Your odds are around 1 in 100. Sometimes it’s 1 in 1,000. For graduates (and non-graduates) looking to take their first steps on the career ladder through a graduate scheme, you might find better luck with a scratchcard.
Thankfully it’s not about luck - it’s about talent. And there are strategies you can use to make your application speak louder and draw more attention than the hundreds that you’re up against.
So how do you make your application stand out, when it’s sat in position 701 in a 1,000-strong pile on the employers’ desk?
The patronising advice that graduates usually get (spell check your CV, clean up your social media profile, don’t use an unprofessional email address) isn’t really going to help you here.
From overseeing our Launchpad graduate scheme at Maxus, a media and advertising agency, I’ve found that it’s often a case of presentation.
It’s not so much your experience or even whether or not you have a degree that could hold you back – graduates aren’t expected to have decades of experience, after all. But how you present yourself can be a big factor.
Here are some tips on how you can make a deep and lasting impression in your graduate scheme application:
1. You’ve got to be passionate
It doesn’t matter if your CV is printed on gold leaf or if this career was your childhood dream: if you’re not passionate about the role, you don’t stand a chance.
It may be a cliché, but it’s a very common pitfall. Every single one of our successful applicants both showed passion throughout the process and put passion as one of their top tips for future applicants.
And it’s not just a case of threading the phrase “I’m very passionate about this role” a dozen times throughout the cover letter. It’s about explaining why it excites you and why it will help you grow and develop.
8 well paid jobs that don't require a degree
8 well paid jobs that don't require a degree
1/8 Marketing Assistant
Job Title: Marketing Assistant Starting Salary: £19-22k Entry requirements: Apprentice roles available which require good A-Levels in Business Studies or similar. Some companies will also take on school leavers and train them up as marketing assistants starting at c.15k Career progression: Head of Marketing role commands an average salary of £77,200 in London/£60,869 outside of London (REED Salary Calculator)
Job title(s): Resourcer Starting salaries: £20k On Target Earnings (OTE) Entry requirements: Study for a NVQ Level 3 in Business and Administration while working in an apprentice role Career progression: Progression in recruitment is really down to the individual’s tenacity and drive to meet targets. Second year OTE can be around £40K, then in following years, uncapped bonuses can mean the best consultants take home six figure salaries.
Job title(s): Various roles Starting salaries: £15 -25k Entry requirements: Experience from junior roles Career progression: Front of house/ F&B managers/ Event management can all be learned from junior roles such as catering assistant, waiting staff, events assistant. Often starting as a receptionist will also lead to more senior and varied roles.
Job title: IT Support Analyst Starting salary: £17k Entry requirements: GCSE’S/A-Levels/BTEC in IT plus good working knowledge of Microsoft SQL and related software. Career progression: With an MCSA qualification a salary of around £20k can be expected, raising to £25k for an MCSE qualification. Career progression through from 1st - 3rd line support roles, leading to Infrastructure Manager (£35k+)
Job title: Accounts Trainee/Accounts Payable Assistant/AAT Trainee Starting Salary: c.£15k depending upon location and study support package Entry requirements: Good GCSEs/A-Levels are an advantage, particularly in maths/statistics/business Career progression: You can start as an Accounts Trainee and progress to a QBE Accountant; Qualified by Experience is a phrase used in the accountancy sector for Accountants that have gained their level of expertise on the job, without taking any formal qualifications. It is common place to study AAT exams without having a degree, and by completing 9 papers within a CIMA or ACCA course can result in an uplift in salary to above £30k. Salaries start at £15K for junior Clerks and go up significantly as a QBE or part-qualified Accountant, often above the £30k mark.
6/8 Customer Service
Job title: Customer Service Advisor Starting salary: From £15k Entry requirements: Apprenticeship roles while studying for an NVQ /Diploma in Customer Service Career progression: Experienced Customer Service Advisors can receive £18 - 20k and Customer Service Managers between £30-35k
7/8 Motor retail
Job Title: Car dealer Starting Salary: £18 + Company Car Entry requirements: Grade C and above in Maths and English Career progression: Career development courses can be taken on the job, wage can reach into six figures in senior roles Current opportunities: Plentiful. Companies such as Jardine Motors Group are also looking for technicians, sales and customer service advisors
Job Title: Heating/plumbing engineer Starting Salary: £18K Entry requirements: ACS qualification (or NVQ equivalent) leading Gas Safe Register membership - various apprenticeship roles available Career progression: Up to £36k as a service engineer with one of the top manufacturers
2. Read as much as you can
What never ceases to impress (and will raise your odds of success far more than buying dozens of scratchcards) is when applicants have actually done their research.
And that doesn’t just mean look at the website, although surprisingly few even do this. It means looking at what the key issues are in the industry and thinking about what that means for the company you’re applying to.
If you don’t know what’s happening in the industry, you’re flying blind. The more you read from relevant trade magazines, from key industry names on Twitter and LinkedIn, and the more you think about your own perspective on these issues, the better you will do.
3. Don’t let grades / job experience hold you back
It may surprise you to hear, but not all graduate schemes actually require you to be a graduate.
While university degrees are valuable, they don’t define you. And they shouldn’t define you when you’re applying for jobs either.
I believe that if you don’t have a degree but you’ve got the aptitude and ability, you should have the same opportunity as everyone else. And that’s a principle we maintain on our Maxus Launchpad graduate scheme: everyone should be welcome.
The worst thing you can do is not apply in the first place. So don’t let your educational background discourage you.
4. Don’t be afraid to say what you really think
Being upfront and honest about what you want and what you think is the best way to win people’s respect and make a positive impression. It’s a valuable lesson in life and an essential one when applying to graduate schemes.
It’s tempting to play it safe and hold back on ideas that you’re not 100% certain. But when you do, you’re also holding back some of your best qualities. Employers want people with opinions and ideas, not someone who tries to stay as neutral as possible.
Say what you think, be a little bit controversial (within reason) and don’t be afraid to disagree.
5. Be authentic
At the end of the day, it’s about you. The application you write, the interviews you attend – it is, like many things in life, one big “getting to know you” exercise. So embrace that and let them see the real you. It is, far and above, your best asset. Be honest about who you are, keep an open mind and be authentic.
You don’t have to be perfect. But you do need to be more than a piece of paper, especially when you’re in a pile of thousands.
Anna Hickey is the UK managing director at media and advertising agency Maxus