Chief executive officer of the Fitness Industry Association

Surveys indicate that so far, the graduate recruitment market is holding well against the recent economic downturn. The Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) reported a rise in opportunities of 11.7 per cent on 2007 in their summer review, with further growth predicted in 2009. However, recent events demonstrate that things can change quickly. In the current market it is good advice to invest time in researching all of your options.

While the credit crunch has led to fears of large job cuts in the City, the financial sector is still looking strong, offering over a third of all graduate vacancies in 2008. Yet the greatest growth can be seen in the transport and fast moving consumer goods industries with a 50 per cent rise in opportunities this year. While economic growth is forecast to decline in 2009, demand for graduate level skills is predicted to remain high.

Competition for graduate level jobs is tough; AGR members have reported receiving up to 30 applications per vacancy in 2008. Adding to this competition is a move to recruit from a global pool of applicants in a bid to source the best graduates. As a result, recruiters are looking for further evidence of how your time at university has enhanced your employability. There is a growing trend for employers to focus application form questions on skills and experiences that go beyond academic study.

Summer internships are commonly used by recruiters to test out the skills of their applicants and many make job offers at the end, allowing some students to enter their final year of study with a job offer in the bag. Part-time employment, volunteering and positions of responsibility held at university are all valuable ways of demonstrating your skills to a prospective employer.

The AGR has reported worrying skills shortages in areas including communication skills and self-motivation. Many recruiters are now looking for evidence that students can manage their own learning as an indicator of how they will perform on the job. With soft skills like these in demand, it pays to think broadly when putting together your CV.

It is also worth a mention that over half of recruiters are concerned by the poor standard of literacy among graduate applicants. It may sound obvious, but poor spelling and grammar on CVs and application forms does not make a good impression, however good your academic record.

With competition at its highest and the demand for soft skills on the increase, it is vital that you begin to prepare for the process of finding a job as early as possible. Good work-life balance, a strong training and development programme and interesting work are factors listed on many graduates' wish lists. Getting the job that you want requires drive and determination, starting now.

Over half of finalists will have applied for their first graduate job by February of their final year and we are seeing recruiters pushing deadlines for applications earlier each year. With many now recruiting in September and October, it pays to start researching your options in your penultimate year. Your University Careers Service can offer you sources of labour market information, career information and details of graduate recruiters.

With competition at a high, the best way to find out more about the opportunities available while making a good impression at the same time is to meet the recruiters. Attending one of the careers fairs in Manchester in October is a great opportunity to start the all important networking. It is also worth keeping in mind that many opportunities are open to graduates of any degree discipline.

To help you decide if a job is really right for you, talk to recent graduate recruits. They are a great source of real-life information beyond what you will read on employers' websites. Jot down the names of the people you speak to, since you might see them again in a future interview.

Think in advance about which recruiters you would most like to meet. You may have a dream job in mind but think about some of the broader opportunities on offer which could be ideal first stepping stones into the area of work you want. In today's competitive and turbulent market it is good advice to think about spreading the risk and having a Plan B.

The Science, Engineering and IT Fair takes place on 22 October and the Finance, Management and Consultancy Fair on 23 October, both at Manchester Central, from 10.30am to