Application planner: quick tips for graduate job-hunters

Our overview of how to apply for graduate jobs gives a checklist of tips for the three key stages: preparation, applications, and interviews and assessment centres.

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An impressive application doesn't start with the first words you type into an online application form: it begins with preparation, and preparation begins with you. Do you know what you want out of your career, and what you have to offer? Have you researched the employer thoroughly, and can you give examples, drawn from your experience, of the competencies they are looking for? Read on to find out what to expect and how to succeed at each stage of the graduate recruitment process.

Step 1: Preparation: make yourself the ideal applicant

  • Start with yourself Write down your skills and characteristics so that you know what you have to offer. Think about what motivates you – our guide to careers that will satisfy your aspirations will help. Make a list of your achievements and pull together all your best work experience examples.
  • Make time for employer research Break down employer research into manageable activities: draw up a list of the employers you want to investigate, compare them on basic categories (size, culture, location, salary, training, etc). Shortlist the employers that meet your criteria and research them in greater depth. Our TARGETjobs employer hubs will help with this.
  • Use a range of sources for your research Use the employer profiles and immediate graduate job vacancies here on to get started. Visit each employer’s website to find out specifics about the company. Pick up free copies of TARGETjobs publications from your university’s careers service. While you’re there, look at the information the careers service holds on employers. To improve your general knowledge of a business sector, follow stories about the companies you’re targeting in the national press and any specialist publications relevant to your chosen career.
  • Know what employers want Always check minimum degree requirements and what degree disciplines are required before you start applying. Find out what general competencies (eg communication and teamworking) and what specific skills (eg office IT skills) are wanted.
  • Check the application process Find out what is involved in applying, and don't forget to check the application deadline.
  • Practise psychometric tests. You may be asked to complete literacy, numeracy or inductive reasoning tests as part of your application. Some employers are using gamification as part of recruitment, and will ask you to play an online game at some stage in the process. Using any opportunities to practise in advance will increase your chances of success.
  • Practise interviews and presentations. You may be invited to take a video interview . Depending on the system used, you may be able to practise this beforehand. Your careers service may offer practice sessions for face-to-face interviews. If you are asked to prepare a presentation for an assessment day in advance, it will help boost your confidence if you run through it with an audience.
  • Check how you come across online. Make sure social media is working for you, not against you, and take steps to manage your online reputation .

Step 2: Graduate applications: the essentials

  • Give yourself plenty of time to write applications Good applications take time and concentration. Never leave them until the last minute. Find a place where you won’t be distracted when you are working on them.
  • Tailor your application to each employer Match your skills and competencies to each job and organisation you apply to. Recycle CVs and application responses at your own peril – you might leave in a reference to another employer.
  • Prepare longer responses in a separate document This will make it much easier to structure responses and to spell check what you write.
  • Use a range of examples to highlight your abilities Choose good examples from your list of work experience and extracurricular activities to showcase your skills and abilities.
  • Check applications carefully before you send them Poor spelling and grammar will immediately jeopardise your chances of success. Never let silly errors slip through. Ask a trusted friend to read through your application before you send it off.

Our advice on applying for graduate jobs explains how to structure your CV , how to fill in an online application form and how to write a covering letter .

Step 3: Graduate interviews and assessment centres: top tips and advice

  • Check the interview or assessment centre process Read any information sent to you by an employer well in advance of the day. This will give you time to make contact and clarify any queries, as well as prepare for interviews and assessment activities.
  • Reread your application and the job description Try to anticipate questions you may be asked and prepare a range of fresh examples you can use to demonstrate your skills. Make sure you’ve thought about your responses to some of the standard job interview questions that may come up.
  • Prepare your own questions to ask Write a list of questions you want to ask interviewers and employer representatives about the job vacancy and working life. In the heat of an interview it’s easy to forget what you want to ask, so type up your questions and take them with you. Our advice on questions to ask at your job interview will help you.
  • Participate fully in all assessment activities You can only be assessed if you are taking part and contributing to all the activities. Get stuck in and have a go.
  • Be enthusiastic Be ready to tell interviewers why you want to work for their organisation and what you’ll bring to the job. Smile, be positive and be yourself at all times.

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