10 things employers want graduates to know

When you are looking for a graduate job it can sometimes feel like you are cracking a secret code. It is easy to fill in lots of applications and to miss the mark just because you aren’t sure what employers are actually looking for. 

If you want to be successful in finding a graduate job, you need to get into the mindset of employers. If you can figure out what they want, you will be able to tailor any applications so that you will be able to impress them. To do this you will need to do some research, read their company website carefully, talk to someone from the company if they are visiting your university and discuss all of this with a careers professional. 

Each employer will be looking for something subtly different. That is why it is worth doing some research on every employer that you apply to. However, we survey graduate employers every year to find out what they are looking for and there are some basic things that pretty much every employer wishes that you knew. 

It is really important to remember that the whole recruitment process is set up to find people who can do jobs that employers need to fill. Graduate recruiters want you to succeed. They aren’t trying to catch you out, make your life a misery or trick you. The average employer has a team of four people to run their recruitment process and spends £3,310 to attract and select every person that they hire. They want you to apply, and, if you are right for their firm, they want you to be successful.

It has become fashionable to say that university degrees aren’t worth as much as they used to be. It is certainly true that Britain produces a lot more graduates than in the past, but the average graduate still finds it easier to get a job than a non-graduate and, on average, graduates still earn about £10,000 more a year than non-graduates. Many employers and many jobs will still specify that they are looking for someone with a degree. So, don’t get complacent or come across as entitled, but do feel confident that all of your hard work at university will be rewarded.

While there are a few exceptions, most employers (86%) are willing to take students from any degree. So, whether you have a degree in philosophy, literature, art or sociology, you are still in the running for most of the graduate jobs out there on the market.

Although employers aren’t too worried about what degree you did, they do like people who are comfortable with figures. A lot of employers are struggling to find all the engineers, IT programmers and technical and analytical specialists that they need. So, if you have studied a degree which asked you to do a lot of maths, then make sure you emphasise that in your applications. If you didn’t do a high numeracy degree, then this is an area that you can brush up on. Get to grips with Excel and take a few online courses on numerical analysis 

It would be nice to believe that in the Britain of 2020 the only thing that matters is your talent. But, unfortunately, in our society people who come from privileged backgrounds, independent schools and top universities are still doing very well thank you! However, lots of employers are concerned about this and are committed to increasing the diversity of their firms. So, even if you feel that a particular job or career is ‘not for people like you’, it is always worth applying. Most employers will welcome you with open arms. 

Most employers will visit your campus at some point. Ninety per cent attend careers fairs, 72% give talks on campus and 25% will be on campus running mock assessment centres. These visits give you a chance to find out about different careers, to make an impression and to discover what employers are looking for. These opportunities to meet employers will usually be organised by your university careers service. You should keep an eye on who is coming to campus and make the most of these opportunities.

Getting an internship or even taking a degree that includes a one-year placement is a really good way to get fast-tracked into a graduate job. Employers are keen to set up these kind of short-term work-experience placements because it allows them to ‘try before they buy’. Employers report that they rehire 47% of their short term interns and 44% of their placement students into graduate roles.

Employers receive an average of 50 applications for every graduate job. However, a lot of these applications don’t get very far because they are poorly put together and don’t suggest that students really want to work for that firm. Employers get frustrated when they think that you are playing the percentages and trying to increase your chance of getting a job by applying to everywhere. Some employers report that they receive applications with the wrong company name on the application. Unsurprisingly those ones go straight in the bin! You are much better to focus your efforts and apply for a small number of things that you really want to do and that you have time to research and prepare for. 

Most employers have a recruitment season and will publish the dates that they will open and close applications. Most recruitment campaigns open in September and close by March, but the exact timings will vary by employer. There is no point in applying outside of these times. So, the first thing to do when you are applying for a job is to find out the timings. It also never hurts to apply a bit early. Most employers will start to process applications before the deadline.

Employers are using a wide range of techniques to select the people that they want for jobs. These include assessment centres (used by 90% of employers), face to face interviews (57%), psychometric tests (59%) and video interviews (47%). There is a skill to performing well in each of these different approaches. You don’t want to go into a selection process and encounter something for the first time. Your careers service will know more about each of the selection techniques that you are going to be asked to do and will be able to give you the opportunity to practice them. Learning about selection and taking up the opportunity to practice will allow you to perform to your full potential.

Author: Tristram Hooley, Chief Research Officer, Institute of Student Employers

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