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Application and career planning tips for graduates

In this post, Dan from Gradvance – a company that helps students and graduates find great jobs – has set out some tips for applying to jobs and planning your career as a graduate.

Planning your career as a graduate is really important in order to not let yourself feel too lost. It is inevitable, unfortunately, that most graduates will feel a sense of confusion and fear when choosing what to do as a career, but planning is key to reducing these feelings.

Here’s some great advice from Dan Mian about how to ace your job applications and plan your career.


After three years of university, with graduation fast approaching in 2015 and the real world looming ominously overhead, like most students I decided that I should probably start looking for a job. I was studying a degree in Geography and Economics, which I loved, but I couldn’t decide the direction I wanted to take in terms of my career.

This transposed into what I now call the scatter gun approach of graduate job applications. I fired off applications left, right and centre for graduate jobs and schemes and well, just about anything really with no real plan or process. I sent over 20 applications and faced over 20 rejections, it was really disheartening.

I eventually got a job in sales, at the time I felt lucky and relieved and after graduation I took up this role ready to crack on with the rest of my life.

However, after just a few months, I soon realised this job, role and this life were not what I envisioned. I felt unfulfilled, disappointed and generally lost. The whole application process felt a long way behind me but even so having to go through it all again filled me with dread, especially as I felt that by managing to get a job, I was one of the ‘lucky’ ones and maybe I should just stick it out.

I carried on with the job for a few months more but the feelings hadn’t gone away, so I decided to start applying again the following year. This time with the strict intention of finding a role that wasn’t just a job but could help me develop a great career. I completely changed my approach to applications, focusing on the quality over quantity and spent many hours on my CV, cover letter and interviewing techniques.

I sent a handful of applications and was invited to assessment centres to all of them including Sky, BT, Virgin Media and Vodafone. BT was my top choice and I successfully secured a place on the BT Business Management Graduate Scheme in September 2017.  

I’ve had a brilliant and varied experience over the 2 year scheme, from managing complex warehouse operations to running a call centre with 30 customer service agents. Today, I’m in the marketing team and I oversee the marketing, strategy and campaign planning for 4 businesses within the corporate structure of BT. On top of this, I’m also an assessor on the BT Graduate and Apprentice Schemes which allows me extra insight into the graduate application process on top of the knowledge I have acquired for myself.

graduate career planning | image shows a logo that reads gradvance

My company, Gradvance, was born organically out of my second application process. The changes I made and skills I developed began to bear positive results. I started sharing this knowledge and findings with friends and colleagues and I quickly found my advice worked.

As a result, I decided to set up Gradvance to help graduates in a different way. Coming to the end of your degree and thinking about what comes next can be a difficult process and a strange time in student life so my goal is to assist people, like you, with their next steps towards achieving their goals and being the best that they can be.

What do we do?

At Gradvance, we help students get great graduate jobs. We do this by offering personal one to one coaching through the process of graduate applications. This includes support with the preparation of CVs, cover letters, interviews and assessment centres.

From personal experience, I know that the scatter gun approach to job applications won’t get you where you want to be. I believe the process of graduate applications should be self-reflective. It should be focussed towards what truly motivates you, your desires in a role and a company and how they align with your core values. We think that with the right guidance from us, you can find better job satisfaction from the beginning and overall better career fulfilment.

Currently we are offering free 30-minute career consultations through our website. The consultation will help you to understand your motivations, help you to map a career plan and give you a better understanding of the graduate application process. It will explain the journey of a CV and give you key hints, tips and strategies to implement towards tailoring your CV and applications for the niche you are trying to fill.

Three tips for improving your CV

CV writing is very hard. If you’re struggling with it, as I did, that’s completely normal. It is both an art and a science as you have to write creatively and be impactful whilst still emphasising the key results and achievements that make it stand out. Here are my three top tips to consider when creating your CV.

Formatting

Keep it concise – no more than two pages. Always use a professional sans serif font such as Arial, Times New Roman and Cambria. Correct tenses are important. Use bullet points and white spacing to separate the fields.

Use Word and don’t convert to PDF. The majority of grad scheme scan CV’s digitally through an Applicant Tracking System (ATS), so if you submit a word document which is converted to a pdf, all the programme is going to do is convert it back to a text-based word document. This conversion may not always be 100% accurate, so you may lose vital information in the process.

Show don’t tell

When talking about previous job roles, don’t just list your responsibilities. I see this with almost every CV I work on. Don’t just tell them what you did, show them how well you did it and what impact it had. Employers want to see quantifiable and measurable results.

For example, rather than saying: ‘Gained new business through various sales techniques.’ You could say: ‘Generated £25K of revenue through the acquisition of 12 new customer accounts.’

The latter is much more compelling and proves your value. Use the numbers to your advantage. 

Remove anything that gives employers an opportunity to discriminate

This could be something like your address. You could live in Leeds but you could be applying for a job in London. When an employer sees your Leeds address on the CV they may use that as means for rejection. They could think you’ve applied to it without realising the job location or that you won’t be able to commute the distance for example.

Another thing could be your picture. Your CV might catch that recruiter on a bad day where for whatever reason they just don’t like the look of you. Of course employers shouldn’t reject based on this, but take it out of their hands and don’t give them the chance.  

Dan Mian Gradvance | image shows a headshot of a man

Preparation is key

On the whole, people underestimate the work you have to put into an application. I know I did the first-time around. If you’re sending out hundreds of applications on a general basis, chances are they will be very generic.

To get the job you want, the application has to be tailored to the job you want. The number of graduate applications is phenomenal, with research indicating that in 2019 there were 3.8 million applications for just 29 companies.

For a more specific example, the intake for my current role had 24,000 applications and they only offered 200 business roles. I was one of those fortunate 200 but to get to that point I had to do a lot of hard work, a lot of research and hours of tailoring my application.

Hiring managers want people that want to work with them for the right reasons. Preparation is key past the initial application stage and onto the assessment centres and interviews. If you get to those stages, you’re already in the top tier of candidates so you’ve already done really well. You just have to prepare so as not to fall at the last hurdle.

Finding your perfect career plan

In order to find the perfect career plan, you should start by building a framework.

Start by thinking about 5 things you are looking for in a role and why. For example, ‘I am looking for a role that allows me to use my creativity whilst developing my commercial skills and gives me good responsibility on projects that will make a real impact’.

Then think of 5 things you are looking for in a company and why. Maybe it’s a company of a certain size or in a certain industry. Maybe it’s a brand that you love or trust or a company with a certain culture – think of Google’s ‘Googlyness’ for example.

Think about what motivates you. Are you results driven? Are you a creative type? Think about what you want from a work environment. What do you want your work/life balance to be? Do you want to work in large teams of people?

Start with these thoughts. Write them down, sleep on it and then go back to them and think it over again. At least 80% of the framework should be ‘ticked off’ when you’re interrogating job descriptions. You’d be surprised at how often people don’t read job descriptions at all or thoroughly enough. Some people don’t even know what company it is that they are applying for. Trust me on that. I’ve seen the applications.

If all of this sounds interesting to you or on the other hand if all of this is boggling your mind and you want some guidance, Gradvance is here to help.

Go to gradvance.co.uk and fill out a form to get a free 30-minute career consultation with me. Follow us and reach out on Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn.

We can’t wait to meet you and help you on your journey – good luck!


For anyone looking for any further career advice, find more here including application support, staying organised and advice about feeling lost.

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