Class of 2019: Experiences in graduate job hunting

Luke Bird completed his MA Communication & Media Studies at the University of Leeds in 2018, after a number of false starts he began to realise he was making some fundamental mistakes with his approach to jobsearch.  Read how his more targeted approach led to him securing a graduate job.

My overriding feelings of being a graduate without employment were  frustration and disappointment, but it is worth noting that for many graduates this is par for the course. Some of the reasons for these feelings were out of my control, in that I was eager to secure employment in a field where there just weren’t many jobs in Leeds, but along the way I realised most of the reasons were in my control.

Detail is everything

Firstly, it is important to remember that detail is everything when applying for a graduate job. Most big companies receive hundreds if not thousands of applications every year, and in order to stand out you must pay attention to detail. After three months of taking the scattergun approach to job searching, where I had been sending my CV out left, right and centre through jobsites without much research about the companies I was applying for, I realised the CV I had uploaded to loads of jobsites made no sense. Because I hadn’t converted the document into a PDF, when I uploaded it online every single part of my CV had been jumbled into a nonsensical, seven page document that read more like code than a piece of work I had spent hours on.

Sniper not scattergun

This is hopefully an isolated incident, but it did come with an attached feeling of relief, as the reason I never got a call back about a dog walking job despite having a Masters degree started to make a lot more sense! So, onwards and upwards, check the details. Take a sniper approach over the scattergun. Most recruiters on average disregard a half of applications for a lack of research about the company. If you have a degree, great. If you’ve worked loads of jobs, great. If you were captain of your rugby team, great. But if you haven’t researched the company, there’s a big chance your application will immediately be disregarded. Tailoring your CV, cover letter and general applications to the job role is absolutely essential. If you don’t link your suitability as a candidate to the job, what else might slip you by in the world of work?

Research, research, research

Applying for jobs can take a long time, and therefore spending five days sending a general, un-researched CV and cover letter out to fifty companies is going to be far less effective than spending five days thoroughly researching five companies. Evidencing that you would be a fantastic candidate for those companies only takes a bit of research, and can immediately give you an advantage in a competitive labour market. I made this mistake of assuming that securing employment was about quantity over quality. The simplest way of approaching this situation is through trying to put yourself in the shoes of an employer swamped in applications. What is going to make yours stand out?

Aspirational and realistic

Another realisation I made pretty late on in my job search was that I didn’t have to limit myself to jobs within the field I had studied. The reality is, most people don’t walk into their dream job straight out of Uni, and thankfully careers aren’t linear. Just because you start a career in one field doesn’t mean you are stuck with it for life. So the longer my job search went on, the wider the net of jobs I thought I could enjoy became. A massive 87.5% of graduates are more than happy with where their career is going after three years of being a graduate (Gradconsult, 2019). Being aspirational while at the same time being realistic is important. A massive 80% of all grad schemes in the UK are open to all course disciplines (Gradconsult 2019), so if you have spent three years studying a specific course, it doesn’t mean that is you forever. Employers will be more interested in the transferable skills you have picked up, and how you can articulate these alongside the job description. Recognising that your experience spans far wider than the nitty gritty of your academic education is something I wished I had realised earlier on.

My advice

Speaking frankly from personal experience, applying for- and subsequently getting knocked back from- jobs can be a thoroughly demoralising process. In scrolling endlessly through job sites online, you are constantly evaluating and re-evaluating yourself against a set of pre-scripted criteria, which is inherently and naturally unusual.  After my first unsuccessful interview I was told “the more you do the better you get”, which at the time was no consolation for the feeling of disappointment. The same happened after my second failed interview. After the third I realised my friends had been right, as I felt I had grown and grown through each interview. So where possible I would advise to take on as many interviews as you get offered, as even if you’re not 110% sold on the job, gaining experience in what can be an unnerving setup is vital.

Look at the University’s ‘Your Future‘ framework to help you consider your options and make decisions about your next steps.

Read more about what is available to you as a member of the University of Leeds Class of 2019

And don’t forget you are not alone, you can continue to access the Careers Centre services and support once you graduate, this includes mock interview support to help you prepare for the real thing.


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Filed under Advice, Class of 2019

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