Tips from the top

Tips from the top! Executives and graduates share secrets of success

We’ve collected job hunting tips from executives and recent graduates working for some of the UK’s most popular employers so you can learn from their success.
I thought 'I can do half of what they are looking for and I guess I can learn the rest.' Phil Gilbert, director of customer solutions at E.ON

What advice would senior executives and recent graduates working for the UK’s most popular employers give to job hunting students? The Guardian UK 300 lists the UK’s 300 most sought-after graduate recruiters, and we’ve picked the brains of both senior staff and recent recruits working in these household-name businesses to bring you some inspirational tips that will help you get hired.

If you’ve come to regard job hunting as a painful necessity, you might be pleasantly surprised: the overall message that emerged from our research was that optimism and persistence pay off. Here are five key tips from the top for successful job hunting:

  • Be bold when choosing roles to apply for
  • Figure out how to present your degree in the best possible light
  • Know what you enjoy
  • Turn your personal development into a story
  • Get your nerves under control by practising with an audience

You can find out more about the UK's most popular graduate recruiters from The Guardian UK 300.

Be bold!

‘I saw an advert for a role in corporate strategy and I thought “I can do half of what they are looking for and I guess I can learn the rest.”’ Phil Gilbert, director of customer solutions at E.ON, who joined the company as a graduate.

You don’t necessarily have to have to tick off every single requirement set out in the job ad. If you meet the essential criteria but don’t possess all the desired qualities, and you really want the job, it could pay off to take a chance and apply anyway.

Work out how to sell your degree

‘My interviewers’ first question was about my choice of degree. For me, it was about flipping around the question and saying what I could apply to a business context: my analytical abilities, my communication skills, my creativity, a fresh perspective and so on.’ Isabel Shaw, who finished university with a degree in English literature and has since joined the business graduate scheme at IBM.

Whatever graduate job or scheme you apply for, you’ll need to explain how your degree course has helped to develop the skills you’ll need at work. Isabel’s approach is a good model for arts graduates applying for roles in business and management.

Know what you enjoy

‘If I have ten candidates with a 2.1 in front of me, I’m looking for something to differentiate them. Build life skills, such as leadership, and get experience that can demonstrate these. Use things you enjoy in life to build them, by, for instance, captaining a sports team or doing charity work.’ Debbie Steane, director of customer supply chain innovation for a Johnson & Johnson company.

Your extracurricular activities can make a huge difference when it comes to getting hired. Make good use of them in your applications and interviews by highlighting the skills they’ve enabled you to develop. You’re more likely to succeed at activities you enjoy, whether it’s sport, drama, student journalism or volunteering, and your enthusiasm and commitment will come across. Also, don’t underestimate the value of work experience such as part-time bar or retail work, and be prepared to talk about aspects of these jobs that you enjoyed.

Tell your story

‘Record any achievements outside of your degree as you do them: firstly, because it can be hard to remember the details a couple of years later and secondly because it will show you how you have developed and help you build a “narrative” for interviews.’ Spike van der Vilet-Firth, a national management trainee on the national graduate development programme run by the Local Government Association.

Keeping notes on your degree, work experience and extracurricular activities throughout your time at university will give you a head start when the time comes to apply for jobs. However, it’s not just about keeping track of what you’ve done; it’s also about being able to retrace your steps and make sense of your development so that you can explain it at interview. This will make it easy for recruiters to understand how you’ve come to be in a position to offer them the key skills and competencies they’re looking for.

Manage nerves with a dress rehearsal

‘I think the main reason I got a job with CGI was how prepared I was. The interview process included a written exercise (completed before the assessment day) and a presentation. I’d practised and practised in front of friends and family beforehand. This helped me to overcome my nerves and come across as confident.’ Abbie Maidment, service consultant for the public sector at CGI.

If you are invited to prepare a presentation in advance, practising in front of an audience will help you control your nerves. Thorough preparation for interviews and assessment centres will help you to come across as well-informed, articulate and confident and puts you in the best possible position to show recruiters what you’re capable of.

Top