Here are our 5 steps on how to approach the graduate job application process.

This article was also published on My Uni Basics. Check out their website for advice and information on how to tackle university life.

1. Research, Research, Research

Research is the most important aspect of the application process. Many graduates are unsure of what they want to do and this can be challenging to figure out. The best way to approach this is to decide what you definitely don’t want to do and cancel out certain fields to narrow your search. Consider your personal skills and previous work experience and seek roles which best fit your skill set. Search job sites thoroughly, speak to careers advisors and eventually will you find roles you would like to do and so can begin the application process.

Whenever you’re applying to a company make sure you find as much as you can about the role you’re applying for and the company itself. We would recommend basing your research on the company’s values, their clients and their future goals.

Recruiters can easily tell when someone hasn’t done enough research. The inevitable question all recruiters will ask at some stage is “Why do you want to work for us?” and you will find articulating your answer far easier if you’ve done enough research.

Try not to limit this research to the internet. Meeting people who work at the company is the best way to get a real sense of the culture and what companies are looking for from their graduates. Make the most of company open days, university careers fairs and events.

If you decide to attend an event hosted or sponsored by a company you’re interested in, go there with the intention to find out why people enjoy working for the company and the challenges of the role. This will help give you some pointers for the application process and it might just help the recruiters remember your name. If you can make yourself known to the employer before your application this will give you an edge. For example, if you have met  someone from a company at a career’s fair and their insight attracted you to the company, mention this in your application as a key reason you want to work for them.

For some additional advice on how to approach career fairs, check out our recruiter tips here.

2. Improve your Commercial Awareness

Commercial Awareness is having excellent knowledge of current affairs and understanding how these commercial issues affect your field of work. This is essential when applying for grad jobs. You need to be aware of changes in the field you’re applying to as well as wider political and economic issues. Good commercial awareness is about having a strong understanding of these issues and being able to form your own opinions on them.

Commercial Awareness is also having in-depth knowledge of the company you’re applying to. You need to know about internal issues, the company’s competitors and how the company is dealing with external issues such as Brexit.  Commercial awareness can be developed by watching the news and reading publications such as the Financial Times or the Economist. Our Twitter & Facebook page’s are designed to make this process easier by centralising all the key stories you need to know about.

3. Getting involved

It’s never too late to get involved in some extracurricular activities, examples of which are highly useful both at application stage and at interview stage. You should look to include any form of activity in your applications, whether it be part-time work or being a member of a sports team. The vast majority of recruiters look for well-rounded individuals with a range of experiences, not just strong academics.  Being involved in extra-curricular activities will show employers that you have a life outside of work and possess social skills. Don’t be afraid to put some of your more adventurous activities in your application form as this can add a little bit of edge to your application form to help you stand out.

Having a range of extracurricular activities is important, particularly at interview stages. In competency based interviews need you to draw on your previous experiences to show employers you have certain skills. You develop a number of transferrable skills through extracurricular activities. Even something which may seem like it is a mundane or trivial activity might highlight your skills to a prospective employer. Look through all your recent activities and pick out the skills you have developed such as team work, time-management, and communication skills. We will explain below the best way to talk about these experiences in an interview setting.

4. Practice Interview Technique

Having strong interview skills is vital but fortunately, these skills can just be gained through practice.

When faced with interview questions, particularly competency based interview questions, The STAR method is the best approach:

Situation – Task – Action – Result


Question – “Tell me about a time you successfully met targets?”

Answer –

Situation: At University during my final year, I worked as a part-time sales assistant at Fake Shop in Cardiff. I was responsible for welcoming people into our store and selling our products to customers. Task: At Fake Shop, I had a monthly sales target of £5000 worth of goods which was quite a challenging target.  Action–  I welcomed customers and used my strong persuasive skills to entice them into buying our products. I also used my strong knowledge of store products to inform customers of other products they may find useful based what they came in to purchase. Result –  I consistently beat my sales targets and in one month sold £15,000 worth of items, which led to me receiving a top seller bonus. My success in this role demonstrates my excellent charisma and strong communication skills.

Things to watch out for:

·         Stick to the question! Try not to waffle about things that do not add anything to your answer. Always keep this in the back of your mind when answering a question. Stop and think before you speak to ensure you know exactly what you’re going to say before you say. Context is good but be sure not to give the recruiter your life story before dealing with the tasks.

·         Make sure you explain what YOU did. The recruiter is only interested in how you contributed to a task. In a question about teamwork, ensure you express how well you work in a team and contribute to the successful outcome when doing so. It’s important to demonstrate that you work well with other people but also remember to demonstrate how you contributed to the success.

·         Ask questions! At the end of interviews, recruiters will usually ask if you have any questions and you should have some prepared. The easiest questions to ask are questions about the recruiter themselves. Ask them about their route into the company or what they like most about the company. These are simple questions but strike up conversations and can make the difference between standing out or not when the company makes its decision on who to hire.

Knowing the STAR method and having example prepared will not only help you in the interview but also soothe your nerves beforehand.

If you are still in university, make the most of your career services. Most universities will run mock interview and assessment centre workshops. Interviews and assessment centres can be very daunting but these are an invaluable way. If you don’t actually practice answering interview questions you won’t know. A lot of answers may sound good in your head but when spoken aloud don’t flow well or don’t effectively answer the question.

For more information and tips on how to approach full assessment centres, have a look at our assessment centre tips .

5. Work hard

This sounds obvious but it is crucial. Most large graduate recruiters do require a 2:1 degree and expect that as standard. If you can achieve a first class degree, this will significantly boost your chances of obtaining a graduate job. Despite this, there are still a number of recruiters who do have 2:2 grade requirements or no classification requirements at all so don’t despair if you are not on track to achieve a 2:1, keep working hard and the success will come. Don’t forget, universities give awards for outstanding results in individual modules and obtaining an award will undoubtedly help you stand out in your applications as well as mitigate poorer results elsewhere.

Follow all the above tips and work as hard as you can at university to get the best grades you can to put yourself in a great position to get a graduate job.

We hope you find these tips useful, for more tips have a look at our other career advice articles and check out My Uni Basics. Good luck in your applications!