How to get a graduate job

The end of life at university is a watershed moment: whether you have already graduated or are about to get your hands on your degree qualification, it's a time to look back on the past three or four years with affection, a smidge of embarrassment and a huge amount of pride.

1 Why is it so hard to get a graduate job?

According to the most recent data from UniversitiesUK, there were 1.80 million graduate students in 2019, while job vacancies in August-October that year peaked at 864,000, according to the Office for National Statistics (and not all will have been positions for graduates). 

It’s also worth remembering many firms have closing dates for their schemes, with 20% in November and 15% in December, followed by 12% in January and February – so winter really is a harsh season. 

Basically, competition in the graduate job market is tougher than your tutor when you ask for a deadline extension. Think The Hunger Games with ties and very smart shoes. 

Some sectors are even more cut-throat than others, with finance and medicine among the top of the list. If you want to be a specialist surgeon or a high-flying banker, you’re going to face a LOT of rivals. 

Graduates studying contemporary circus with physical theatre, probably not so much…

According to the most recent data from UniversitiesUK, there were 1.80 million graduate students in 2019, while job vacancies in August-October that year peaked at 864,000, according to the Office for National Statistics (and not all will have been positions for graduates). 

A degree is no longer enough for a graduate job

The news gets worse before it gets better too, because you’re not even a 100% shoo-in for a graduate job if you bag a 1st either. 

Competition is FIERCE, and there are more than plenty of students graduating with top-drawer or 2:1 degrees, so you’re going to have to work a little bit harder to convince potential recruiters you’ve got something extra when applying for jobs.

However, for graduates emerging from uni armed with a dreaded Desmond for their job hunt, it’s not the disaster it once was. 

Many employers are happy to take a graduate with a 2:2, depending on the job opportunity. They don’t necessarily care about the subject, but they are keen to have someone with degree-level smarts. 

Navigating the job search process can be hard

Even after you’ve shaken the chancellor’s hand and tossed your mortarboard in the air, as fully-fledged graduates there’s no guarantee you’re 100% certain which sector you’re interested in exploring for a first job. 

Different industries offer different pathways, from internships to full-time graduate jobs. The landscape can be confusing and things seem to change quickly. 

One jobs board looks pretty much like another after a while, so to make it count where on earth do you start? Downloading the Debut app is a great first move. 

It matches your skills and knowledge with employers, so you don’t waste time scrolling through endless lists of meaningless graduate jobs. 

Brexit and Coronavirus are playing their part

Of course graduate employers aren’t limited to the UK. Job seekers looking for recent graduate opportunities or international students hoping to carve out a career path in the EU have been severely impacted by Brexit. 

That could ease in time, but for the moment, it’s as well to anticipate a little more hassle and a few more hurdles to achieve your goal. 

Add into the equation the chaos caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and suddenly lots of juicy overseas opportunities are now fewer and further between, with some sectors strictly limiting work placement or volunteering opportunities. 

To overcome them and succeed in this difficult graduate job market, you’ll need lots of patience and a strong will – characteristics many employers would be happy to see.

2 How can you get a graduate job with no experience?

Let’s be honest, the past year has been a piping hot mess when it comes to getting any kind of work experience under your belt, but there are still ways you can demonstrate you’re the right person for a graduate job. 

  1. Build your own website to show off your technical and graphic design skills. Put it front and centre of your Linkedin profile. Use it to post blogs about a CEO you admire or explore a business success or failure that interests you.
  2. If you have a list of companies you’re eager to work for, do some deep-dive research into them. What are they doing that is fresh and new? You can then use that knowledge to bolster any applications.
  3. Organise virtual graduates events through your university or any social clubs to showcase your management abilities.
  4. Explore marketing trends and approaches, find out which ones interest you the most and what can you learn from them?

It might seem like a lot of work but the effort will show and is sure to pay off with potential employers. It might even bring you to the attention of companies you hadn’t previously considered…

Demonstrate your soft skills

Hands on experience is always a great pet to have when job hunting, everyone knows that, but the past 12 months or so put the kybosh on almost everyone’s internship chances. 

However, all is not lost, because degree-level transferable skills from graduates are also massively valuable too. 

Graduate recruiters are also looking for people with abilities that go beyond the cover letter, soft skills that can be applied across a variety of roles and that can mark candidates out as more rounded, less in need of their rough edges softening out. 

Think about your ability to communicate and solve problems, how well you work in a team and your skill with time management. Can you multi-task like your life depended on it? Are you the first person in and the last one out? 

All of these can elevate the average graduate – even one with limited or no experience – to someone rather special. 

Look for alternative ways to gain experience

Let’s be honest, you weren’t chained to a desk during your years at university, and it’s worth remembering that when applying for graduate jobs. 

While few potential employers will be looking for details about your social life (more about that later), recruiters reading your covering letter will be looking for abilities and skills they can develop. 

It’s worth demonstrating the useful, productive ways you have used your time outside working toward your graduate degree.  

Did you manage to confound Covid and squeeze in internships or a spot of volunteering while studying? Did you get the chance to work with a local business or lend a hand at a family enterprise?

Highlighting these efforts during the application process and demonstrating how they dovetail with the skills required for a graduate job will burnish your reputation no end. 

Alternatively, if you’ve already graduated, boost your job application by mentioning online courses you’ve taken in your cover letter, and any transferable skills you’ve picked up as a result. 

One thing is very important: make sure you mention them at recruitment events or assessment centres. 

3 How to get a graduate job after graduation

If your graduate job hunt is proving harder than you expected, and you are struggling to convince recruiters you really do have everything they need, then panic not. 

We have put together a series of tips, hints and links that will help you impress graduate employers and stand out from the crowded job market while applying for jobs that will kick-start your career after university.

The first stage of any job hunting exercise for recent graduates is to create a sparkling CV.

1 – Create an effective CV

The first stage of any job hunting exercise for recent graduates is to create a sparkling CV. Either your university careers advisor or graduate coach can help with this, or you can consult our ultimate graduate cv guide

It should list all your academic achievements, as well as any relevant experience and interests that will enhance your profile. Don’t forget to put in links to all your social media (see the next step for specific advice about your online presence). 

There are many things graduate employers ask for, but none of them tell you how long a CV should be. Luckily, we’re on hand to help with this nifty insight into how long a CV should be

Of course not everyone hits the graduate job market with a ton of work experience. Again, we’ve got the skinny on how to showcase the alternative skills and other abilities you gained while studying for your degree. 

2 – Be professional on social media

It might not occur to many university degree students, but companies offering graduate jobs may be interested in YOU long before they offer you jobs or a chance to develop your career. 

That’s why it pays to be smart about your social media profiles before, during and after you’ve left university. Keep it professional, as much as possible, and use them as a visual showcase of your achievements and ambitions. 

Graduates and applicants who stay focused on their career goals will keep their social media timelines clean and clear of anything that could compromise their position in the graduate job market. It might sound harsh, but believe us, it’ll be worth it to land that dream gig. 

3 – Tailor each application to the role

We’ve written before about the importance of personalising your CVs and the same goes for applications

The graduate recruitment process isn’t a one-size-fits-all game, and many graduate jobs are as individual as the students applying for them. 

Make sure you highlight anything relevant to the job you’re applying for: whether that’s your degree qualification, any work experience or what you expect to achieve from the position. 

Don’t be shy about using the application as a way to demonstrate your understanding of what the company does, stands for or is seeking to achieve – and tell them how you’d achieve the latter in an interview. 

4 – Sign up to Debut for job opportunities

UK universities all have career advisors and there are plenty of graduate coach firms but the best way to get your foot firmly in the door during a job search and bag some interviews is by signing up for free to Debut

In as little as four minutes, you can forget about trawling jobs boards and get opportunities you didn’t know existed served straight up, helping you take the right first step in your graduate career. 

5 – Network with your connections

If university students instinctively know how to do one thing, it’s to make friends, and the network of connections you create at university can be hugely helpful when it comes to looking for and landing graduate jobs. 

If you’re shy of calling on your virtual mates or break out in a sweat at the notion of swapping business cards for the first time with other graduates – relax. We’ve got you covered with a nifty networking guide

6- Make sure you do your research

You might not believe this, but there is a scary number of job applicants (some of which are graduates) who go into interviews without really knowing much about the firm or chosen industry they’ve applied to. 

You can try to convince recruiters you’re not among them, but if you do, you will be very quickly found out. Right-thinking graduates know the better option is to put in the time, do the homework and ace any interviews.  

7 – Believe in yourself

If you go into any interviews expecting to fail, then the chances are you will, especially if you skipped step six. Instead try to build up your self-confidence. Remember – you’re graduates! 

You have a degree and all the insight and skills that come with it. If you’ve got work experience under your belt too, so much the better. 

Be proud of your achievements, use that feeling to boost your self-esteem and it will show to recruiters. 

8 – Make yourself stand out

Confidence may be a preference for the habitual voyeur of what is known as parklife, but for job search graduates looking to stand out from the crowd, it’s an absolute necessity. Be aware there’s a fine line between being confident in your abilities and showing off… 

Back it up with a kick-ass CV and a social media profile that showcases your strengths and achievements, and you can expect lots of interested recruiters to come a-knocking. 

9- Keep yourself motivated

If you’ve followed all the advice, it can be tough to take if the graduate jobs don’t flood in, but patience really is its own reward. 

Bide your time and keep motivated by blogging about your chosen area of interest, and share your posts with relevant firms or business leaders. 

Stay up to date with trends and big news stories, share your feelings with other graduates, and get them to talk to you about their experiences in the job market. 

Build a community that will support each member and celebrate when that job offer finally arrives.  

10 – Debut is here to help!

Whether you’re swamped with offers or you’re still waiting for that dream opening, Debut is here to help any and all graduates. You can find our latest jobs here, or the latest advice on graduate schemes, as well as career-related tips and hints from the experts

Good luck!

Show more jobs

Get started

Take four minutes to set up your profile and have great grad jobs come to you.