Applications / Self awareness / Work experience

How to make successful applications for graduate jobs and further study

Earlier this year, a research report attempting to identify factors leading to graduate success  was published by The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. ‘Planning for success: Graduates’ career planning and its effect on graduate outcomes’  surveyed 7,500 graduates across 27 Higher Education Institutions.  The research explored the importance of different behaviours, characteristics and factors important in determining graduate outcomes. The findings may be helpful to those of you currently considering what you will do when you graduate. 

The report considered four key questions:

  • What led graduates to a ‘positive’ outcome?
  • What led graduates with a positive outcome to employment, and what to further study?
  • What led the employed to professional or managerial employment as opposed to non-professional employment?
  • What led those in professional or managerial employment to full-time as opposed to part-time roles

Findings revealed three factors which were key in guiding graduates into employment or further study:

  • Undertaking paid work while at university or in the six months immediately after graduating
  • Focusing job searches exclusively on graduate level jobs and making most applications while studying
  • Having a career plan upon leaving university

The type of institution students attended impacted on whether they ended up in employment as opposed to further study. Research-focused universities saw more graduates progressing into further study.

Among graduates who were in employment, knowing exactly what they wanted to do or having a good idea about types of jobs and careers upon completing university was the most important factor in determining whether that employment was in professional or managerial services or in non-professional roles.

Having a targeted approach to job applications was most important in influencing whether an individual entered into full-time professional or managerial employment as opposed to the same level of employment on a part time basis. Of those who reported they had applied only to graduate level jobs (which most applicants made while at university), more ended up in in full time professional or managerial employment.  After this, graduates who had undertaken unpaid work experience as part of their focused approach were more likely to find full time professional or managerial employment.

Two and a half years after graduating, 84% reported employment as their main activity, with many who had been undertaking further study six months after graduating, joining this group. Of this group, 64% were working at professional or managerial level. These graduates were earning 35% more than those in non-graduate jobs.

At the point of applying to university, around half had a career plan and half didn’t. Of those with a plan 18% were very clear what they wanted to do.

Those who had clearer career plans were more likely to have reported positive outcomes two and a half years after graduation and to be working in graduate level roles.


All forms of work experience were beneficial. Students who had undertaken relevant non-compulsory work experience tended to be those who had been more proactive about career development. While graduate internships were rare, these were the most successful in leading to job offers.

However, those engaging in unpaid work experience whilst widely undertaken, were the least likely to lead to a full-time professional role. Work experience not related to career choice, while useful in securing employment, is less useful in gaining graduate level jobs.

What else contributed to graduates’ success?

The more students engaged in extra-curricular activity the greater the benefit. Involvement as society committee members and through representing their university in a competitive capacity were particularly beneficial.

Those with the clearest career plans on leaving university were more likely to report a positive outcome of professional or managerial employment or further study.

  • Just over half (57%) of graduates started making applications while still at university but more than half (52%) also made the majority of applications in the six months following graduation. Only 14% of graduates had not made any job applications within six months of leaving university with these graduates commonly citing a desire to pursue further study as their reason for not doing so.
  • A targeted approach to making job applications (between one and five) was the most effective in securing graduate level employment. Those who were in these positions were seen to be more focused and streamlined in their approach to job applications. They were more likely than others to have started applications prior to their final year, to have done most of their applications while still at university, and to have mainly focused their job searches on graduate level roles.

In summary the best ways to secure a graduate level role or further study offer according to the report are:

  • Work out what you want to do before you graduate
  • Focus and tailoring your applications to a small number graduate roles
  • Gain relevant and ideally paid work in your prospective career sector of interest
  • Strengthen your CV with specific extra-curricular activities

If you aren’t yet sure what you will do when you graduate you may find the following post helpful:

Fix me up with my perfect job


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