – particularly challenging if you’re still finishing off those last bits of coursework or dealing with the stress of waiting for your results.
But perhaps it’s not as bad as it seems. Sophie Jones, lead consultant at Boyce Recruitment, says: “I think it’s a better time for a graduate to be looking for a job now than it was back in 2008. There are more opportunities, and many graduate schemes have started running again.
“At the same time, I think companies are making the whole interview process much tighter than it used to be, so you really have to work harder now to put yourself ahead of all the other graduates who are out there.”
So what can you do to prepare for life after university and help you get ahead of the competition? Check out our top ten tips for graduates.
1. Start connecting
They’ll tell you ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’. Actually, it’s both.
Once you’re confident you know the area in which you want to work, start to grow your online presence and try to build your brand profile by networking. Your first port of call? Social media.
“On LinkedIn, you can connect with industry leaders and thought leaders in a particular field. Try to follow them and read the blogs that they are sharing at the moment,” advises Sophie.
“Follow them on Twitter and if they’re writing or tweeting about a network or industry that you want to work in, you can retweet it. Building your brand profile online is really important, as a lot of people are looking for good graduates these days.”
2. Give yourself a break
You’ve earned it. After all your hard work during university, it’s important to take a little time for yourself to avoid losing the enthusiasm you’ll need when it comes to applying for jobs. But it shouldn’t be all fun and games, as Sophie explains.
“While you’re taking a break you could volunteer for a charity, for example. Work, meet new people, and get some experience on your CV while having fun at the same time.”
3. Be flexible
So you’ve got some ideas for jobs you’d like to go for? That’s great. But Charlotte Gordon, temporaries consultant for broadcast and media services, believes it’s crucial for graduates to keep an open mind.
“I definitely look for flexibility in graduates,” she says. “It’s always good to have a plan, but also an understanding that your plan may have to change. Often graduates believe that they can just step into their dream job, but obviously it’s not that easy.”
4. Do your research
If you’re unsure about what you want to do, start researching. Often graduates don’t realise the amount of different industries that are out there. We suggest you get on LinkedIn and make notes of the types of jobs that are advertised, get advice from recruitment consultants who specialise in graduate recruitment or the industries you’re interested in, and of course, go on Google to learn more about an industry sector.
Researching isn’t restricted to just online, either. “When I graduated there were a lot of graduate recruitment fairs, so it’s a good idea to go down to those and network. You can meet companies and sectors that you probably wouldn’t have initially thought about,” explains Sophie.
“People will often tell you about roles that you might have never thought about, and sometimes your skillset could be quite suitable for it.”
5. Look inward
Write a list of the skills you’ve acquired throughout your degree. What do you enjoy doing? What are you looking to get out of a role? What would you like to do as a career?
Then make a list of things you definitely wouldn’t like to do. Would you hate an office job? Would you hate being on the phone? Try anything that gives you a better idea of a) what you’d like to do, and b) what you think you could be good at.
Chatting to your friends and family about what they think you’d be good at can also be beneficial, as Sophie remembers: “One of my family friends actually told me that they thought I’d be good working in recruitment, which I hadn’t necessarily thought of. Talking to people who know you and have a bit of experience in the workplace can give you a better idea of what would suit you.”
6. Be prepared
It isn’t enough to simply write one good CV and cover letter and then think that your work is done. Be prepared by having multiple CVs and cover letters aimed at individual sectors that you can easily edit to make them more targeted.
If you’re successful in getting an interview, brush up on the history of the company, study their products and services and have an idea of who’s who in the office.
Good recruiters will offer invaluable advice on how to get experience and conduct mock interviews with graduates. “Don’t be afraid to ask them, as it’s a great way to build your confidence and position yourself ahead of other job seekers,” explains Sophie. “It’s one challenge just to get the interview, but then it’s another when you’re actually competing against other candidates.”
7. Show your enthusiasm
If there’s an opening at your favourite brand but you don’t believe you have the relevant experience yet, don’t let this put you off applying. If you can show your passion for a company to a recruiter, you have a better chance of being shortlisted for interview.
“Graduates who have worked all throughout university, even if that role does not share the skills they’ll need for the role they’re applying for, should emphasise this to recruiters as it shows a really strong work ethic,” explains Charlotte.
Showing that you’re happy to go the extra mile doesn’t hurt either, according to Sophie. “What I always say to graduates is that ‘you don’t get anything for free these days’. But if you’re willing to put in time working for free, doing some volunteering and interning, it will really show how much you want to get into that sector, and that really come through to employers.”
8. Separate yourself
Since the UK entered recession in 2008, it has been increasingly hard for graduates to get their feet wet in the workplace – so it’s key that you really separate yourself from other candidates.
“Most graduates are of a high standard now because of how difficult it has been since 2008. They’ve really felt like they’ve had to up their game,” says Sophie. But how can you ensure you stand out from the crowd?
“Good grades help,” she continues. “If you can get a first or a 2:1, it will put you into a more exclusive category.
“While you’re at university, use your time to do volunteer work and internships. It looks good if people have played sports, performed music, ran events or been part of social clubs whilst at university, as it shows more experience.”
9. Be persistent
Just as it isn’t enough to write one good CV, it’s also not enough to think that emailing it to the employer is enough. Sophie offers her advice for following up your applications.
“If you send off a CV for a job, follow it up with a call. It really helps to set you aside from the other CVs that are out there. If you want to work for a particular company, go on LinkedIn and find out who their HR manager or managing director is. If you can find the confidence to follow up with a call you’ll be more likely to gain those interviews.”
10. Stay positive
If you feel like you’re in a catch-22 situation regarding experience, don’t become despondent. The situation can change, as Charlotte explains.
“I’ve seen an increase in the request for less experienced hires from line managers recently. They are more prepared to mould and train up new, fresh talent for different functions, so that’s definitely good news for graduates.”
The most important thing is to always keep your head up and remember you’re not alone. “You’ve got to make sure you keep positive,” recommends Sophie. “There are quite a lot of graduates applying for jobs at the moment and you might not get your dream job straight away, but you should keep positive if you really want to succeed.”