Finding a graduate job can be challenging, especially with the current situation but there are lots of resources to help you. It is important to start early, undertake a little research and make informed decisions to ensure you stand out from the crowd to secure that position. Your careers service is here to help you every step of the way.
What types of graduate employment are there?
Firstly, think about which direction you would like to take. There are three main ‘routes in’: graduate schemes, direct entry roles and graduate internships. There is no right or wrong route to take, it depends on what you want to gain from the experience. Any route in to graduate employment will be highly competitive so make sure you have prepared an application that stands out.
A graduate scheme is a structured, work-based training programme that allows recent graduates to gain practical experience with a company. These usually last from around 18 months to 2 years with many graduates securing positions at the end. You can expect to start from as early as the September after your graduation but this does vary as some employers take on graduates as soon as a vacancy is available.
Graduate schemes tend to be more prevalent in the fields of finance, engineering, retail, HR, law and IT to name a few. However, they can still be found in smaller numbers in the creative and public health sector. Whilst most graduate programmes will expect applicants to have a 2:1 or above some employers will still accept students who have achieved a 2:2. Discover more at What to do if you get a 2:2 degree.
One important factor to remember is that graduate schemes have set application windows. Some employers begin their application process up to a year before the start date. There will be a huge amount of competition so in order to not miss out - start applying as soon as possible. To prepare well in advance, you could organise work experience during the first year of your study. You can then begin to prepare your application in year two, so that by your final year you are ready to apply as early as possible. You can learn more about the graduate schemes on the Prospects website.
Direct entry roles
Direct entry roles will also offer training and support but are usually less structured than a graduate scheme. Although you can expect some training, they will normally expect you to already have a certain level of knowledge of the job to begin the role straight away.
These types of application can be submitted all year round. You could expect to graduate and start this type of role almost immediately.
An internship is a great way to gain valuable experience in a competitive sector. They are often fixed for a specific amount of time, ranging from a couple of weeks to years. Internships are usually paid and enable you to gain experience, and build connections in different areas of your chosen field. Many students apply for internships if they lack relevant experience in a particular field and therefore looking for opportunities to develop their skills.
Up to 40% of the larger employers recruit into graduate roles directly from their internship roles. Therefore gaining experience before applying for the graduate scheme route would give you a major advantage. It’s not just about applying earlier, but gaining the work experience and employer insight early.
Internships normally have shorter application periods which you can look for much closer to the end of your studies.
Let's get started
Now you know the options available, follow these steps to help you get started on that stand out application.
Whether you are looking for a graduate job or graduate scheme, make sure you research the employer you want to work for. You can do this by looking on the company website to understand their offer and how you fit what they are looking for.
Our degree subject pages will help you to see where our previous graduates have secured positions and give you some ideas to explore further.
Take a look at the employer reports on our website. This is a great way of researching industries but also highlights key specialist recruiters in that industry.
Glassdoor: a trip advisor for jobs. Here you can find honest reviews of the companies you are applying for and read real interview insights so you can prepare with confidence.
LinkedIn: You could even go one step further and contact them via LinkedIn or email to really find out what skills they require from a candidate.
The Times top 100 graduate employers: Find out which employers made it to the top 100 for 2020-2021.
The UK 300: the most popular graduate employers for 2020/21.
Top companies for graduates to work for: Top employers based entirely on graduate feedback.
There are plenty of job sites to help you find that graduate job. Here are some of the more popular job sites to get you started:
These are job sites that will provide you with a broad range of direct entry options. Some of these sites allow you to upload your CV for recruitment agencies to contact you if they notice key skills that match what they are looking for. You can also set up job alerts and notifications of new jobs to be sent straight to your email.
In addition to this you could identify sector-specific jobs to match your specialism. Prospects offers a great Job Profiles section that will highlight related jobs linked to your field. Check out our sector pages to see what jobs are available to you.
Use social media for more than just scrolling! Jobs are constantly advertised on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter so be sure to utilise these platforms. It is also important to be careful what content you are posting on your profile. Ensure your settings are set to private and if there is anything you don’t want others to see- delete it!
Employers particularly use LinkedIn, so make sure your profile is up to date and looks professional. You can also use your LinkedIn to contact prospective employers to get your name and interest out there. Following potential employees allows you to access opportunities and keep up to date with their developments putting you in a great position, should you get an interview.
LinkedIn is also a great way of appearing on recruitment agency searches which means they may even approach you! Take a look at our helpful LinkedIn page to learn more. Even better - why not join one of our LinkedIn masterclasses to see how to make the most of your profile!
Who you know is just as important as what you know. Use the connections you have made through university - whether it's friends, work colleagues or academics. Professional bodies are a great source of contacts. Become a member of a body linked to your field and show that you are serious about your career and professional development and to help to build your brand.
Take a look at our networking tool to discover companies in a specific sector, find people who work at a specific company and identify people in certain roles. Finally check out our what’s on page to see our upcoming activities; from networking events and workshops, to career fairs and competitions.
These events are a great way to converse with potential employers.
Gaining work experience
Another way to stand out is by organising work experience in your field of interest. It's a great way to test out a career in your chosen field and is essential in a competitive market for securing a job. The more experience you already have, the more appealing you will be to an employer. Check out the Prospects website for some more work experience ideas.
Connect with people on LinkedIn whose job or company interests you. Ask them questions, demonstrate your enthusiasm and find out the possibility of gaining some valuable work experience.
You may need to send out some speculative applications. Being proactive in this way opens you up to more opportunities that others aren’t aware of and even if there aren’t positions available at that particular time the employer may be impressed by your approach and keep you in mind for future positions. Take a look at the Prospects webpage on speculative applications.
Signing up to recruitment agencies can be a useful way of finding job opportunities. The agencies act as the middle man between job seekers and employers. They work on behalf of an employer to find suitable candidates for jobs. Not only this but they can even provide access to jobs that aren’t advertised anywhere else!
Here are some of our top tips for getting the most out of a recruitment agency:
- Keep in contact – phone them up regularly for updates. Building a rapport with the agency will help to increase your chances of securing a position.
- Be flexible – to increase your chances of getting a job make sure your schedule is flexible not just in terms of the roles you are applying for but your availability also.
- Don’t solely rely on recruitment agencies to find you work. Send out those speculative applications as well in order to double your chances.
- Check out our industry reports to find out the specialist recruiters in particular industries.
Big vs Small
Remember: It’s not all about the big names! The backbone of the UK economy is made up of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)
The size of a business is based on their annual turnover or how many staff they employ. A ‘big company’ will have more than 250 employees. A business with less than 250 employees is classified as a SME (Small to Medium Enterprise). Companies in this category have a turnover of up to £50 million and/or employ up to 250 people. Also there are ‘micro SMEs’ with up to 10 employees and/or less than £2 million turnover.
What does this mean for your graduate search?
Big companies with recognisable brand names will be extremely popular to a large number of graduates across the country meaning heavy competition for each role available. Recruitment usually opens in September/October and will close as early as December, with interviews in January, so you have to be ‘on it’ and organised with your search as soon as your final year starts. Companies in this category will normally offer graduate schemes and the interview process will often have an assessment centre, some form of a test and a face to face interview. Once you’re in a big company your role will normally be within one particular area of the business for a period of time, with some exposure to other departments over a structured programme.
A smaller business will also offer fantastic career opportunities and development. Did you know there are more smaller businesses than big ones? SMEs tend to offer ‘graduate jobs’ and the interview process is usually more traditional with a face to face interview and a possible test. In a small business you’ll typically get to see more of the business quickly and your role will normally be more varied from the start, meaning you’ll collaborate with colleagues from other areas and develop new skills quickly. In a smaller business, progression might be less immediate but when opportunities do become available you can climb the ladder more quickly.
How to remain resilient when applying for graduate jobs
Let’s face it – receiving a rejection from an employer for a job you really want is not a great feeling. You are bound to feel disappointed upset and perhaps even a little frustrated. The best thing to do is not let a setback hinder you from continuing your job search; resilience is key. Here are some of our tips to help you to keep going:
- Quality not quantity: Although it is tempting to send off many applications at once for lots of different employers it is so important to tailor every application you send. If you struggle with this – book an appointment with one of our employability advisers to explain what tailoring involves
- Ask for feedback: Don’t be afraid to call up the employer or send them an email to ask for more detailed feedback. Some companies don’t always do this but there is no harm in asking
- Learn from your mistakes: If you find you are continuing to receive rejections from your applications it may be that you need to reconsider the documents you are sending. Are you being detailed enough in your examples? Don’t continue to send the same applications if you have received feedback suggesting to make changes.
- Listen to advice: ask a friend, relative or one of our helpful advisers to take a look at your application to provide some feedback
- Consider a bridging role: you have your heart set on a graduate job but this doesn’t always work out. Don’t be afraid to enrol on an internship or graduate scheme to get your foot in the door
- Don’t give up – there is a graduate position out there for you. It just takes hard work, persistence and constant improvement during the application process.
Digital career resources
The Careers Service offers a range of digital career resources that will help you develop your employability skills and enable you to get to know yourself, build your brand and to gain experience.Take a look at our CVs, Applications & Interviews webpage and explore our careers publications to learn how to write applications and succeed in the recruitment process. Try out CV360 and Interview360 to gain instant, detailed feedback and boost your chances of getting an interview. The software is able to identify areas of improvement and provide you with an overall score to continuously improve on.
Log in to Digital Career Resources
The Careers Service offers lifetime support so you are able to access all resources, events, webinars and appointments to support you on your journey. If you’re not sure which route to take or if you would like some feedback on your CV and other supporting documents we are here to help!
Watch this video to hear from recent graduates and current employers on how to stand out as a candidate when looking for a graduate role.