Make an instant impact

The graduate job market is still as competitive as ever. Employers are looking for graduates who can make an instant impact in their company. It is not out of an unwillingness to train bright and malleable graduates but, if they have to choose, who they are going to pick: the graduate who has got the know-how and shown the initiative to get the ball rolling on their career early and the one who hasn't?

With this being the case, the need for graduates to show they can actually do the job before they start has become almost a necessity. A High Fliers report published at the start of 2015 pointed out that although the amount of graduate vacancies were increasing, graduates without experience had "little or no chance" of securing a graduate position with half of the top graduate employers in the UK.

So the pressure for graduates having work experience or having undertaken work experience is absolutely on. It would be advisable for students and graduates to make amends to this as soon as they can if they find themselves without any experience. If you are approaching the end of your time at university without having gained any work experience or undertaken an internship, do not think it's the end of the world. Yes you might be slightly behind the pack but there's plenty of time to make it up.

Here are three easy steps for graduates to secure themselves some work experience to ensure they are not approaching the job hunt with "little or no chance" of landing their graduate job.


1. Internships and Work Placements

Obviously, and quite rightly top of the list, the best way to get yourself some work experience and show yourself to be experienced is to do and internship or work placement. Applying and getting yourself onto one of these structured programmes has a host of benefits for graduates looking to start their career, it gets your foot in the door at that potential company, shows your passion for a particular industry or field and gives you solid proof of being experience in a certain role.

Many of these programmes run by some of the bigger graduate employers have fixed times each year of running their schemes, the majority of which are done over the summer. If you are in your Second Year, you should be really paying attention to what is on offer and sending out some applications to these internships and work placements to get the ball rolling. However, if you have passed that golden Second to Third year summer period this is not an issue. Many employers still look at taking on interns at various stages of their academic career.

For those who have missed the boat on this particular period, it is not the end of the world, but graduates will now have to be a little bit more creative and active in trying to find themselves an internship or work placement. Many internships are posted on job boards like ours, but sometimes it is worth approaching companies directly and trying to see if there are any openings they can get on board with.

Unpaid internships are slightly on the wane, but graduates might need to find a way to be self-sufficient in their attempts to secure these kinds of ad hoc internship. This is the downside to the campaign for all paid internships, with some companies more than happy to show keen young people the ropes, but being unable to redistribute funds to take people on.

As for when graduates and students are spending time on internships and work placements, it is important they fully commit themselves to the work they're doing and show their temporary employers they are the real deal in case an opportunity arises. Another important thing to note while on internships is to make sure you keep a record of everything you do so that you remember to show future potential employers that you've done specific tasks in professional situations.


2. Make your own luck

The main reason behind graduate employers being so hell-bent on seeing applicants with work experience is firstly that they can see the applicant can primarily do the role, they understand the tasks associated with the role, and secondly that the applicant has shown the passion and drive to get out there and learn more about the role, showing they want to pursue that particular area as a career. So one way to circumvent that, if no one is offering you the opportunity, is to do it anyway.

Quick hit

When undertaking an internship make sure you:

  • Make contacts,
  • Keep a note of the tasks you undertake,
  • Make your mark while you're there

There are other ways to show that you are passionate about a career other than working for a company in that field. While I would not advocate this as an equal alternative to an official work experience scheme, it is a way to show employers you are keen and have the potential to thrive in that particular field.

Ways that you can create your own experience is to show that you can do the tasks associated with that particular role. This is not suitable for all sectors but applies to the more creative fields like Design, Web based careers and Marketing. These tend to be the more competitive fields also, so any way that you can show your own skills and effort tends to be viewed favourably. I have used these examples before but little bits of initiative can go a long way in showing employers you just need the chance.

If it is a career in Digital Marketing and Social Media you are looking for, why not look to local businesses and see if you can't help them with their online presence and customer engagement. While the local pub might not be looking for a full SEO strategy, running a few social media channels for them may prove to swing the balance in your favour.

If it is a career in Graphic Design or another design field you're looking for, make sure you have all your produced work available online and run a blog around your work, showing you have the skills, interest and application to do the work. Again here, you can take advantage of the local community and see if any local business want any rebranding work done. This is you offering your services for free, but if you can build of a list of projects you have worked on in the real world, employers will find this difficult to ignore.

There could be a whole page for these sorts of examples, but the thing you should take away is that work experience is not necessarily given but you can make your own luck when it comes to showing you have the skills and enthusiasm to do the work. It can be difficult when such a necessity like internships and work experience is slightly out of your hands, but you must remember to make the most of what you can do.

Another way that graduates can attempt to sidestep a place on these highly competitive internship places, is to get involved in extracurricular activities. If you were to take on a role in a society or sports club that easily translates to a position in the real world. For example you could look after and manage accounts, lead events and events organisation or design and build an online and offline presence for a society.


3. Get part time work

Sometimes, although not always, employers like to see graduates who have not just academic qualifications to their name but also have some experience of the working world. While this is not going to clinch the job for most graduates, it is important facet to have when going for graduate jobs. Employers like to see graduates that have done more than just move from school to sixth form to university. Graduates would be advised to have some actual work experience under their belt no matter how part time or menial.

This is not just the week long work experience you undertake while at school, but looking at the bar or restaurant job you did at university or the summer you spent harvesting peas back home. It might seem unrelated but graduates will do well to highlight any actual work they've done that is it not academic study. While it might not be totally relevant you spent a summer building classroom cupboards, but if employers can see you can hold down a job and know what it takes to work the 9-to-6 week, it'll help you in the long run.

Quick hit

Employers don't like to see large gaps in graduate applications, so even if you were working in a pub make sure they know you weren't just lazing around.

But the most important thing about having actually had a job is that, more often than not, the jobs that students have while studying and graduates take on when they leave university can sometimes provide useful workplace skills. Things like working behind bars or in restaurants will show employers that you are able to interact with members of the public, or the 2 days a week you spent doing telesales shows your ability to pitch and sell, even if it was for a Charity.

While it should be admitted, building your entire application on the year you spent pulling pints might not be the most successful route to take, but you'd be wrong if you think employers do not care for these things.


Overall, the need for experience is high. There is no getting away from the fact that currently, on the whole, employers have the luxury of being able to pick and choose what graduates and applicants they would like to take on, so graduates and students need to make sure you show you can hit the ground running.

Of course, properly organised and run Internships are the best way forward and students and graduates should make sure they try their upmost to get onto these schemes or something similar. But if you are finding this difficult, it would be foolish to wait around until next year, rather spend this time working to find other ways to show you've got experience to do the job and the passion to work in that particular industry.

Next: Identifying your skills Login or sign up for graduate jobs

Careers Advice

  1. how to find graduate job
  2. what the hell am I going to do now?
  3. define your personal brand
  4. there's no such thing as an inexperienced graduate
  5. make an instant impact
  6. identifying your skills
  7. the commercial awareness checklist
  8. 6 emotions you will have when looking at job descriptions
  9. 2.2 degree? Your life isn't over
  10. work experience
  11. what employers are looking for
  12. graduate job match?
  13. the recruitment calendar
  14. the market
  15. Be realistic
  16. graduate salaries
  17. graduate cv advice
  18. graduate cv what to include
  19. presenting your cv
  20. covering letters
  21. graduate job hunting
  22. making a good application
  23. do the basics well
  24. 5 interview disasters you can avoid
  25. you're going to get some rejections...now this is how you learn from them
  26. succeed at interview
  27. graduate assessment centres
  28. 3 reasons small companies are perfect for graduates
  29. jobs! Coming to a town somewhere near you!
  30. accepting job offers
  31. take a risk
  32. 3 heartbreaking truths about your first paycheque
  33. a graduate guide to student loans
  34. FAQs