Applying for a graduate role - how to maximise your chances of success

Kylie Cook

Kylie Cook is a Senior Consultant at Gradconsult. She runs recruitment and development initiatives for students and graduates with universities and employers up and down the country.

If you’re worried about entering the job market after graduation, you won’t be alone. But there are steps you can take to put yourself in the best possible position to succeed.

Graduating during a global pandemic is going to be daunting to say the least. You are moving on from familiar surroundings, potentially moving home or away from established support networks and comfortable routines. On top of this, the world is a particularly uncertain place at the moment. Despite newspaper headlines proclaiming trouble for the jobs market, the good news is that the graduate recruitment market is the least affected by coronavirus, showing relative security and huge signs of improvement already.

Here are our 5 top tips for job applications, whether you are applying for an internship, industrial placement or a graduate role.

1. Consider your options

Lots of students get to the end of their degree with no idea what to do next. But it’s worth noting that 70% of graduate jobs in the UK are open to any degree discipline, so loads of opportunities will remain open to you regardless of what you studied. So if you are not sure where to start, your first port of call is your university careers service.

They can usually support you for up to three years post-graduation and will have lots of information and advice for getting started. If you can connect with them while you are still studying, even better, they will be very happy to support you at any stage on your job search.

The Prospects website also has advice and guidance, from “What can I do with my degree?” to resources about applying to work in particular sectors, as well as a range of adverts for specific jobs and postgraduate study.

Another top source of information to help you really stand out from the crowd is the LinkedIn Alumni tool. If you search for your university and click on the “Alumni” tab on the left hand side, all the graduates from your university with accounts will appear. You can then search by degree and find out what everyone who has studied your course, before you, is doing now!

The further you scroll down the list, the more likely you are to find unusual and smaller businesses who are likely to receive fewer applications. It can feel daunting, but if you are feeling bold, you could connect with a few people whose jobs look interesting to you. Tell them you studied the same course and ask them about their line of work. The chances are they will be more than happy to talk to you.

2. Uncover hidden vacancies

If you only apply to work at companies you’ve heard of, chances areit’s likely that everyone else has heard of them too. Only applying for these highly competitive roles will give most students and graduates a high rate of failure, even if they’ve put together a great application. This can be disheartening.

Think more broadly about where you want to apply rather than only pursuing the most popular roles. Corporate graduate schemes pay well but you might find the most interesting work – plus great exposure, accountability and progression routes – in smaller businesses.

Think of looking for a graduate role as a chance to use those research skills you’ve honed on your course. There isn’t a one-stop-shop for student and graduate vacancies so you’ll need to explore beyond your university’s jobs pages to find roles that suit you, particularly with smaller businesses.

Here are some places you can look for opportunities:

  • Larger companies with structured graduate schemes might advertise on Prospects, Target Jobs, or,
  • Smaller businesses making single hires are more likely to use generalist jobs boards such as Indeed or advertise through LinkedIn.
  • If you are an international student, try Student Circus for a list of employers who offer visa sponsorship
  • If you are looking for a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) role then Gradcracker is an excellent resource.
  • There are also a range of industry-specific jobs boards that might have roles suited to your skills and interests, including (arts sector) and (charity/third sector) and (academia) are just a few examples of many.

3. Stand out from the crowd

Everyone who applies for a graduate role will have a degree, so you need to find ways to put yourself head and shoulders above other applicants. Make yourself stand out by conducting quality research into the company you’re applying to, and showcasing the skills and experience you’ve gained outside of academia.

Pay close attention to the skills and experience that the company lists in their job advert, and be sure to address as many of these skills as possible within your covering letter. Maximise your chances of success by giving clear evidence of how you’ve developed each skill and how it relates to the company’s clients or growth plans. Your examples might come from your degree, particular responsibilities in a part-time position, volunteering or Students’ Union society roles.

4. Tailor your application

There are stories that frequently appear in the news where graduates have applied for hundreds of jobs and not received any responses from employers. Companies will expect you to research their business, and understand what they do and how your skills might fit in with their work. If you’re able to make hundreds of applications per week, then it’s likely that you’re not researching deeply enough into the business.

Before you apply for a role, investigate the company as much as you can. Most candidates will review a company’s website, so it’s important to go further than this. What is their social media presence like? Do their employees publish articles on Linkedin or videos on YouTube? Has the company featured in the local or national press? Building your company knowledge will improve your application and help to demonstrate your interest in the company you’re applying to, making your application stronger.

5. Get support from your careers service

There are experts at your university careers service who can support you with everything from exploring career options through to offering CV workshops and practice interviews. If you haven’t already sought advice, then get in touch with your careers service and see how they could help you. Don’t worry if you’ve graduated already – most careers services will support you for up to three years after graduation.

Above all, remember that you only need to secure one role. You might receive some rejections on the path to securing a position, but this is completely normal so try not to be disheartened and use any feedback you can obtain to strengthen future applications. You will find the right position for you, and it will be worth the wait!