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Graduate careers advice


Graduate careers advice

Don’t despair if you haven’t gained a 2:1 in your degree studies, says David Press, CEO of graduate recruitment platform Proceed.  Employers are looking for more than just a number from graduate job applicants...

With intense competition in today’s job market, it’s not surprising that graduates with a lower second are often scared into thinking that all-important first professional role is beyond their reach.  My advice would be - don’t panic!  It may require considerable research, a lot of persistence and an open mind, but it’s still possible to secure that elusive graduate job.

While many major employers may indeed use a 2:1 as a cut-off point in choosing who to interview - often as a way to keep applicant numbers manageable – attitudes have changed in recent years.  Forward-thinking companies are taking a more holistic view, and are less worried about grades in isolation and more about the person as a whole.  If you do your research, it’s still possible to find graduate schemes which accept 2:2s – B&Q, Centrica, Co-operative Group, Arcadia Group, Nestlé and Network Rail are but a handful of the companies that will consider applicants without a 2:1.   The important thing is to be flexible, as some of the larger companies will only accept a 2:2 with a postgraduate or Masters degree and some only for certain business areas such sales.  It’s worthwhile considering the public sector too – there are general management, finance and HR jobs to be had in both the NHS and the Civil Service.

However, it’s vital not to get too hung up on landing a graduate scheme – SMEs (small and medium sized enterprises) often place a higher value on passion, commitment and enthusiasm than degree results.  They’re often companies that are expanding into new, fast-growing industry sectors, and as a result, they’re seeking intelligent, passionate, hard-working individuals who they can train in new skills.  By way of an example, Proceed represents many clients in the compliance and risk industry, an area which is crying out for skilled people and is therefore looking to grow its own talent.  What’s important to them is that job applicants engage with them at interview stage and demonstrate an enthusiasm for the industry, for instance by discussing a relevant news article they have read.

This brings me neatly on to the qualities and skills you need to demonstrate both on your CV and at interview stage.  If your academic achievements are lacking, it’s vital to focus on your ability to do a great job.  For this, you’ll need to rely on what you have achieved in other areas of your life.

Organisations may make it harder for you – either at pre-interview or interview stage – so be prepared to justify yourself.  Firstly, consider what work experience you have done and how this may benefit the company or role for which you are applying.  For example, if you’re pursuing a finance career, think about how that Saturday job in a mobile phone shop could be tailored accordingly.  In this case, you could elaborate on how the role developed your ability to understand budget plans and tailor them to customers’ needs.  If, on the other hand, you’re chasing a position in HR, you may want to focus on how the job has honed your people skills and developed your ability to manage difficult situations and demanding customers.

If you feel that your work experience could benefit from a boost, now is the ideal time to investigate some relevant opportunities.  Volunteering can be a valuable way to bolster your CV and broaden your practical skills in a specific area, allowing you to manage your time, meet deadlines, work in a team and generally giving you experience of working life.  On completing any volunteer work, you’re likely to have come into contact with experienced people who can provide a valuable jobs reference in the future.  Moreover, volunteering offers the perfect networking opportunity with potential employers and is often a way to spark ideas for more permanent career paths.

It’s also worth looking to other areas from your personal life which underline your ability to do a great job and present you as the ideal candidate for the role on offer.  If you’ve been an active member of a sports club at university, use this to stress your aptitude in working as part of team and ability to perform under pressure.  You may have played a part in your university’s student union – if so, use your experience to emphasise your people skills.  If you’ve learned a musical instrument to a high level or performed in front of an audience, adapt this to demonstrate your focus and attention to detail.

Finally, try to remain positive – remember that a 2:2 is not the end of the world, rather an opportunity to approach the jobs market differently.  Remind yourself on a daily basis what you want to achieve and keep persevering.

About Proceed:

Proceed is a new online recruitment tool which matches professionals with fewer than three months practical experience with employers looking for fresh talent within the Company Secretarial, Legal, Compliance and Risk sectors. Proceed is supported by high-profile organisations such as Eversheds and Axa and is fully endorsed by the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators (ICSA).  For further information visit