According to The Graduate Market in 2013 study, carried out by High Fliers Research, graduate recruitment stalled in 2012, with entry-level vacancies dropping 0.8 per cent compared with the previous year.
Compared with 2007, before the recession, the number of vacancies on offer by the UK's top employers was down 11 per cent.
Starting salaries have also stagnated, and in 2013 are expected to remain unchanged for an unprecedented fourth year, at a median of £29,000.
The biggest cuts in vacancies in 2012 were at accounting and professional services firms and investment banks. Employers in these sectors reduced their graduate intake by more than 1,200 places compared with their original recruitment targets, the report says.
More graduates are competing for fewer positions, with employers currently reporting a 7 per cent increase in the number of graduate job applications compared with the equivalent period in 2011-12.
The outlook for 2013 is rosier, the report says, with employers expecting to increase their graduate recruitment by 2.7 per cent. The biggest growth in vacancies is expected at public sector employers, retailers and engineering and industrial companies.
However, the news is less positive for recent graduates, or those finishing their degrees this year. Although the total number of vacancies is set to rise, recruiters expect that more than a third of this year's entry-level positions will be filled by graduates who have already worked for their organisations - either through internships, industrial placements or holiday work.
Half the recruiters who took part in the research warned that graduates who have had no previous work experience at all are unlikely to be successful during the selection processes.
"This latest research confirms that taking part in work placements or internships whilst at university is now just as important as getting a 2:1 or a first-class degree," said Martin Birchall, managing director of High Fliers Research.
"Graduate recruiters warn that in a highly competitive job market, new graduates who've not had any work experience at all during their studies are increasingly unlikely to be offered a good graduate job after university."
The good news for students hoping to secure a first work experience placement is that over four-fifths of the employers surveyed will be offering paid work experience programmes for students and recent graduates during the 2012-13 academic year.
The largest recruiters of graduates in 2013 will be Teach First, which has 1,260 vacancies; Deloitte, with 1,200 positions; and PricewaterhouseCoopers, which will also recruit 1,200 graduates, the report says.
Employers included in this study are drawn from The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers 2012.