Skip to main content
Become a member



Graduate recruitment

25 Aug 2017

Recruiting a graduate can give your business an influx of talent, enthusiasm and fresh ideas. 

You need to be clear about exactly what you are looking for and how best to attract suitable candidates.


Recent graduates have much to offer and might provide a fresh approach to business processes and ideas. They are bright and keen to do well. They are likely to be ambitious and willing to work hard in order to prove themselves. The fact that you have offered them their first job will buy a certain amount of loyalty.

Graduates are less likely to have bad working habits. However, they may need to be initiated into the disciplines of the workplace. They have no pre-conceived ideas about what can and cannot be done. You will be able to train them your way. Many companies recruit graduates that have already worked for them through work experience, paid internships or holiday jobs.

Graduates should not be thought of as a source of cheap labour. They are likely to be high maintenance in many ways. They will want a competitive salary. They may expect to be given a high degree of responsibility early on. They could be looking for fully mapped out training and career development programmes.

Offering work experience or internships

Many university and college courses require undergraduates, particularly those on vocational courses, to complete work experience, usually for the whole of their penultimate year of study. Many students pick up a 'taste' for specific jobs or sectors whilst at university.

There are significant advantages to offering placements. Undergraduates often inject enthusiasm into your team. They want wide experience, and are often willing to move to different departments and try different tasks. The cost to the business is relatively low. It is not uncommon for the placement to be so successful that you end up recruiting the undergraduate permanently.

There are also substantial advantages for the undergraduates. It provides some much-needed income. It greatly increases the chances of obtaining a job on graduation.

Contact your local university careers service for students. Use your usual recruitment process to find the most suitable candidate. Undergraduates who have benefited from the experience will usually be happy to introduce you to other potential candidates when the placement comes to an end.

What sort of graduate?

Consider what qualifications, skills and experience you want a graduate to possess.

Decide whether you want a generalist or a specialist. Unless you need a vocational qualification, consider recruiting graduates from a range of subject areas. Any degree is training in how to think. Most university courses include continuous assessment, so most students will have a good idea of their eventual grades by the time they start applying for jobs.

Decide whether you want specific skills. For example, languages or advanced computing programming skills. If such skills are important, include them in the 'person specification' at the start of the recruiting process.

Think about whether commercial awareness is important. Some graduates take work placement experience and internships as part of their degree. Others will have worked in industry, services or commerce, on a part-time basis or during holidays, to help finance their education. Some students take a gap year and complete voluntary work. Include any requirements for experience in the person specification.

Coming up with an offer

The graduate job market is the strongest it has been for many years. Although growing numbers of graduates are choosing to join small businesses, you will have to compete with other smaller firms, as well as large graduate recruiters, to attract good graduates.

Aim to come up with a set of benefits which will make the job appealing.

Be clear about what you have to offer

  • Work out both a 'job specification' and a 'person specification' before you start.
  • Decide who the graduate will be working for, and what they will be doing.
  • Think about the sort of training and career opportunities you will be able to provide. You do not have to have a 'graduate programme' as most graduates are looking for a job first and a career second.
  • Offer a competitive salary. Benchmark your graduate salaries against similar roles in other companies. Average graduate salaries typically start at £26k but can be higher or lower depending on the sector and location of the business.
  • Do not oversell the job. Be realistic about what you can offer.
  • Discrimination on the basis of age is illegal.

Remember your main selling points

  • As a small business, these are related to the excitement of working in a small team and having an influence on the success of the business.
  • You can offer the graduate the prospect of becoming a key team worker with the chance of real responsibility in several different roles early on. This is less likely within a large company.
  • There may be the chance to get involved in exciting new projects.
  • Working directly with the directors is also a potentially exciting prospect.
  • Future career prospects, training opportunities, the location, the commute and its associated costs will all affect how desirable the position on offer is.
  • Describe your offer in terms of a flying start to a career that steadily progresses. If you can, give information about the organisation of your business, or a business plan.

Targeting universities

There are numerous universities and higher education institutions in the UK. Focus your efforts, to avoid wasting time and money.

Target the university or institution of choice. If you need candidates who have studied particular subjects, you can research degree courses to identify relevant institutions through UCAS. Do not base your choice on unresearched beliefs, such as your own experience. They may be out of date. Make yourself known to the careers service at your chosen universities or institutions. Get your name entered onto their databases, so that your details are circulated to potential recruits.

Do not ignore your local universities. Get to know the careers advisers and tutors if you can. You may find students who have settled in the area and would like to stay there.

Meeting candidates

Careers fairs, the milk round and employer presentations are good ways to make contact with prospective graduate employees. But these can be time-consuming and costly.

Careers fairs offer you the chance to meet future graduates in an informal setting. The cost of exhibition space varies, from nothing to several hundred pounds. Make sure you have enough people to answer enquiries, and plenty of information about your company. Get your timing right. Most graduate careers fairs take place between November and March and again in the summer term. You should book your place early. There are different types of fair. Many universities offer SME days (for small and medium-sized enterprises). You will be able to meet students without having to compete with the large graduate recruiters.

The milk round offers the opportunity to interview candidates on campus. Interview as many students as you can who meet your job requirements. Aim to come away with a shortlist of candidates to invite for further interviews and possibly some 'taster' work experience or internships before you make a final decision.

Most universities also organise employer presentations. Do not rely on your company name to attract students. Be specific about what you can offer graduates.

Recruitment agencies

There are a number of specialist graduate recruitment companies who vary in the services they offer. Some offer a CV bureau, others offer fully interviewed graduates and others offer training for graduates as part of the package.

Charges range from 15 to 25% of the first year's salary. The cost depends on the company you use and the level of service required. They offer a range of services, including identifying relevant universities and courses, advertising and initial screening and selection.

Find an agency by checking which recruitment firms advertise for graduates

  • Look in newspapers and online
  • Ask the Association of Graduate Recruiters (020 7033 2460).
  • If you shortlisted target universities or institutions, ask their careers services which agencies specialise in recruiting from the various disciplines there.
  • Ask business friends which agencies they have used.

Advertising for candidates

Another way to find a graduate is to advertise.

Advertising on site at the universities is usually very cheap. University careers services offer a range of services, including notice boards and career vacancy bulletins.

Prospects Today is the main graduate directoryProspects Today (0161 277 5200) is available online and on campus. The directory is published annually in September. The Prospects Today website receives over two million visits a month. You can advertise from a little as £300. Your advert will be emailed to relevant graduate job seekers and promoted via online social media networks. They can also tailor a bespoke recruitment campaign for you.

You can advertise on graduate-specific recruitment websites. This is often less expensive than traditional print advertising. Sites include Milkround, TARGETjobs and

National newspapers carry regular 'graduate appointment' features. Your industry trade magazine may carry graduate recruitment advertisements.

Typical difficulties

While the recruitment process will be similar to that for other employees, there can be some specific problems associated with the graduate recruitment.

You may leave it too late to attract quality candidates from this year's graduates. Start planning your recruitment campaign early in the academic year. By the time the exam results are announced, many of the best graduates will already have accepted job offers.

You may invest time interviewing candidates who then take jobs elsewhere. Be realistic about the calibre of graduate you can expect to attract with your offer.

You may be flooded with applications, especially if you use online job boards. Devise a filtering process to get numbers down to a manageable level. Be specific about the skills and qualifications required for the job.

Retaining a graduate

Once you have a graduate on board, it is important to keep them motivated and satisfied, to ensure that the effort invested in the recruitment process does not go to waste.

Offer a mentor and organise an appropriate training programme. An experienced colleague acting as a mentor provides guidance to the new recruit.

Give feedback. Remember that graduates have come from an intense learning environment, where everything has been measured and evaluated. Give regular performance appraisals and provide praise for good work.

Increase the graduate's salary relatively soon. You might increase pay after six months, subject to achieving agreed targets.

Give responsibility as early as you can. Make sure this responsibility is delegated deliberately, not simply by default. Ask the graduate to set up new projects, but be sure to monitor their progress. However confident and well qualified they are, graduates still need support and feedback.

Ensure you keep the promises you make. Give careful consideration to the rest of your employees. Minimise any potential resentment by explaining the graduate's role to the rest of your team. Resist giving the graduate a grand job title or obvious preferential treatment.

If you found this factsheet useful you might benefit from joining the IoD: 

Find out more about becoming a member of the IoD

© Atom Content Marketing Ltd. All rights reserved.

Contact us

020 7451 3100

Business information

Enquire online

(Members only)

Opening hours

9am-5pm, Monday-Friday, excluding UK public holidays