Every year we hear more eye-watering statistics about the number of graduates chasing every job. At the last count, the Association of Graduate Recruiters 2011 summer survey showed that there were a colossal 83 applications for every graduate job, up from 69 in 2010. The silver lining to what will seem like a dark cloud for most students is that the same survey predicated a 2.6% increase in the number of vacancies this year, and a continued increase in the average starting salary now up to £25,500.
But in an environment where getting a job after you graduate is tougher than ever, I wanted to offer my top tips for getting a job ahead of graduating.
Visit the Careers Service
Practically every university will have some sort of careers service, yet it’s astonishing how many students wait until the final semester of their final year before making a visit. It’s never too early to book in a visit, and you can get expert advice on the types of careers you might want to consider and how to navigate the graduate recruitment process.
Your degree isn’t everything
For increasing numbers of prospective employers, whilst your degree classification is important, they are equally interested in what else you have done alongside study. Whether it’s being a member of a club or society, volunteering in the students’ union, a part-time job or raising money for charity, these are exactly the skills and experiences that employers want in their workforce. Although most students will take on additional activities because of an existing interest, the opportunity to try something new or to make friends, employers will be interested – so don’t forget to mention it when you come round to applying for a job.
Keep your CV up to date
You never know when an interesting job may come up. Whether it’s a part-time job during your studies or a more permanent role for once you graduate, it’s always handy to have an up-to-date CV ready to send out.
Do your research
For some of the most competitive graduate roles, applications actually close in September/October of your final year, 9 months before you might actually graduate. If you are interested in one of those roles then it’s important to do your research and plan ahead for the application deadlines. If you check it out too late, you might have to wait a whole year before you will be considered again.
It’s not just an application form
Increasing numbers of vacancies will require not only a CV and covering letter, but also psychometric tests. These generally try to ascertain your mental ability or personality so employers can get a better feel for how you might fit in. There’s no rules against practising these, so it can often be wise to familiarise yourself with the sorts of tests that may ask you to undertake.
Practice makes perfect
Most jobs will recruit after an interview or perhaps an assessment centre too. Different people react to interviews in different ways, but almost everyone will benefit from some interview practice. Whether it’s honing your ability to think on your feet, find a way to put across your strengths or settle your nerves it’s worth trying to find a way to go through practice interviews before you head into the real thing.
Request feedback where you can
With the high numbers of graduates chasing every job, the chances are you won’t be lucky first time. In fact it can often take dozens of applications before you get the first job offer. But rejection isn’t the end of the world, and should actually be seen as an opportunity for some feedback. Although it can be demoralising to get the rejection letter, most employers will, if you request it, be happy to provide some guidance on where you did well as well as where you didn’t meet their expectations.
Get the basics right
It might sound obvious, but any basic errors in what you submit to a prospective employer means your application will be immediately binned. It’s worth getting your application checked over by a friend to really make sure any silly mistakes are ironed out, and ensure your application will at least get a fair hearing.
Work experience can be vital
Showing that you’ve been able to hold down a part time job or even a period of work experience can often give you the edge when it comes to a competitive field. Although it’s not always easy to get a job in the field you might want, demonstrating you have the work ethic to hold down any part-time role can be enough to show you have what it takes.
Have something to say about the employer
Employers want to see a passion and a spark. One way of showing this is demonstrating that you’ve taken an interest in the organisation, by not just at the front page of their website, but actually having some idea about the kind of work they do, and the latest big issues they have dealt with. It doesn’t just show you’re prepared, but that you’re showing a real interest in the job and the organisation.
Aaron Porter is a freelance journalist, broadcaster and education consultant. He was previously President of the National Union of Students 2010-11 during the high profile tuition fee debate. He tweets at @AaronPorter.