How to Understand Employers

How to understand recruitersYes, employers can be demanding, harsh and downright strange — but if you want to get a job you need to know what makes them tick.

Graduates have a love-hate relationship with employers. You love them when they offer you a job – but the the rest of the time you pretty much hate them.

You spend hours on your application – they never reply. You schlep miles to interviews and assessment centres – they say you lack experience. You fall in love with the idea of working for them – they break the news that you never will.

Job hunting can batter graduates’ self-esteem – and employers can seem downright rude. Unfortunately, seeing the application process as a battleground between them and you won’t help you get a job. Whereas taking the time to understand them can seriously boost your chances. It can also make rejection easier to deal with, if you miss out on the prize this time.

So what makes graduate employers tick? Graduate Fog put your questions to the big cheeses of three great graduate recruitment firms:

Dan Hawes,

James Uffindell,
Founder and CEO,

James Callander,
Managing Director,
FreshMinds Talent

Why don’t recruiters reply to every application?
JU: “Not getting back to people is bad practice but sadly when bit companies employ too many people, sometimes those people aren’t great at their jobs.”
DH: “Unfortunately, when budgets are tight and teams are small, employers have to prioritise. Their primary focus has to be getting successful applicants through the process – not replying to those who weren’t successful. Technology is improving things but if you want feedback you would be better off chasing the company yourself.”
JC: “Graduate positions are highly competitive – the Association of Graduate Recruiters quotes 48 applications per graduate vacancy. Such a large volume of applicants means it’s difficult to respond to each one individually. Apply as early as possible to give yourself a fighting chance.”

Why is graduate recruitment cut back during recession and times of economic turmoil? Aren’t graduates relatively cheap to hire?
DH: “Many large employers cut graduate recruitment when they’re forced to look at their entire workforce and ask who has the skills to deal with the immediate challenges they’re facing now. Graduates are seen as a long-term investment but during times when companies feel they must prioritise more short term gains, graduates’ inexperience counts against them. Plus, although your salaries may be relatively cheap, the cost of recruiting you isn’t! The price of campus marketing, advertising and careers fairs all adds up.”
JC: “When companies are making employees redundant it is difficult for them to justify hiring new employees through a graduate scheme. Also, in some cases more experienced candidates have been reassigned into graduate-level roles within the same company because the number of senior jobs available has been reduced.”
JU: “Unfortunately, this is about market forces. Between 2000 and 2007 it was a talent-led [candidate-led] market – if you had talent you had your pick of the jobs. But since then the balance has been much less clear. But if you’ve got talent you should still succeed.”

How can I stand out from the competition?
JC: “Demonstrate that you have made the best of your circumstances and gained some experience that’s relevant to your future career goals, even if it’s an internship or volunteering.”
DH: “Know yourself – be crystal clear on what you’re good at and what you enjoy. Understanding of your strengths and weaknesses makes it easier to focus on a few career types that will suit you. After that, it’s down to thorough research and dogged determination.”
JU: “Make sure your mindset is firmly on what you can do for the employer – not the other way around. Far too many graduates think good A-levels and a degree means they deserve a great job. Employers don’t see it like that. In such a competitive market, success comes from using every tool you have. Send your CV to employers speculatively, phone up people and network. Most people don’t do these things and if you can raise your game, you’ll outgun them.”


What makes a great application?
JU: “It should be short, sharp and punchy.”
JC: “I agree – concise and grammatically perfect. If the application includes competency questions, make sure you answer them in a focused and succinct way.”
DH: “Perseverance! Some employer application forms are designed to be difficult and off-putting. They use this as an initial filter to test your commitment and interest in them. The longer the form, the better your chances.”

What makes a great CV?
JU:”A great CV is clearly laid out, all on one page, with no long ‘stories’.”
JC: “It should be a concise and brief summation of your experience.”
DH: “Writing in plain English. Prospective employers simply won’t bother to look up technical jargon about your degree course or a past job you had, particularly if the job was in a different industry.”

What makes a great interview?
JU: “Preparation, taking your time to think about the question and taking care to balance confidence with humility.”
JC: “Positive, confident body language, well-structured, engaging answers and thorough research into the position and the company. Make sure you sell yourself and your skills, underlining the relevance of each to the specific role you’re interviewing for. Lastly, be enthusiastic! Be professional at all times, but don’t forget to let your personality shine through.”
DH: “Keeping calm and remembering what you’re there for. The purpose of interviews is for the employer to gain a deeper understanding of your skills and capabilities as well as your personality and general attitude.”


Which impresses recruiters more: qualifications or experience?
JC: “Both – raw intellect is crucial, alongside relevant experience.”
DH: “All graduate recruiters look at specific qualifications when the market is so competitive, any relevant work experience – even unpaid – really give you the chance to prove your commercial awareness and a potential to hit the ground running.”
JU: “It depends on how good they both are. Recruiters want someone academically bright and grades do matter as they show attitude, intelligence and potential for hard work. However, far too many bright people are too analytical. They need to show they can apply their brainpower and get results – which is why experience is crucial too.”