The instinct of many final year students seeking employment is to only apply for graduate schemes. There are alternatives however. University of Warwick History graduate Kathryn O’Connell, a consultant with the Katie Bard agency in Birmingham considers other strategies to consider in your job search.
Graduate schemes are an obvious way to kick-start a job search after university. They are easy to find, they present clear training and progression and the benefits are usually very attractive.
Many put every effort into completing the lengthy application processes: formulating essays for the online forms; enduring psychometric and numerical testing; recording video interviews and fighting their way through assessment centres. Upon completion of all of this, they may still not be graced with a face-to-face meeting. The majority go through all of this, and stay out of work for an extended period of time, only to be rejected at a later-stage without receiving any feedback. Although everyone wants a graduate scheme only 14% of grads secure a place. Clearly, there are not enough spaces for everyone.
Using your degree
During my time in recruitment, I’ve met with many a graduate whose main career goal is to ‘use their degree’. I imagine some grads to repeat this mantra so often that nothing else begins to matter. Although I may be exaggerating, there is some truth in this. It is astonishing that even those who do not enjoy their course are still applying for graduate programmes in relation to that area. Equally, many have an interest in a certain industry solely because they don’t want to waste their degree. It is therefore unsurprising that graduate schemes receive a lot of applicants, as they provide a very apparent tick-box that a degree is required!
Unfortunately, employers are looking for a more robust reason behind wanting a role than not wasting student fees. Subsequently, it is important to be honest with yourself about what your interests and strengths are, regardless of what you studied at university. Thinking outside of the box and looking at how your degree may translate into different sectors will increase job opportunities. Using your degree can mean much more than just ticking a box on an application form. If you feel it will be useful for a certain role, you do not need validation from a job specification document. It is so important to ensure that you are not blindsided by a desperate need to use your degree so that you begin to miss out on good opportunities.
The Hidden Job Market
Many are not tapping into the hidden job market. 60-70% of job opportunities aren’t advertised so if graduates are only applying to grad schemes they are considerably restricting their options. The benefits of applying to non-grad schemes are extensive. They are open all year round for applicants, less competitive and generally more personable in their application processes. In the UK 99.9% of businesses are small to medium, which means that there is a wealth of opportunity outside of the corporate schemes. SMEs (small and medium sized enterprises) can offer surprising benefits such as better work life balance, improved chances of promotion and early responsibility from day one. Equally, it’s a great chance to operate as a bigger fish in a smaller pond!
So where can you find these positions? Unlike graduate schemes which have a strong online presence and are usually prominent at university fairs and events, to tap into the hidden job market requires research, networking and plenty of interviews. Job boards, agencies and LinkedIn are a great place to start. Recruitment agencies in particular will open up a whole new pool of opportunities. If you gain a solid relationship with a recruitment consultant and remain as flexible as possible, you never know what could arise.
Benefits of recruitment agencies
Working with an effective agency can offer a multitude of benefits. For a start, recruitment consultants should already have established business relationships so the initial hard-work is done on your behalf. If you have a good relationship with your consultant, they’ll be motivated to help you and to act as a personal ambassador for your talents and experience, putting in a good word for you where possible. Whilst you are looking for work, a consultant can act as an extra resource tapping into a market that would otherwise be inaccessible.
Alongside promoting your skills and credentials, an agency has a variety of free resources for you to explore. From CV advice to interview tips, they are experts in their field and understand the market-place they are recruiting in. You’ve got nothing to lose by taking advantage of their knowledge and asking questions about how best to achieve your goals.
Finally, agencies can help you with multiple job searches not just the initial after-university-panic stage. Long-term career relationships with recruitment consultants can help you further down the line when you find yourself looking for a change. It’s always important to maintain contacts and avoid burning bridges to maximise your future successes. For this reason, ensure that you select an agency carefully and research their specialisms and reviews.
According to the Highfliers Research report, ‘The Graduate Market in 2018’, the 5 most targeted universities for top graduate employers are Manchester, Birmingham, Warwick, Bristol and UCL. This means that there will always be a large number of graduates outside of these universities failing to secure a place on a scheme. Therefore, it is important to explore the range of options outside of typical graduate programmes. Looking how you can utilise your degree creatively, tapping into the hidden job market and contacting a select few recruitment agencies can all go a long way to improving your prospects. Overall, it’s vital to remain as flexible, open-minded and inquisitive as possible.