Eventually, you will come face-to-face with employers, and you need to have some questions ready.
It's a common misconception among students that when you meet employer representatives, you are the ones who must be engaging and impressive. In reality, it's a two-way street. Whether you come face-to-face at Careers Fairs, Open Days, assessment centres or even interviews, employers are just as keen to impress you as you are to impress them.
Remember: they want the best graduates to come work for their company, so they will be turning on the charm.
These face-to-face encounters (or even chats via email or on the phone) present valuable opportunities to learn more about the realities of the job. Seize these chances and ask questions - it will help you get a more realistic picture of what your future might look like.
Here are the types of questions you should be asking.
Question 1: How do graduates in this role spend their day?
Graduates can be guilty of embellishing their experience and achievements - and so can employers. You may have noticed the slippery language employers adopt to describe the responsibilities of a role. Who can decipher what's really involved under all those buzzwords and euphemisms? This is the chance to find out directly from the source.
Some job descriptions may say you will "build relationships" - this could mean cold calling, or it could mean attending networking events. A graduate job posting describing "supporting the data team's analysis" could mean data input, or it could mean applying complex statistical formulas.
Meeting an employer is your chance to cut the doublespeak and find out exactly what it is you'd be doing. If the employer's answer is still too vague, ask them to give specific examples of projects last year's graduate undertook, or what is in the pipeline for future graduates.
Questions 2: What are the performance expectations for the first year? And how will they be measured?
Graduate employers invest a great deal of time and expense into training new graduates, and they want their new employees to be worth the investment—which means that you, as prospective employee, need to know what's expected of you.
Some roles are target driven, with graduates being expected to bring in £X thousand within a certain time frame. Some are creativity driven, where graduates are judged on their contributions and successes on projects, such as advertising campaigns. Whatever it is, you should know what goals you'll be working towards.
Question 3: What elements of this role/scheme do graduates struggle with?
It's time to get John Humphreys on your prospective employer. Sometimes it can be a struggle to suss out the reality of company culture or the expectations of a graduate scheme. The job posting, along with all the company's literature and website content, will have been double and triple checked to make sure it gives the best impression of the company. So what's the real story?
Employers won't tell you where the scandals are, but you might be able to get an inkling of what to expect. They might say graduates struggle to adapt to the working pace, or they find mixing working and studying for professional exams difficult, or previous graduate scheme employees needed to improve their communication skills – whatever they say, it should give you an indication of what lies ahead.
Question 4: What is YOUR experience of the company culture?
What better way to find out what it's like to work at a company than to ask to one of its employees? They will no doubt be prepared with the prescribed line about the company, such as 'JLB Credit is a welcoming, supportive and challenging environment,' but in-person you can get a much more direct response.
Employers may be willing to regale you with tales from when they joined the company, which can offer a lot more insight than a one-size-fits-all paragraph on a website. What's more, the usual employees sent to man the careers fair booth are often previous graduate scheme recruits who are considered "down with the kids" (yeh, exactly) by the company's big wigs.
Questions 5: What impact do graduates have at the company?
Will you A) be taking the tasks nobody wants to do, or B) be trained to innovate for the future of the company? It's time you found out. Some employers aim specifically to put graduates on the path to success and promotion within the company. It's worth asking employers what they think the role is for - how does it contribute to the company, why has it been created, what's the point?
Hopefully asking these questions will prompt employers to give you a real answer - and hopefully it will be that the opportunities are there for the taking if you're willing to work hard enough.
Asking questions is one of the best ways to find out what the future might hold for you if you apply for the position. So don't be afraid - it's your turn to put the spotlight on them and see if they make the grade.