Graduate Job Hunting: What to Expect

Students & graduates career advice

You’ve sat your final exams and burned your revision notes. Regardless of the grade you got – it’s over! You made it! Now all you have to worry about is how many parties you can squeeze into the last week of term and what you’ll wear to graduation.

Oh, and the small matter of deciding what you want to do with the rest of your life.

Some of you will already have grad jobs set up and waiting, others might be just beginning to dip a toe into the job market. If you fall into the second category, you’re not alone. From one temporarily-unemployed graduate to another, here’s what to expect over the next few months.


Strong Competition

In 2015-16 there were 1.75 million undergraduate students studying in the UK. Even if we assume not all of them will graduate and maybe a quarter or less are final year students, that’s still a lot of people who will be looking for jobs around the same time every year.

And if all of those people have degree certificates, how on earth do employers decide who they want to hire?! This is why you won’t just face strong competition from an academic perspective.

Luckily (or maybe unluckily, depending on the kind of grad you are) employers want to hire the person best suited to their company, which might not necessarily be the one with the highest grades or the most impressive CV. Things like work experience, attitude, and “soft skills” are super important in today’s grad job market – but you probably know that already.


Long Application Process

When employers have such a huge field to choose from, a CV and a face-to-face interview usually isn’t enough. Expect assessment days, aptitude tests, group interviews and lengthy application forms. Doesn’t that sound like fun? Probably not.

But even less fun is ending up feeling out of your depth in a job you’re not suited to, because an employer’s recruitment process wasn’t up to scratch. So even though it might feel like companies are setting graduates up to fail, the tough selection processes are there for your own benefit as much as theirs.


Entry Level Jobs

We’re not necessarily talking minimum wage (though there’s nothing wrong with that), but don’t get disheartened if you’re not getting anywhere with big business grad schemes.

It’s not unusual for graduates to start a bit lower down on the job ladder; sometimes for a confidence boost starting out in the world of work, or because it’s more practical to have a lower-paying job than no job at all.

Most of us will get stuck in the need-experience-to-get-experience loop at some point, and an entry-level position can be a great way to break out of it. £18,000 is a very achievable starting salary in these kinds of jobs. You won’t be living like a City of London banker, but it’s definitely nothing to sniff at.


Exciting Opportunities

If it’s all sounded a bit doom-and-gloom until now, here’s something to cheer you up: as a graduate, the world is basically your oyster. 20-somethings generally have fewer ties to people and places than older jobseekers, which means you can fling your net as wide as you like.

The other thing to remember is that companies need you as much as you need them. The annual graduate intake is important to many employers and if you can show them that you have potential, they’ll be glad to have you.


The Unexpected

Some graduates know exactly what they want in a career and others have no idea whatsoever – both of those extremes can make job hunting tricky. This might seem incredibly obvious, but the most important part of grad job hunting is just applying for jobs.

It’s easy to fall into “I’ll only apply for roles I really want”, which can narrow down your options.

Only trying for roles you desperately want means you miss opportunities to practice your interview technique. If you’ve gone through application processes for jobs you’re not very invested in, you’ll be much better prepared to do your best for jobs you are really enthusiastic about.

Secondly – and more importantly – the job you thought you didn’t want might surprise you. Plenty of graduates end up working in fields completely unrelated to their studies, and most people don’t stay in the same job (or even the same sector) their entire lives anyway.

University gives you a huge arsenal of transferable skills alongside the ones you gain in your specific subject – might as well make the most of them, right?


Jen Anderson writes graduate careers advice for Inspiring Interns, a graduate recruitment agency specialising in matching career starters with graduate jobs. For everything from marketing internships to graduate jobs Manchester, click here.

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