If you are applying for a graduate job you may be curious about how the role of a recruiter works: there is a lot involved, but essentially, businesses pay recruiters to find people that they cannot find themselves. And to narrow down the large number of applications to a manageable number who can be interviewed. Please read on for more information about how applications are assessed, and how you can increase your chances of being successful (I work with small to medium sized businesses, who generally recruit as and when they need someone- so the process will be different in many ways to big graduate schemes). 

A large part of the service a recruiter offers businesses relates to the sourcing and screening of applicants for a graduate job; this takes a lot of time, as there are generally dozens to hundreds of applications for each vacancy. Some will have been proactively sourced and contacted as they are a good match, but may not be aware of the opportunity; others will have responded to adverts. It’s very easy to apply for individual jobs now, and it can takes seconds through a job board.

Every day I speak with people who have applied for jobs without reading the advert, and it’s soon clear that the job is not what they want. Some even get to interview stage (or in some cases a job offer) before deciding against it. And occasionally they even start a job, then leave soon after when something else comes up that is more in line with what they were looking for. This is not fair on an employer (or on graduates who would love to have the job). This is why recruiters and businesses are so careful to make sure that a genuine interest is there.

The employer does not have time to interview everyone, they want the ones who are most suitable and interested. The aim is to create a shortlist of the best and most suited so they can be interviewed. Various factors go into determining who is on that shortlist Similarly, the recruiter cannot speak with everyone- they will speak with ones who match the required criteria.

The initial application needs to demonstrate suitability and interest. If someone does not fit the key criteria then they will generally not be called. Those who do look a good match on paper will then be contacted to progress their application, with a call to discuss further and expand upon some of the key areas. 

Generally, between 1 to 5 will make it through to the employer interview stage. So, if there is a pool of 100 who apply for a graduate job (it’s usually much more), and 5 are to be interviewed, then each applicant has a theoretical 5% chance of being selected for interview. However, in reality many have a 0% chance, as they do not have the right skills, degree, or knowledge; others have a nearly 100% chance as they are such a good match. 

There are many others who lie in-between, and who look very similar on paper; for these in particular some extra time invested in the application can significantly increase their chances. I will generally give these students and graduates a second-chance, and ask them to update their CV (or send me more information by email) once they have applied; some don’t do this, but many do. Others send what is obviously a standard cover letter that they use for all applications, sometimes it even has the name of a person or business that they have sent it to. Doing this is pointless as the whole point is that it needs to be specific to each role.

It doesn’t need to be anything hugely in-depth, certainly not a cover letter, but it needs to at least cover the key criteria requested in the advert. You can find out more here. 

An employer (or the agency who is representing the employer, and putting their reputation on the line according to which candidates they put forward), needs someone who can do the job, wants to do it, and who has the commitment to stay long-term.  Taking on and training a graduate requires a significant investment in time and money, and it’s only fair that businesses get a return on that investment. It’s important to get a good mutual match: they don’t want a graduate who won’t be able to contribute effectively due to lacking key-skills; or who will take their job as a stop-gap, leave after a year, meaning they have to start the process again. It’s also not fair on the graduates who would find the role ideal for them. And equally it’s important that you get the right role for you. 

This is why it’s important that you demonstrate that you want, and are suited to, THAT job, not just A job. 

If you do get the call from a recruiter and it goes well, you will find out more about the role and the company, and then will be asked to have a look through the company website, think a bit more about the role and why it’s suitable, and add anything else to the CV that you can with this knowledge. It could be expanding on something that has been discussed, adding something to the CV that was not on there initially such as a piece of experience, maybe referring to a project you did at university that was particularly relevant; ultimately, it’s about adding the finishing touches and demonstrating why you should be one of the few who should be selected for interview over all the others. 

If there is a reason why you may not be able to do it quickly then please let the recruiter know. In many cases a call has gone well, and I have said to the person that they were in contention for the shortlist, and asked them to make these changes – but they then returned the CV days later, with a brief sentence added, and key criteria still not covered. It doesn’t really demonstrate enthusiasm, and it can also be seen as a possible negative indicator for the speed and quality of work if they were in the job. 

Please also remember that any communication with a recruiter or employer may be taken into account, particularly in roles where communication is required, as it could be seen that this is how your communication would be in the role, including to business customers.  I often get emails with ‘text speak’, or lazy writing- for example replying to an email with Hi,’ with no name used (even sometimes on the first email)- if someone has addressed you by your name it is polite to do the same. It may seem a little thing but it will not take much longer, and will come across as a lot more professional. And if you have been asked for more information it will be for a very good reason – so be clear and polite with any answers. 

Not being successful can be disheartening, and the temptation may be to send as many graduate job applications as possible, but conversely this may decrease your chances of getting something- or certainly the job you most want. A ‘spray and pray’ approach is not targeted and relies on a lot of luck. 

If you are in this situation my advice would always be to keep applying, but try and remain as focused as possible. You need to set aside a good amount of time to apply for jobs; but make sure its quality time, focusing on the roles you most want and are most suited to. 

Another thing to bear in mind is location. In the view, and experience, of many employers there are a number of difficulties and potential issues involved with relocating, not least the temptation to take something closer to home if it comes up. It’s not to say that those who need to relocate (or have a long commute) will not be considered, but if there are strong applicants who are already based locally they will generally be preferred. So, unless its a niche area I would question whether it’s worth applying for vacancies all over the country, as this in particular can have a huge impact on your time and quality of applications.  If you are not in the area but do have connections there, and are specifically looking to relocate there, make sure this is mentioned. If you are applying for a job in another area,, please do consider it carefully before applying- think of housing and relocation costs, support networks, etc- if push comes to shove and you get an offer, will you realistically be happy to relocate?

And if you plan to commute, research if this is feasible including looking at travel time and costs. Are you happy to do this, including in the long-term?

If you are already working I appreciate that its not so easy to spend a lot of time on searching for a new graduate job, but if you want to get something more suitable then you do need to invest that additional time- and again being selective with applications can help. If you are not working, and have no responsibilities, then please bear in mind that a full-time job is around 40 hours or so; investing even half of that in job searching, and learning additional skills, can really help. Some approach looking for work and developing new or existing skills as a full-time job in itself, setting their alarm and getting to it at 9am or so, and this approach is I feel the best one to take – particularly as it also helps to maintain some structure. That may not be for everyone, but either way, you need to invest significant time in your job search. 

Matthew Parry,
Director. SME Graduate Employment 

SME Graduate employment is a specialist graduate recruitment agency. Covering permanent roles, fixed-term contracts, student / undergraduate and graduate internships, and sandwich placements. All areas of the UK, and most industries and job types. 

You can see student and graduate jobs advertised here and read more blogs and advice to help develop your employability skills here 

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