I think this is one of the questions I am most frequently asked. There’s no straightforward answer but there are some questions you can ask yourself which might help to inform your actions. So what are they?
How many jobs do you want?
This question is not as fatuous as is sounds. If you have one dream job which can be done for one employer then your options are going to be limited. Everyone should try to have a plan B though. It would be good to spend some time researching to see if you can come up with similar options. For example, if you want to join the Civil Service Fast Stream it might look as if you have just the one option. That’s not the case, several Government Departments take direct graduate entry, you might want to apply to those departments too.
How competitive is it to get the job you want?
The number of applications you want to make will be determined, in part, by the level of competition you expect. Some City of London jobs, like consultancy or training contacts in top law firms, will pitch you into intense competition. There may be more than 100 people applying for each vacancy. Just applying for the one job does not look like a great strategy! Paradoxically applying for 50 opportunities might not enhance your prospects of securing the offer.
You’re going to need to balance the desirability of making a number of applications, with the imperative of ensuring that each application you make is as good as it can possibly be. You’ll have to research each individual employer and demonstrate that research in the application. You would also be well advised to get someone with experience of recruitment in the particular area to check that you are, “on the right track”, before you start firing off your applications.
Stop to think how much time you can spare from your academic work to make these applications. Top consultancy firms say that successful candidates often tell them that they measure the time spent on each application in days not hours! You will not be advancing yourself if you get the coveted offer, only to find that when you graduate you miss the 2.1 the offer was conditional upon.
An important consideration is whether there is a way of spreading your applications. If you don’t succeed in gaining an offer for the most competitive jobs, can you can still work in your desired sector area? When you applied to university you probably listed a range of universities on your UCAS form, perhaps from the aspirational to the insurance. Can you adopt that approach with your applications? If you want to be an accountant and aim to work for one of the “Big Four” could you also apply to a smaller practice? You might be able to increase dramatically your chance of training for the career you want.
When are the closing dates for applications for your options?
Thinking this through carefully can help you to minimise the number of applications you need to do, or at least allow you to spread the burden of doing them over a longer period. Check whether your target employers recruit on a rolling basis. (Do they look at and assess each application as soon as they receive it?) You need to apply quickly for any organisations handling their recruitment in this way. An amazing statistic is that when there is a window of time in which applications can be made, 75% of applications will come in during the final 33% of that time. It will be easier to secure your dream job if you get your application in early. (Some graduate schemes for 2016 start are already open so early birds can make a start right now!)
You might want to delay putting in applications for employers not running rolling recruitment cycles. Do some research also into closing dates for different jobs. The “Big 4” accountancy firms all still have advertised vacancies for 2015, (I’ve just checked). If you leave an application very late, you won’t necessarily be able to get a job in your dream location but you might find that there are still some really “tasty” offerings out there.
Does this answer the question?
It proves there isn’t really an answer! Without a doubt one really well researched and put together application is more likely to lead to success than 50 ill-thought through generic efforts. The happy medium is somewhere in the middle. Most people probably aim to put in between five and ten really good applications.
We’re here to help you along the way!