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ten tips for graduate job hunters in 2020

Job skills for 2020: ten tips to future-proof your graduate career

We look into the TARGETjobs crystal ball for answers about how to give yourself the best chance of graduate job success in the year ahead, despite the coronavirus pandemic,

It's safe to say 2020 has not panned out as we expected, and it is hard to know how things might change over the coming months. Making predictions is always a chancy business, and given the coronavirus pandemic alongside the political uncertainty of recent years, it’s hard to be confident about what lies ahead for the graduate jobs market in 2020. Recent snap surveys by TARGETjobs' research partner, Trendence UK & Ireland, found that students' confidence in getting a post-graduation job dropped by 22% between March and April 2020.

Nevertheless, we’ve peered into the TARGETjobs crystal ball to look for answers to some of the questions you might have about your job hunt. Here are ten tips that should help you maximise your job prospects during this uncertain time.

You can also read our article on job hunting during the coronavirus pandemic.

1. Skill yourself up to cope with change

Soft skills such as flexibility, adaptability, resilience and problem solving will help you cope with uncertainty and change. These skills will help you through the recruitment process and beyond, as you start your graduate career. They’re also skills that graduate recruiters look for, especially now, as they’ll make you more effective in the workplace.

Our advice explains how to develop the skills you need to find your way through unpredictable and challenging experiences, along with tips on how to showcase them in your applications and interviews: 

2. Decide what you want (and what you need)

How important is salary to you, and what do you expect to earn in your first graduate job? The average graduate starting salary is around £22,400, according to data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency. A survey carried out in 2019 by the Institute of Student Employers (ISE), which represents many large companies, found that the average graduate starting salary offered by ISE members was £29,000. This higher figure reflects the nature of the ISE membership, which includes many big graduate recruiters that tend to pay higher salaries.

Your starting salary will vary considerably depending on what you do. Our advice on what you could earn in different careers identifies the sectors with the highest starting pay.

If you are starting a job in the immediate future, you'll almost certainly be working from home for a little while (unless you cannot do the job from home). At some point, though, you will be asked to move to your employer's offices, wherever they may be. Unsurprisingly, in normal times, London is the UK’s biggest hotspot for graduate recruitment. You can find out more about the proportion of graduate jobs based outside London from our advice on where in the UK you are most likely to get a graduate job.

There will also be many other factors at work in your decision-making about your career and where to apply for work, including your personal values, what motivates you and the importance you place on work-life balance. Here's some of the advice we've put together to help you explore your career options:

3. Reassess your options, from postgrad study to working abroad

Are you considering further study? Check out our postgrad study advice for tips on what you can do with a masters, how to market it in your job applications and more.

If you've been dreaming of working overseas, this may be on pause. You may need to look for a job in the UK for now but it doesn't need to be forever. If you find a job with an international employer, they may even be able to transfer you to another country in the future.

If you are planning ahead to work internationally, check out our country-by-country guides to working abroad. Our TEFL teacher job description explains what TEFL teaching involves and how to qualify.

What if you’ve already graduated? Our advice on how to structure your job hunt if you’ve already finished university will help you keep going until you succeed in getting the job you want.

4. Check out the jobs of the future

Roles we’ve picked out as potential in-demand jobs of the future include:

  • food technologist
  • cybersecurity expert/devops engineer
  • wellbeing and fitness instructor.

You can find out more, including key areas where the UK government anticipates future skills shortages, from our advice on jobs of the future.

You may also find it helpful to read our article on how different sectors are adapting to the pandemic. Knowing which industries are struggling due to the coronavirus and which are surviving may influence your career plans.

5. Understand what employers are looking for

Recruiters tell us that motivation is hugely important to them. They want to be sure that you’re genuinely interested in the role and the employer, and you’ll need to have done your employer research to convince them.

According to the ISE survey, most employers set minimum requirements for entry, with 57% of ISE members requiring a 2.1 as a minimum and 22% requiring a 2.2 as a minimum, while 16% set a minimum UCAS tariff or A level grades. However, a significant minority – 22% – choose not to set any minimum requirements.

Employers also love candidates with work experience, and they are particularly keen on recruiting their own interns into graduate jobs. This has been a trend in recent years: according to the ISE report, in 2019 graduate employers rehired an average of 47% of their interns and 44% of placement students.

However, work experience in 2020 is going to be very different to in previous years. The coronavirus and social distancing have caused big difficulties for internships, with lots of students finding the work experience they had lined up for the summer cancelled or postponed.

Some employers are running virtual internships this summer. Read our student’s guide to virtual internships to find out what form these might take.

Ultimately, do not worry about having done an internship this spring or summer; recruiters will not expect you to, given the circumstances. If you are keen to do something productive while you wait for things to return to normal, though, there are other ways to give your CV a boost.

6. Know how to present yourself in your applications

Make sure you can translate your experience of part-time work, studying and extracurricular activities into the kind of soft, transferable skills that employers are looking for, such as communication, motivation, time management and so on. This will underpin how you present yourself in your applications and interviews, and will enable you to show that you match the skills required for the job.

A good starting point is our advice on ten skills that will get you a job when you graduate. We’ve also put together a series of articles on different skills and competencies to explain how to show employers your strengths.

It’s best to take a strategic approach, focusing on doing fewer applications well rather than trying to fire off as many applications as possible. Remember you need to tailor each application for the employer. Our big guide to writing your CV explains how to use and adapt our CV template depending on the role you’re going for.

7. Prepare for aptitude tests

Online aptitude tests are used by many large employers. They’re often set at an early stage in the graduate recruitment process, so you might find you’re asked to take some tests after you’ve submitted your initial online application.

There are three types of aptitude test you’re particularly likely to come across:

One of the best ways to prepare for aptitude tests is to take the Graduate Benchmark. This is a series of tests we’ve put together so you can take tests similar to those used by graduate recruiters and review how you scored. There are practice versions you can take first to familiarise yourself with the nature of the tests.

The Graduate Benchmark tests are likely to be different to the kind of tests you’re used to taking as part of academic exams:

  • they’re adaptive, which means the difficulty of the questions is automatically adjusted in response to how you’re doing – if you are performing well, the questions get harder.
  • your results are shown in the form of a graph, with your score given in relation to others in a comparison group.

8. Be ready for virtual interviews and assessment centres

Many graduate employers already used video interviews before the coronavirus, but plenty more have since joined them. Candidates sometimes find these challenging but, on the plus side, you can fit them in at a time that is convenient for you.

Some employers are running virtual assessment centres as well as, or instead of, video interviews. We recently hosted a webinar with two assessment experts to ask them what virtual assessment centres involve and how to prepare. You can find the video at NextStepSupport.org.

NextStepSupport is a collaboration between a number of organisations that provide support and services to students, including TARGETjobs. On the website, you can find individual employer and university updates during the pandemic, as well as advice and insights from organisations such as the Institute of Student Employers (ISE), The Student Room and The Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (AGCAS).

A good way to prepare for both video interviews and virtual assessment centres is to think about what questions you might be asked. Chances are the employer will use competency-based questions. These involve asking for examples of a particular skill or competency.

However, the majority of employers combine more than one approach, so you might well find yourself facing questions that focus on your strengths, values and technical skills as well as competency questions.

9. Keep up with Brexit

With the world focused on coronavirus, it may seem like a lifetime ago that Brexit dominated the headlines, but UK-EU talks are ongoing, even if over video link. Keeping up to date with the relevant issues and how they might affect the industry you want to join will help you show your commercial awareness. Our advice on how Brexit might affect your job hunt includes tips on how to approach the subject in your applications and interviews.

10. Make the most of TARGETjobs

Register with TARGETjobs and fill out your profile, if you haven’t done so already. This means employers can contact you directly about vacancies you would be a good match for. Do your research into employers and different career areas, and make sure you don’t miss out on applying for any graduate opportunities that appeal to you.

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In Partnership

This content has been written or sourced by AGCAS, the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services, and edited by TARGETjobs as part of a content partnership. AGCAS provides impartial information and guidance resources for higher education student career development and graduate employment professionals.

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