Few things are more daunting (yet also more exciting) than beginning the search for a job for when you leave university. In the midst of a pandemic and the economic fallout this has wrought, it has perhaps never been truer. Having gone through this process myself (alongside many of my university friends), I’ve compiled a list of helpful steps, tips and tricks that will hopefully help you in securing this next milestone.
Now of course, I have had to be intentionally vague when it comes to specific roles and career sectors, instead focusing on the underlying rules that facilitate getting to the next step. As such, the following are in compiled in chronological order:
- Confidence and Organisation
- Preliminary Research – What would you like to do?
- Your Network – Who do you know in the role you want?
- Role Research – What does the role require, and which companies offer it?
- Individual Company Research – Which companies do you like?
- Interviews and Assessment Centres
- Final Tips
Timing is key for your hunt for a graduate role/summer internship. Whilst for most roles it is not essential that you get some relevant experience in first and second year, it is advised. Oftentimes, companies will offer Spring or Summer internships to first and second years, giving them some exposure to what the role is like and how they can improve their chances of getting a graduate role. More emphatically, if you attain a place on a Summer internship and perform well, they may offer you a graduate role – so they are well worth doing. Generally speaking, the more relevant experience you have gained through being proactive, the more you will stand out. If you have not completed prior internships and programs however, do not let this dissuade you, it will not affect you as much as you think.
So, if you’re a first or second year student reading this, look out for these sorts of opportunities – even though they are not graduate jobs, the rest of this blog will still apply, and will hopefully prove helpful.
Regardless of your academic year, timing your preparation is critical. Typically, graduate jobs will open for applications in early September to December (depending on the company) and will be open to apply to for around a month, but the sooner you can apply the better. This is also not a rule, and even if you begin looking in February, there will still be some grad jobs available! Due to the majority opening up around the same time, you will typically have very little to apply for in August, and will then be completely overwhelmed in September, especially as term starts. As a result of this, I would recommend that you take August to prepare for the masses of applications you’re going to have to prepare for and complete – I hope the following blog helps to compartmentalise this process for you.
Confidence and Organisation
As with university work, it is imperative that you try to be as organised as possible when you are beginning your job searches. Email me for a copy of an Excel document which can act as a simple template for your job search.
Searching for a job is made doubly hard as it usually has to be juggled with coursework and revision. As such, it is very useful to know the deadline for each role that you are applying for, otherwise it is very easy to become overwhelmed and feel rushed, which in doing so will detriment both your studies and applications. Keeping organised throughout the process will instantly boost your confidence, your knowledge and this will reflect in your interviews, assessment centres and applications. It is also a good idea during the later stages to compile useful information on individual companies, roles etc and keep them in separate files – but more on this later. At the beginning of the process, you can still prepare answers to questions you will be asked about yourself, for instance – name 5 strengths and 5 weaknesses. Whilst these sorts of questions may seem simple, I would highly recommend you take time in preparing them and loosely memorising them – here is a list of these sorts of questions you can prepare for –
Equally as important to finding a graduate job is confidence, both in your current self, and the self that you see at the company you are applying to. It is very rare for a company to expect a perfectly competent graduate in the role which they are looking to fill, they are instead looking for a graduate that displays the confidence that they can become the competent individual. Companies by and large understand this, and in many cases a graduate role is more about identifying someone with the correct personality traits (also called soft skills) than someone with the technical competence to fill the role. Aside from doing so in person, your CV is vital in getting your persona and skills across – see my CV guide HERE.
As a general rule, organisation and confidence will be your two best friends in securing a graduate job, as well as some perseverance of course.
Preliminary Research – What would you like to do?
One of the most difficult questions people will ask you whilst you are at university will be “What would you like to do for a career?”, and this is such a difficult question because there are thousands of careers out there, many of which you won’t have heard of.
Most universities and their respective colleges will have careers advisers who you will be able to book an appointment with. During this appointment they will ask questions that aim to find your skillset and what is important to you in a job; from there they can begin to advise some sectors and career avenues for you to look into further. It is best to have a rough idea of your skillset and what you would like out of a job prior to going into this. I’d recommend scouring Indeed, Milkround and other ‘job marketplaces’ to get a decent grasp of the business sectors and perhaps even roles you wish to pursue; this will also serve as a good talking point during your meeting.
Your Network – Who do you know in the role you want?
Your career advisor will most likely advise that you set up a profile on LinkedIn to begin creating a network of individuals who you have interacted with on a ‘professional capacity’. At the beginning your connections will predominantly be university friends, but as you develop a career it will become more diverse.
So, having attended a meeting with a career advisor and honing in on a sector that you would like to get involved in, it is then time to begin asking whether friends and family know anyone in said sector. More often than not, an indirect connection of a friend or family member will be thrilled to hear that you’re intrigued in what they do. In my experience, if you go about this politely and patiently, they will offer you some of their time to either have a phone call or a face-to-face meeting.
If you know to a strong degree the sector which you would like to pursue a career in, it might be best to see if your university offers a mentor scheme. This involves alumni from the university you attend, who have volunteered to speak with students who are interested in their career area. At my university this was offered and ended up being indispensable, as my mentor played an integral role in shaping my approach to certain roles and opportunities – we are still in touch today.
Role Research – What does the role require and who which companies offer it?
Having completed these steps with the correct research and commitment, you should now be at a stage where you can identify a role/roles which you could see yourself undertaking. The next step is to identify some companies which offer the role. This can vary wildly in breadth, for example most companies will offer roles in HR, but more niche roles will have fewer companies offering them. This is not indicative of a good role however, and both common and niche roles come with pros and cons.
Having identified some companies offering the role, you should have a look at their job descriptions. For the time being, note the similarities in the job description requirements, as oftentimes this will indicate the most commonly sought after skills. Don’t worry about knowing how to do everything on the description, especially for a graduate role – remember, they are not looking for a candidate willing and able to learn and not the finished product. As true as this is, being proactive is always a good trait to have and it can easily be flexed in an interview scenario, so if there are things you are unsure of in the job description, do some research and learning around them so that you can discuss their basics, in a confident manner. I stress the basics, because it would be an error to research a complex area of the role if you have never had a professional exposure to it. If you do this you run the risk of being caught out when asked an uncomfortable follow-up question in an interview and your façade and confidence will be shattered. It is quite alright to say that you are unsure, but that you are applying to the role to learn.
Individual Company Research – Which companies do you like?
Having identified the role(s) you wish to pursue, and the companies that offer them, it is then time to delve a bit further into the companies themselves. Some companies will be very appealing to you, whilst others may not be, and there are number of factors to take into consideration – here are a few:
- Company Culture
Companies, like any entity, are entirely unique. Whilst they may have the same fundamental beliefs, some could be more relaxed and “fun”, whilst others will be more rigorous and “boring”. This, like all of the above, falls to your preference – both the “boring” and the “fun” office will have their positives and negatives, you just have to choose which you believe will be the best fit for you.
This one somewhat goes without saying, but you need to be vigilant of it as larger companies have nationwide offices, so do research the locations of the roles.
Both small and large companies come with pros and cons and this is again a preferential element of the job hunt. A large company is less likely to fail, but job security is not necessarily better, as with a smaller company it is more likely to fail, but you could grow with the company and have an accelerated professional development. This is oversimplified of course and there are many factors to consider, again a mentor or career adviser would be happy to chat with you about this.
- Role Format
As with culture, the same role in Company X could be wildly different from Company Z, so it is important, having identified the similarities in the previous step, to now identify the differences and ascertain your preferences. Again, a mentor or someone in your network is a good soundboard for this sort of questioning, as they will have industry insights. Equally, if you get the chance to interview with a company you will be able to ask them about what it is like to work there. Remember, this is a quid pro quo relationship, you need to like the role and company in the same way the company has to like you.
Applications will vary depending on the role you are applying for. As an example, an application to a top investment bank will typically consist of 5-7 stages, beginning the application, then getting through to testing, then telephone and video interviews, an assessment centre, executive interviews etc. However, this example falls on the more rigorous side of applications, with most only consisting of 3-5 stages. In any case, what is important is the preparation and organisation – here are some a couple of key questions you will need to know the answers to if you are applying:
When is the deadline?
You need to know this because ideally, you’ll apply well in advance. I say this because companies are very busy, and the later you leave it, the more likely it is that they will fill their intake and you will miss out. I also think that a very late application could infer to the employer that you’ve not been organised enough, but ‘better late than never’ certainly applies.
What is the format of the application process?
For most grad schemes you will be told how the application process works, for instance after the initial application you may have a first-round interview via telephone, or you might have some tests to complete – find out what the tests are. Sometimes a company will also give you a timeframe for when this is likely to take place. In any case, it is a good idea to research what might be asked, look on the Student Room, Glassdoor etc to see if anyone has posted any insights, or maybe even ask your friends or career advisers. Again, this is role dependent, but prep such as this will prove useful by giving you a greater sense of clarity when the time comes. If you carry this sort of preparation through with you for every stage, you should stand in good stead.
It is important to take your time with the initial application and to have done your company and role research ahead of time. Sprinkling your application with more obscure company facts will make you stand out in a question asking “What attracts you to a career at Company X?”, especially when other applications give generic and uninspiring answers.
Interviews and Assessment Centres
Interviews and Assessment Centres represent the most daunting aspects of applying for a graduate job, and having spoken with my friends they were the cause of the most nerves and angst in the days and weeks leading up to them. Both stages are a test of your personal (soft) skills and your technical knowledge, meaning you need to come across as a good fit for the company both in terms of who you are and what you know. By their nature, they are fuelled by confidence and momentum – if the first question you are asked in an interview is your dream question and your answer is received warmly, chances are that even if the remainder of the questions have a couple of curveballs, you will answer competently. Similarly, if the first question fills you with dread, leaving you umming and pausing throughout your answer, even seemingly easy questions for the remainder of the interview will seem tricky. My advice for interviews would therefore be to prepare a list of questions and their answers to the best of your ability given the time you have and the academic commitments you have outstanding. It is very easy when applying to roles to forget that you still have important university work left to complete. Undoubtedly, you will have interviews which go wrong, and some which go well – you will face easy questions which you have prepared for and some questions which completely throw you because it would be impossible to prepare for every question. As long as you remain calm when asked a tough question and still maintain your confidence you stand a greater chance of success – perhaps a simple “I am not sure, but this area of the industry has always fascinated me and I hope to gain exposure to this during the graduate scheme” would suffice.
In summary, finding a graduate job is a difficult but immensely rewarding challenge which could result in a long and esteemed career. However, it is not the be all and end all, and many students fail to secure a grad role, but still achieve long and esteemed careers. In any case, if you go through the processes listed, you will be more clued-in when it comes to searching for a role after university – any experience is valuable experience if used correctly. I hope that this short blog has provided you with at least some ideas of where to start, and I wish you all the best in this exciting time of your lives. If you have any questions about the blog or graduate careers in general, please email me firstname.lastname@example.org and I will do my best to answer.