We recently hosted some of the UK’s largest graduate recruiters at our annual Recruiters’ Club Forum, and it was a great opportunity to get the lowdown on things that impress and irritate, in equal measure.
Start early and keep an open mind
It’s never too early to start engaging with recruiters – this doesn’t mean committing yourself to a five-year career plan, but it doesn’t hurt to start the ball rolling. Employers are keen to meet first years and have made some subtle shifts in their selection processes to accommodate this change. Although relevant experience is valued, recruiters also welcome more general experiences gained through extra curricular activities such as volunteering and student clubs and societies.
Some of our employers are seeking on-campus opportunities to talent spot, so it’s imperative you make a good first impression. Come with questions, prepare beforehand and talk to recruiters!
Avoid making any assumptions – the pervasive ones are typically based on myth and hearsay, not reality. A common ‘for instance’ is the widely held belief that employers are fixated by degree discipline. In fact, the opposite is true. With the exception of very technical or scientific roles, approximately 75% are open to receiving applications from students of any discipline.
Spend time on your applications
This may seem obvious but the penny clearly hasn’t dropped, as sloppy applications are a number one gripe for our employers. Cutting and pasting from previous documents and failing to proofread for errors will inevitably lead to rejection. CVs should be one or two pages as appropriate (to accommodate sector norms) but not any longer. A CV is a marketing document, not your life story.
A principal reason for rejection at both application and interview stages is the “failure to describe and articulate experiences effectively”. Don’t think you can get away with a shopping list of accomplishments – facts alone will only carry you so far. Try to articulate what you have learned and how this has helped you grow and develop. This will really help your application to stand out and will significantly strengthen your answers to both competency and motivational questions.
Consider your contribution
To paraphrase JFK, it’s not what the organisation can do for you, but what you can do for the organisation. If you think about the potential contribution you could make, and where your skills and qualities align you are far more likely to succeed at both application and interview.
It’s important to demonstrate how your experiences – and the skills developed – marry up with the role. Don’t skirt around the issue and assume employers will fill in the blanks – they simply don’t have time. A common failing is lack of relevant detail and applicability: so you’ve been a Social Secretary of the Lacrosse or Theatre Society – what does this mean in practice? What did you do; what did you gain and why does it matter?
Time spent researching the job and thinking about ‘fit’ will pay dividends: it will enhance the quality of your application(s) and increase the chance of being selected.
So, this is what our graduate recruiters want YOU to focus on:
- Research. It’s key that students can demonstrate that they understand the subtle differences between the company and its competitors. This means understanding the specifics of the job role and the function of said company or organisation.
- Tailor and target. Pay attention to detail and tailor your application to the company. This is not negotiable. Any suggestion that you’ve failed to understand the role requirements, and your application will be rejected. There is no room for ambiguity.
- Motivation. Candidates need to be able to answer the question, “Why do you want to work for X?” Think of three good reasons why you want the job. If you are struggling to answer, then perhaps it’s time to review your decision. Motivation will be assessed at application and interview stage, so you really need to nail this question.
- Evidence and experience. Students often fail to provide sufficient detail when they’re describing their experience, particularly with extra-curricular roles. Employers won’t infer anything so you have to convey what you did, and why it’s relevant.
- Values. You can demonstrate how your values align with those of the organisation through activities such as volunteering. It’s also important to showcase your understanding of the business culture – and this doesn’t just apply to city and finance roles!
- Resilience. Determination and tenacity are required to succeed – particularly if you want to beat the applicant:vacancy ratio, and both of these traits are closely associated with resilience. In certain high pressures roles, such as management consultancy, you will need resilience in spades, so make sure you can demonstrate this at application and interview.
- A specific accomplishment. Recruiters are impressed by tangible achievements that hold real value. DofE Gold Award or music to grade 8 both are good examples, as they indicate persistence and drive for excellence.
- Competitive nature. This may be less applicable in some sectors, but if you’re aiming for a career in financial services, then a competitive nature is a desirable attribute. Participation in team sports is considered favourably. Don’t despair if you’re not a natural sports(wo)man; competition is not confined to the sporting realm!
- Involvement. Get stuck in and contribute. If you join a society make it count – recruiters look for active involvement, not passive participation. Try to secure a committee role – membership alone may not impress.
- Authenticity. Don’t contort yourself in knots trying to ‘model’ the ideal candidate. The chances are you’ll just sound robotic. Demonstrate your interest in – and suitability for – the role. Combine this with just the right level of excitement and enthusiasm and you’re on to a winner.