Applying for Graduate Recruitment Programme positions and internships has long been a feature of preparing for life after university. Navigating a path through the process to a successful outcome is a rigorous test of organisation, motivation and stamina. You will be aiming for the high grades that most graduate recruiters expect, as well as attending career expos, employer presentations, career development workshops, and preparing applications for graduate jobs and internships; you may also be in part-time paid work as well as working as a volunteer. It will be an exhausting schedule at times but the prize could be a well-deserved graduate position or internship.
It’s an intensively busy time too for employers, as they set up recruitment and selection processes designed to identify exceptional candidates for their organisation; individuals who will meet their needs, display motivation and adapt to their business culture and values. The supervision and professional development of new graduate recruits, usually takes around two years; that’s two years before the employer sees a financial return on their investment in each recruit. Robust selection processes comprehensively and objectively assess each candidate to minimise this investment risk.
Naturally not everyone will be offered a place on a graduate programme, but everyone who takes the time to engage with the graduate recruitment will be better-prepared for future job application and selection processes. So what should you do to win the graduate recruitment game? Here are my 12 tips:
- Get good grades. These are a general indication that you’re smart, turn up for classes and are well-prepared, put effort into assignments and care about grades. In workplace terms you are ‘a motivated and capable learner who can be trusted to produce results’. If your grades are inconsistent or poor you can probably guess how this might translate into the workplace. If you don’t have the best grades you will need to convince the employer that you have a credible explanation or provide contextual information. For example, if you are a full-time student, plus work 20 hours a week, plus volunteer for two organisations, plus play sports every weekend, ‘average’ grades start to look like ‘good’ grades. Perhaps you have demonstrated exceptional and relevant performance in another context or have compensating natural talents such as high emotional intelligence (EQ) or personal charisma?
- Acquire relevant practical skills through work experience or volunteering. While it’s an advantage to have experience that very clearly relates to the job, the employer will expect you to be able to write and speak about any of your paid and unpaid experiences, demonstrating how these experiences have allowed you to develop the workplace behaviours and skills relevant to the role and field you’re applying for.
- Prepare a draft CV and cover letter. Victoria CareerHub includes a Resume Builder tool which has sample CVs and templates. The site also includes sample cover letters. Career Consultant Drop-in Hours are available to have you CV, cover letters and application forms checked. You may be surprised to learn that most people’s first efforts are unlikely to lead to an interview so seek a second opinion.
- Build networks and secure your referees. Contacts in your chosen field, plus and a list of impressive and relevant referees are always an advantage. The adage ‘it’s not just what you know, it’s who you know’, still applies.
- Know your weaknesses and compensate for them. Know your strengths and exploit them. You may have great grades but become a nervous wreck at the prospect of public speaking. Your may be an articulate communicator but struggle with spelling. Plan how you will promote your strengths and deal with weaknesses during the selection process and in the workplace.
- Attend career-related presentations, workshops, seminars and expos religiously. Many of these are advertised on Victoria CareerHub but also check out campus notice-boards, Salient and employer websites. Just ‘being there’ has limited value. Prepare to be proactive and “Network”.
- Before attending each event decide what you want from the experience. Practice introducing yourself and prepare a few open-ended questions that will provide the framework for a conversation. Always ask for a business card. You’ll have a record of who you’ve spoken with plus it’s a good place to jot down some key phrases as a reminder of the conversation.
- Use face to face opportunities with graduate recruitment employers and their staff to impress. Despite the increasing sophistication of recruitment and selection processes, employers still want the people who are socially competent, presentable and who they, and their clients, will enjoy dealing with.
- Be very aware of the ‘image’ you present to the employer. This is your physical image, grooming, hygiene and dress; and the more general image or impression gained from a range of their communications ranging from the tone of the voicemail message on their phone to the style and presentation of their emails.
- Do your research. This is critical in order to build a solid, evidence-based case showing that you match their needs in terms of capability, motivation and cultural fit. You will need to refine your case for each application and this will require a reasonable knowledge of the organisation and the roles you apply for.
- Keep all your applications organised. Every document you send should be carefully labelled. For each application you make prepare a folder with a file copy of each document submitted plus the job description– all carefully labelled. Organise a spreadsheet to record key details of all your applications; organisation name, role title, closing dates, key contacts, results and so on.
- Prepare thoroughly for the selection process, particularly the interview. It is almost impossible to be over-prepared. The process is likely to be in ‘stages’ requiring success at each one to progress to the next. Stages may involve initial telephone or ‘skype’ interviews, longer face to face interviews, case interviews, individual and group assessment tests and exercises and individual presentations. Invitations to the organisations premises and ‘entertainment evenings’ may also be part of the process. They may appear to be optional, but aren’t. Don’t relax too much as you are still being evaluated.