Applications / Interviews / Job market

What are employers really looking for?

Hilary Riseley, who has worked for eight years in Human Resources and Recruitment with some big graduate employers, has been part of the Warwick careers team over the course of this term. Many students here may have met her in her role as a Job Search Adviser. We have enjoyed working with her. Here she shares some great advice, based on her experience and feedback from graduate employers, about what they are really looking for in their new recruits.

The Employer’s Shopping List – How to make sure you are not left on the shelf?

When graduate employers go shopping for new recruits, they are very particular about their specific recipe for success. Yes – they may all look for the same basic ingredients: a spoonful of teamwork, a dash of effective communication, mixed with initiative, customer service, all topped off with commercial awareness. However, they also seek extra special ingredients to make their individual ‘showstopper’ result. So what might these magical additional ingredients be and more importantly, how can you get them?

Branding word cloud written on a chalkboard

Well, speaking to graduate recruiters, that very much depends on the company itself and the particular area of the business that they’re recruiting for. Some speak of a ‘Corporate Character’ – if they could describe their company as a person, what would they say? This is more than their advertised mission statement, values, brand and strategy, it is also what their clients say and how employees behave on a daily basis.

This information will be difficult to find out just by researching the company website. Sure, that will give you some initial ideas, but what is it really like working there and what does their work actually involve?

Graduate recruiters want to feel special. It’s your job to give them that feeling!  You’ll drastically increase your chances of standing out from the thousands of applications they receive if you can show that you have taken the time and energy to actively learn more about their business. Try to show (whilst being true to yourself) that you match their ‘Corporate Character ’ and what they need.

So, what should you do?

Be pro-active

Use every opportunity to network with employers and current/previous staff to find out real-life examples of what the work involves and what they need from their graduate recruits. This may be through on-campus events and presentations, through university alumni networks, friends and family contacts, student societies,  employee views websites (e.g. Glassdoor) or all of the above!

Be current

Keep up to date on the latest industry /sector developments and news, particularly any information on the companies you want to work for. Make sure that you’re following them on LinkedIn (if they have a company profile). What challenges are they facing? How is your preferred company tackling those challenges for example? This shows an enthusiastic, self-motivated, ‘switched on’ candidate.

Be focused

Quality, not quantity is key. It’s better to research your preferred sector and identify a few (no I won’t give specific numbers – that’s your call) employers you’re most attracted to. Focus your job search activities around them to produce targeted, relevant applications. Avoid the ‘scattergun’ approach at all costs! Far better to select one employer and attend all the campus events that they’re running rather than go to visit each and every employer in a specific sector just once each. Many employers keep a record of who attends their sessions: by building up rapport and credibility with the company representatives; you’re more likely to be remembered in the application process.

Be specific

Avoid general (and generic) statements and focus on an individual employer – what is it specifically about them that inspires you to work there? It’s not enough to say that they’re a ‘leading global company’ – anyone could say that! Instead, you could mention a specific business challenge that they have overcome and how that links to you and your experience. For example, they may have persevered through multiple obstacles and challenges to develop an innovative new product; you could then give an example of how you’ve persevered to achieve an innovative result. This is linking you with them and strengthening your case to show you have what they need.

While this may feel like a lot of work when you are already busy with your academic studies, taking the time and effort to focus your job search activities and make targeted, relevant applications is likely to pay off in the long run. Sometimes employers take as little as 5-7 seconds to look at a CV. Their shopping trip is more like a ‘supermarket sweep’, so anything you can do to show you have the ingredients they need will help ensure you get in the mix!


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