Finding a graduate job – what really works?

This week I attended a presentation on the graduate labour market by Charlie Ball, Head of Higher Education Intelligence at Graduate Prospects and well known for his expertise on employment destinations of graduates and postgraduates.

It was a really interesting overview of 2015 graduate destinations, the current and future graduate labour market, with a few myths challenged. Much of the information can be found on the latest Prospects and the HE careers services professional body, AGCAS What do graduates do? 2016 report, which presents findings from the Higher Education Statistics Agency’s (HESA) Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education survey (DLHE), examining first degree graduate destinations six months after they graduated.

One particular subject that Charlie touched upon and that really intrigued me was how 2015 graduates found their first jobs. There were some expected, but also surprising results. The top three sources were:

  • Employer websites (18.5%)
  • Personal contacts e.g. family and friends (17.3%)
  • Previous work experience/internships and placements (15.9%)

And which methods were not commonly used by these graduates? Interestingly, social media/professional networking sites featured at the lower end of the scale (only 2.8% of these graduates found their first job this way).

So we can conclude work experience and personal/professional networks are key, but is it always that easy? Is social media irrelevant and of little value? And what other job-search tips and advice can we offer to students and graduates in light of this?

We all know that having work experience and undertaking internships does make it infinitely easier to progress into a graduate job – there is evidence of this, one being the recent Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) annual survey, which showed how recruiters are using internships when hiring for their graduate positions; the survey showed ‘an average of 45% of 2015 interns went on to secure graduate jobs in the same company this year. One in ten employers convert more than 83% of their interns into graduate hires.’

But depending on a range of circumstances, finding the right kind of work experience and getting an internship isn’t always that simple, particularly where competition is high. Recruiters are certainly taking steps to make their vacancies more accessible and engaging with a wider pool of talent, but we do need to continue to look at how we best support students in obtaining relevant and quality experience.

I found it interesting how many graduates found their jobs through personal contacts e.g. family and friends. Networking and the right connections are vital, but if you come from a background where your family, friends or local community have limited links with certain professions and career areas, what happens then? It’s for this reason that career mentoring programmes can be crucial and enable these students and graduates to access networks and opportunities they wouldn’t normally be able to. And even when contacts are available, having the confidence to approach professionals and develop relationships can be hard. I know even something like making speculative calls and applications is really nerve wracking, so we need to do more to help students develop this skill.

The fact that very few graduates used social and professional media doesn’t make it irrelevant in my view, and again there is much out there to highlight its value and benefits. But how it helps can vary – in some cases, jobs may be directly advertised on Twitter or LinkedIn, in other cases, it might lead to a conversation with a recruiter, or the chance to attend a careers event. The relevance also depends on the sector and industry; I’ve done a lot of work with media and journalism students where social media is vital not just for personal branding and showcasing your portfolio, but hearing about jobs. In addition, I had an interesting conversation just this week with careers coach and expert David Shindler who shared with me a great example of one his business management students who got approached for a graduate job simply via his LinkedIn profile! So it can and does help.

From my own experience of job-searching, and from that of the students and graduates I’ve worked with over the many years, I would offer the following tips and advice to those job hunting:

  1. Spend time planning your job search and start to think about it early on so you can seek the right support, and ensure you’re not missing out on crucial deadlines.
  2. If you are looking to work in a particular sector or industry, do your research into how those types of employers promote their opportunities, the methods they use to advertise and recruit.
  3. Be creative particularly if you’re exploring a number of options. Don’t put all your eggs into one basket and try a range of different strategies.
  4. It’s not just paid work experience or internships that can lead you to a job – volunteering could open many doors.
  5. Make the most of any work experience opportunity – look at who you can speak to, projects you can get involved in, so that you are creating a path for future jobs.
  6. Expect the unexpected – I was reading about a Fashion graduate who was working in Top Shop and her customer happened to be the editor of a fashion magazine, and so this led to her lucky break into the media industry. You never know what is on the horizon, and I can vouch for this through my own career.
  7. Social media is not dying out – it is still relevant, but you do need to use it smartly and effectively, with a professional online presence. Have a look at my post on 10 tips for using social media for your career.
  8. Develop your confidence and communication skills, especially if you find it difficult to make speculative calls and applications, or panic at the thought of networking.
  9. Get a mentor – take advantage of any opportunity to have 1:1 support. Mentoring can help you make that transition from education to employment.
  10. Get advice from your Careers Service and other career professionals to help you review current and develop future job-search strategies.

What job-search tips and advice do you have? Have you used any different methods and tactics to find a job? What has or hasn’t worked for you or your clients? Please do comment and let me know!




Published by Monira Ahmed

Careers Professional & Blogger; passionate about International Careers, Diversity Matters and Mentoring.

3 thoughts on “Finding a graduate job – what really works?

  1. I find this really interesting, and I am surprised at how few jobs were found through social media. I wonder if that has changed more recently? However, I didn’t find the networking or the internships very surprising, and as you say, this is a little depressing since it favours those who already have good links to professionals or can afford to do unpaid internships. I wonder if people in powerful positions are more likely to close ranks and give jobs to family/friends when times are tough and they are worried their own children will not succeed? Thought provoking as always.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was surprised as well about the social media aspect but I do find more awareness is still needed about it’s potential and value. Am not too sure on very recent figures I suspect may be the same though. Yes a valid point about those in influential positions and certainly need better access to range of internships. Thanks for your thoughts Ciara!


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