I can’t stress enough how important work experience is. It really can make the difference between getting a job or not. And the experience doesn’t always need to be related to the job you are going for. I would go as far as to say that most employers would rather have someone with a 2:1 and work experience, than someone with a 1st who has not done any work.

You will have a range of transferable skills that can apply to any job. An don’t underestimate the importance of showing that you have a good work ethic and can hold down a job, and that someone trusts you enough to pay you to work for them. After all, that is what your new employer will be doing.

If you have the opportunity to get something related to your degree then this will offer a huge advantage when it comes time to apply for graduate jobs, and I would recommend doing all you can to get something related. Then make it one of the first things that people see on your CV.

But only a small percentage of graduates will get this related experience, so the minimum expectation is some kind of work experience.

For some graduate jobs a particular type of work experience will be an advantage. If you want to work in a graduate job where people contact is a big part of it, then retail experience, for example, would help. Or if there is a lot of written work, then something administrative. And so on.

All work experience is valuable; be proud of it and get it on your CV. Whether it be a part-time Saturday job, voluntary work, university society work, retail, cleaning, catering. Or anything else you have done. Even a paper round you did at school (I have had employers comment on this before as they like the work-ethic shown).

Unless you’re a mature student, it’s unlikely that you will have many years of experience, and it’s important to make the most of what you have. Not leave it off your CV.

And if a job is not on your CV, it can’t really be used to support competency based answers to interview questions; and these often work best with examples from work, not education.

I would also say that while voluntary work experience is great, particularly if it is relevant to your chosen career, in most cases some paid work experience alongside it is particularly powerful, as this shows that someone has trusted you enough to pay you to do a job for them.

I used to be a Manager of a betting shop, and employed many undergraduates in part-time jobs. It was great to see them grow in confidence and develop a range of skills. They were then able to give examples in many work-related areas, including: teamwork, working under pressure, numeracy, communication, prioritisation, handling difficult situations, and many more.

As a graduate you may have limited work experience, and it’s important to make the most of what you have. The person reading your CV will be looking to get an idea of your overall employability, not just your technical knowledge.

Some students and graduates have left work experience off their CV as it was not directly relevant to the job they were applying for. Please believe me that this is one of the worst things that you can do; add all your work experience, and be proud of it.

One example is a graduate who had worked for a well-known supermarket for 4 years; part-time during term, and full-time during the summer.

He had held down a demanding job for several years, showing loyalty and a work-ethic. He was obviously well thought of by his employer, and had developed a range of employability skills.

Yet he had left it off the CV because he had been advised that it was not relevant. He only had the degree listed, and this gave the impression that he had never had any kind of work experience. Which is a big negative for employers.

He hadn’t been getting interviews, and I dread to think how many opportunities he had missed out on.

I advised him to get it straight onto his CV, and then found him a job.

Why have I been rejected on experience, I thought it is a graduate job?

Firstly, it is important to bear in mind that although this is a graduate role, the employer wants the best person for the job, who can hit the ground running as soon as possible, and bring fresh ideas- especially if they only take on one or two graduates a year. I often read posts on LinkedIn  where graduates are frustrated due to being rejected through lack of experience, and where presumably the reason hasn’t been explained properly.  Experience is relative, and without the full context it is difficult to say what happened. But generally it can be for these reasons:

The employer was looking for an experienced person but couldn’t find one. As a plan B they considered graduates, but then an experienced person came along. Frustrating, and unfortunate timing, but these things happen.

The applicant had no work experience. There are still applicants who have no work experience at all; or something very limited, a month for example. There may be reasons for this, for example having cared for someone, and if so I would recommend adding this to the CV.

If you have had no other responsibilities, or there are no mitigating factors, then there really is no reason not to have gained some work experience (even if it was over the Summer); concentrating on your degree, or not needing the money, are not in themselves valid reasons. If you don’t have any work experience I would recommend getting something asap.

There was a graduate with related work experience. Any kind of vocational work experience is hugely attractive to employers. So, someone who has done a sandwich placement or related internship will always have a big advantage (though it doesn’t automatically mean they are the best person for the job, they still need to show that at interview). If this happens it is still frustrating, but at least you can be reassured that it was out of your hands to some extent.

Also, in most industries the number of graduates with such experience is less than previous years due to the amount of placements and internships that were cancelled due to Covid (with many not happening again after), so at some point there will be no available candidates with experience (there are already very few who are available). You can sometimes give yourself an advantage by developing your own related experience.

For example, a Marketing graduate could offer voluntary services to a small business or society; maybe plan a marketing strategy, set up social media channels, and write content. This will look great on your CV, especially if you can show the results in measurable terms; for example, % increase in followers.

Matthew Parry,
Director. SME Graduate Employment

Email: matthew@sme-graduates.co.uk Telephone: 0370 774 9500

SME Graduate Employment is a specialist student and graduate recruitment agency covering permanent jobs, placements, and internships across the UK. Most job types and business sectors are covered.

You can see student and graduate jobs advertised here Student and Graduate job vacancies (sme-graduates.co.uk) and read more blogs and advice to help develop your employability skills here University student and graduate employability advice and tips (sme-graduates.co.uk)

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