Tips for getting your dream graduate job

A managing partner for talent at a leading multinational company shares her advice for job-seeking students and graduates

January 6 2017

We are living in an age where information is, quite literally, at the fingertips of students looking for careers advice. As well as the more traditional careers advisers and jobs fairs, this wealth of resources now extends to smartphones via email, the internet and an ever-growing array of social media networks.

But it seems that university students still see parents, friends and family as the most useful for counsel on their future careers.

At EY, we recently conducted a survey of 1,400 UK students at various stages of their degree from more than 100 universities, exploring their attitudes to the world of work.

One of the standout findings was that current undergraduates, across all years of study, rated their personal networks as the most helpful source of careers advice: parents and family (56 per cent) or friends (52 per cent).

Surprisingly, only a little more than a third (37 per cent) said that they found careers advisers the most helpful, and even fewer cited employers (30 per cent).

For employers such as EY, who want to attract top talent to drive their business in the future, this feedback is valuable.

The same survey showed that by the end of university, only one in 10 students still had hopes of landing their dream job after graduation.

It shows that businesses need to think harder about how to support students in their jump from academia to a professional career.

As managing partner for talent at EY, and as a parent with three children, two of whom will soon be embarking on the same journey, here are some of my observations and learnings that could help you to make important decisions about your career, or support someone else through that process.

Tips for getting your dream graduate job

Start out by really understanding yourself

Identify your personal strengths, spend time reflecting on what really motivates you, on what you enjoy and on what you don’t like doing.

Ask those who know you well – your teachers, friends and family – what they notice and value about you. There are also many online resources such as quizzes and personality tests that are a good starting point.

Challenge your assumptions

Keep an open mind when researching different careers; speak to as many people as you can, and challenge your own perceptions. Don’t rule yourself out of a sector or industry until you’ve really explored it.

Like many employers, we recruit people from a wide variety of degrees, and offer the same career path and opportunities whether you join us after leaving school or university. Also, apprenticeships have been transformed over the past few years, offering a real alternative.

Use the tools on offer

A key point that comes across in the survey is the need for companies to be more specific about what a job entails, and also that students would like contact with those already doing the job.

Many companies are creating online tools to help students understand a typical working day and to help guide them through the sometimes complex and unfamiliar recruitment processes – take advantage of them.

Look for an employer that fits both your skills and your values

Find an employer that will invest in you; somewhere that you can leverage the skills you already have and equip yourself with more that you need to develop.

Does their overriding purpose, ethos and culture resonate with you?

Get as much work experience as possible while you are still studying

Relevant or not, it doesn’t matter.  Any work experience will help you throughout the application process and provide you with valuable experiences to draw upon when you start work – not least a better understanding of yourself and a sense of how to work in a team with others.

Focus on long-term goals

Don’t let perfection be the enemy of starting your career. Look for the job (and employer) that gives you the most options in the future.

It isn’t a disaster if your first employer isn’t ultimately the right choice for you. Be prepared to work hard, seek out learning opportunities and keep focused on your longer term goals.


At EY, we have made a number of changes to the way we support, advise and recruit students, including removing the academic entry criteria from our student recruitment process to open up the profession to more young people.

This has created a fairer and more inclusive process while maintaining the highest selection standards. The new process focuses on an individual’s strengths and future potential rather than academic performance.

Alongside it, we believe that it is critical to provide career advice, resources and work experience opportunities to help everyone make an informed career choice, thereby building a better working world in which first-class career paths are open to a broader section of society.

Best of luck at this exciting time!

Maggie Stilwell, EY’s managing partner for talent at EY, UK & Ireland

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