A university graduate’s guide to boosting career prospects

20 ways to make you stand out to employers

In this guide

For some, university serves as the perfect bridge between worlds, as students slowly begin to shift away from hours spent in the classroom to a more adult form of independence. This change isn’t without challenges. Whether it’s transitioning to a lifestyle where you’re suddenly expected to feed and care for yourself, or finding the discipline needed to manage work alongside play, life at uni can be tricky.

Ultimately, your aim is to finish your course with a degree which sets you up for the career of your dreams. But what can you do in the meantime to ensure your chances of landing that job are heightened?

In this comprehensive guide, we’re going to look at 20 of the best ways to put yourself in a position which stands out to employers. You can never guarantee you’re going to be the optimum candidate for a job – but by following the advice laid out here, you’re placing yourself in a position to get a one-up on the competition.

Chapter 1

New graduate employment statistics

First, let’s take a look at what the current landscape looks like for graduates. While everyone’s path will be unique, there are trends which persist across entry-level roles, no matter what the industry.

Employability rates for new graduates in 2023 and beyond

The graduate market is in a very healthy place. Figures from last year show that employment rates rose 14.5% in 2022 from the previous year, while an additional 3,500 jobs were handed out to those who had recently left higher education.

Leading the way when it came to the number of those taken on board was the accounting and professional services sector. They saw as many as 7,752 graduates added to their ranks across the calendar year, representing a 31.5% growth.

Other industries where progress was good for university leavers were:

Employment rates rose 14.5% in 2022 from the previous year

hospital icon


The public sector

Technology icon



Engineering and industrial icon


Engineering and industrial

Investment banking icon


Investment banking

Banking and finance icon


Banking and finance

* new graduate hires

Encouragingly, the average graduate starting salary has also seen a healthy boost across the past 15 years. While the total expected number sat at just £25,500 in 2008, those entering a new position can now anticipate being paid as much as £33,500 a year.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, investment banking is where the average salary is highest. Those entering this profession can expect to be paid an average of £55,000 as a base salary in 2023. Law and consulting were close behind, with £50,000 and £47,500 wages respectively.

Even more encouragingly, graduate jobs tend to be less affected by the impact of external events, such as the pandemic or a recession. Figures from 2020 revealed that despite there being 39% fewer jobs available as a whole, more graduates found placements in the first 15 months after uni (80%) than they had pre-pandemic.

Interestingly, the level of qualification didn’t have a huge impact on employment rates. While those attaining first-class degrees were slightly more employable, the figures were largely uniform across all passing grades:

Students graduating









* employed within 15 months

The standout good news for graduates is that a huge percentage will find employment within a year-and-a-half of leaving university. The total figures for 2022 highlighted that all graduates from 2020 and beyond fell into the following categories:

bag icon


Full-time employment

Bag time icon


Part-time employment

heart icon


Volunteering work

Graduate icon


Further study

Map icon


Caregiving and travel

No bag icon



* graduates employed

The average career trajectory for modern graduates

While everyone’s career path is totally unique, most graduates will fall into similar bands when it comes to their trajectory. These can be broken down into five clearly defined periods of progression:



This is the beginning of your career, where you’re testing the waters and discovering what drives you professionally. You can find particular niches at this point, while developing your hard and soft skills, and creating expectations for what you want out of life. This is a good time to explore a number of avenues, as well as soaking in all the advice and guidance you possibly can.



This is usually when someone finds their first long-term position. You’re likely to be mid-to-entry level, with relatively minor responsibilities. You’ll find a lot of challenges at this point, but also that you’re feeling more confident and secure in your role and wider industry as time goes on. It’s important to continue enhancing skill during this stage, and make sure to get lots of feedback about how you’re progressing.



This is around the time that a lot of workers are hitting their peak. You’ve been in a role long enough to have nearly mastered it, while still having the time to grow and develop further if need be. It’s also when the need to find a good work-life balance becomes a major factor, as you potentially look to raise a family. This is a good time to look for managerial or leadership roles, as well as reassessing how happy you are with your specific job.

Man looking at whiteboard

Late career


This is a good time to begin looking for successors, or even mentoring the next generation yourself. While you might have an eye on retirement, there’ll still be hard graft to be done at this point. It could also be wise to consider speaking to a financial advisor about how to best manage your money for the future.



While the name might sound bleak, this period of a career is actually more about quietly winding down, and enjoying a bit of a break. It’s a good opportunity to go part-time, or even consider an early retirement if you’re fortunate enough to be able to afford it. Make sure to stay mentally active during this stage, and think about engaging in community projects when you get the time.

But what does the average working lifespan actually look like? New research shows that the average person will change jobs a total of 12 times across their career, working at every company for an average of 4.3 years a time.

Interestingly, tenure in a role seems to increase with age. Those in the 55-64 bracket stayed with their employers for an average of 9.9 years, while those in the establishment period (25-34) would on average change jobs every 2.8 years.

Other figures which were highlighted by the study were that:

54% of employees felt their employer was loyal to them

58% of adults want a career change, but are worried about starting over

Local government positions have an average tenure of about 6.6 years

Women have 12.1 jobs on average across a career, compared to men’s 12.5

Teaching on a board

91% of Millennials expect to change jobs every 3 years

Chapter 2

20 ways to boost career prospects and find a job after graduation

Now that we’ve got a better understanding of what things might look like for a new graduate, let’s sink our teeth into what can be done to put yourself in the best position to land a job after finishing your course. Here are twenty of the best steps any new graduate can make (both during and after university) to stand out from your competition and boost your career prospects.

1. Get experience while you’re studying

One of the most effective ways to make yourself stand out for employers is to bolster your CV with tangible experience. While this can sometimes be daunting alongside a program of study, it helps to separate you from the thousands of other graduates who you'll be competing against.

Experience at university can come in many forms. You can choose to volunteer, find a part-time job, or even earn a specific qualification. While this might be time-consuming, it’s a tried and tested method which shows you’re both a hard-worker, and dedicated. One survey found that 93% of business leaders want to see work experience made a mandatory part of the curriculum – which speaks volumes about how having a strong CV is viewed.


2. Create an application routine which works for you

What works for one doesn’t necessarily for another. Rather than spamming a bunch of job roles with your application, instead find a routine which balances job hunting around your day-to-day life. Some of the best approaches to finding a routine which works for you include things like:

  • Setting daily targets – such as applying to five jobs a day
  • Dedicating a specific period of the day to applications
  • Assigning “deadlines” to get work done by
  • Having rest days where you can switch off from the process and focus on other skills

Forcing yourself to constantly be searching and applying for jobs can be draining – both physically and emotionally. The net result? Sloppy applications which don’t present you in the best light. Make sure to find a rhythm that works to really impress employers.

3. Improve your soft skills

Businesses aren’t just looking for people that can carry out tasks – they also want to know you have the soft skills to be able to handle difficult situations. But what are soft skills? Well, these are things like communication, teamwork, problem-solving, adaptability, critical thinking, and time management.

When you apply to a role, it’s important to highlight how you are able to demonstrate a number of these. If you feel like your soft skills need work, it might be smart to actively seek out courses which help them improve. These are particularly important in customer-facing and private sector roles.

Man presenting

4. Pay attention to your social media channels

In an age where people tend to overshare on the internet, employers have learnt that they can get a good feel for a candidate by doing background checks on platforms like X, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Curate your social channels as much as possible, and consider making them private if you’re really worried.

If you notice any comments or photos which aren’t entirely professional, consider removing them. It may not be an accurate reflection of who you are, but it could cost you an interview – even if the post was from years prior.

5. Focus specifically on your LinkedIn account

One social platform which needs more attention than others is LinkedIn. More of a networking tool than a social channel, LinkedIn serves as the perfect shop window for graduates looking to make a mark on the professional world.

Reach out to recruiters, make connections with people in your industry, and try to keep an active profile where you regularly post about a sector that you’re interested in finding employment in. You can also interact with other people’s posts, commenting and liking them to show that you’re reading about areas you’re interested in.

Also don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. While you won’t want to post too many statuses about looking for work, it doesn’t hurt to create a post which mentions that you’re a hard-working candidate looking for an opportunity.

6. Narrow down your search

Casting your net as wide as possible might sound like a good plan of attack, but it can actually leave you somewhat without a purpose. A scattergun approach to the job hunt might mean you are spreading yourself too thin, and not showing a prospective employer the best version of yourself.

By having a dedicated focus (be it a specific sector, or a series of companies) you’ll be able to focus on developing skills which appeal to your chosen targets, while also producing a CV which isn’t rushed. This also gives you the chance to focus on precise qualifications, as you’ll know exactly which ones will help you stand out.

7. Set yourself targets and goals

Whether it’s during the application process itself, or while you’re doing the hard graft behind the scenes to bolster your credentials, having specific targets is an effective way to ensure you’re taking the steps needed to boost your career prospects.

Only you know what limits to place on these goals. Whether you want them to be daily, weekly, or even monthly, try to create a dedicated plan which sees you ticking them off routinely. The added bonus of this approach? The organisation and time management skills you’ll develop will serve you well when you do eventually land a role.

8. Use job sites and recruiters

Don’t be afraid to turn to third party platforms to help increase your chances of being spotted by employers. These sites are specifically set up to help connect businesses with a candidate who is suited to them. What’s more, applications are usually quick and painless – so long as you have the necessary CV and cover letter already lined up.

Using recruiters might also be a good avenue to target. It’s a recruiter’s job to find work for their clients, so turning to one for help is a guaranteed way to know that your resume is being seen by a wide variety of people.

9. Talk to other people about how they got their jobs

What better place to look for advice than by turning to your fellow graduates? Whether it’s your immediate peers who’ve already been fortunate enough to land a role, those with slightly more experience who may have already gone through what you’ve been through, or even just online forums, it’s worth hearing about what others have done in the past to find work.

While you’re probably already taking as many steps as you can to stand out, there might be a nugget of gold that these professional forerunners can impart. There are always different avenues to pursue, and ways to approach things.

Team meeting

10. Make sure your application portfolio tells your story

You find the perfect role for you. It’s a healthy salary, amazing benefits, and offers genuine fulfilment. The last thing you’ll want is for your application to do a half-hearted job of showing the hiring manager what you’re all about.

While you’ll never want to go overboard, make it clear when applying that a job is something you feel passionately about (assuming it genuinely is). Tie in your decision for applying to your cover letter, and make sure to place the relevant experience and qualifications you have front and centre.

11. Tailor each application for the specific role

It can be tempting to have a stock template which you use when job hunting. And while there is definitely a benefit to this approach, it means that you aren’t necessarily providing the optimum application when you reach out for specific roles.

While having certain beats to CVs and cover letters are fine, try to write each individually – particularly in the case of the latter, where it’s easier (and more important) to offer something unique that really makes you stand out. Look at a job advert and pick out key aspects to discuss in your letter.

12. Look for graduate employment opportunities

A lot of companies understand the value of bringing in a hungry graduate who’s eager to work (and learn). As such, it’s quite common for there to be tailormade positions which businesses are explicitly looking to fill with new graduates. In fact as many as 30,000 graduate jobs were advertised on a monthly basis back in 2020.

These are the perfect entry into the world of work. Whether you’re choosing to take on a role in a company which you could see yourself doing for a long time, or just getting your feet wet in an industry which you have desires of progressing through, graduate placements are the perfect way to set yourself up for a successful career.

13. Identify job timelines and create a plan for each

If you've got long-term career progression in mind, it never hurts to sit down and create a detailed plan to transition through different roles. While this will almost certainly need to be chopped and changed as your career evolves, it could serve to point you in the right direction when it comes to setting specific goals and aims.

Having a detailed job track might also help you identify specific courses and training resources you might need to pursue in order to progress in the direction you’re aiming for. Identify the key skills you’ll need to progress down a particular track, then take every opportunity to learn or hone these.

14. Attend relevant networking events

It never hurts to have connections. While the old adage “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” doesn’t always ring entirely true, it would also be narrow-sighted to overlook the influence that having a good circle of contacts can have on both finding a job, and then progressing up through the ranks.

One of the most effective ways to make connections with people who share the industry you want to or currently work in is to attend dedicated networking events. These are a great opportunity to chat with people who could have a big say in your career, as well as an effective shop window for new graduates. Some of the best advice would be to:

  • Have some conversation starters ready to go
  • Make sure you’re practising active listening
  • Ask other people about themselves
  • Come to the event with a clear goal in mind

15. Practise your interview techniques

In the event that you do land an interview, it could be the first time you’ve ever found yourself in such a position. As such, it’s really important to have a strong set of interview techniques ready to go, in order to impress the person who’ll decide if they want to hire you or not.

One fantastic way to answer questions during an interview is to use the STAR method. Practise the following technique by inserting a number of real-world examples into each section:

  • S(ituation). Explain an example of a specific scenario which happened either in a previous role, while volunteering, or even as part of your studies. 
  • T(ask). Mention the tasks which you were required to do as part of the situation.
  • A(ction). What active measures were taken to resolve the issue.
  • R(esult). As a result of your actions, what was the (preferably positive) outcome?

16. Keep your options and mind open

It’s great to have a specific career path or job in mind. But putting all your eggs in one basket is a recipe for stunted growth. Successful professionals tend to be those who are able to adapt and evolve to any given situation. These good habits can be developed during the initial stages of your career.

When hunting for work, be sure to stay versatile. If an option presents itself which you might not have initially considered, don’t instantly reject it. If you have clear goals in mind, work out a way to channel your existing career back towards your end-goal.

17. Apply to startup companies

Startup companies are usually more receptive to graduates, or workers who don’t have as much on-the-job experience. That’s because they’re at a point of their own growth where they’re thankful for all the help they can get. That doesn’t mean you won’t be working with experienced pros – after all, they’ll only be starting their own business if they’re already at an established point of their own career.

Instead, it makes you incredibly valuable from the outset, and puts you in a position to quickly progress up a company ladder much faster than you’d expect in a more settled and longstanding business. It also means you may get more input that you may get in a traditional role, which can be appealing to self-starters.

18. Research companies before you apply

One of the best ways to hook up with a company which is genuinely going to see your career blossom is to do your research ahead of time. Certain businesses might offer progression plans that appeal to you, or concentrate their focus on a specific aspect of an industry that you want to pivot your career around.

19. Try not to take rejections personally

As we’ve already seen, there are hundreds of thousands of graduates looking for employment at the end of every academic year. Naturally, with the amount of competition out there, that means you have to expect to face a lot of nos. Sometimes, you might not even hear back from an application at all.

This is a normal part of the job hunt, and something which you’ll need to develop a thick skin for. Remember, none of the rejections you’re receiving are a personal statement about your inability to do a job. There were just candidates slightly better suited to the specific listings.

20. Don’t be scared to take a little time out first

If you’re a graduate who comes straight out of university looking for a career, it might be smart to take some time to centre yourself and really think about what you want out of your professional life. Having a month to relax and recover from the stresses of university won’t set you back that much in the wider scheme of things. It’s important to make sure you’re 100% ready to go when you do eventually hit the job market.

Chapter 3

Improving career prospects in different stages of life

It’s not just new graduates who might be looking to enhance themselves in the eyes of an employer. No matter what stage of your career you’re at, there are things you can do to enhance yourself and make your transition through the job market easier.

Improving career prospects when leaving school

Sometimes the introduction to the world of work begins the moment you leave school. It’s not unheard of for people to avoid the increasingly large fees associated with university, and jump straight into work. If you’re still in full-time education, but want to set yourself up for a quick shift into the workforce, keep the following advice in mind.

Ask your teachers for advice

While a teacher won't be able to help you with the nuances of different industries, there’s a good chance that they’ll understand your core strengths, skills, and even your personality type. Having a clear “feedback report” from them might make it easier for you to decide which direction you want your career to move in.


Take a career test to concentrate your focus

If you’re still struggling to work out what your future might look like, you can take a career aptitude test. These will match you up with careers which you’ll be best at, and can help to serve as inspiration for what sector or industry you might want to become a part of. However, remember that these tests aren’t binding – if the careers that come out of them don’t excite you, they may not be the right choice in the long term.

Attend job fairs

These are a great opportunity to meet and mingle with employers who are looking for candidates straight out of school. You’ll find a wide array of companies who have opportunities for school leavers. These will vary from voluntary positions, to internships, all the way up to full-time jobs.

Have a back-up plan

Things may not immediately go as you intended. It can be hard to guarantee you’ll find something the second you leave school. For that reason, it’s always smart to have a back-up in place to fall back on. This could be attending a college course, or even voluntary work.

Training on the job

Improving career prospects when returning to work

Life can be unpredictable. If you’ve spent a prolonged period of time out of work, you might feel like potential employers won’t take you as seriously. Again, there are steps which can be taken to help those returning to work for the first time after unemployment.

Know your strengths

If you’re returning to a new profession altogether, you might need to reevaluate what makes you a desirable candidate. Find your strengths, and look for a role where you can put these to use on a daily basis.

Reconnect with people in your network

If you feel like trying to find a place in your old industry again, the best place to turn to is your existing pool of contacts. They’ll be able to provide valuable insight into any changes, as well as potentially even linking you up with any companies they know are hiring.

Understand what you need out of a job

If you’ve been out of full-time work for a long time, there’s a good chance your lifestyle may have specific needs or requirements. As such, it’s really important to work out exactly what you’re looking to get out of a new job. Is it going to interfere with your personal life? Are you looking for a managerial role which will take up a lot of your time? Are you happy to commute long distances?

Keep your CV updated while you’re off

If you know that you’re going to be returning to work at some point, try to keep your CV as up-to-date as possible. That means any odd-jobs you do, or even qualifications that you took during your time off. Even life skills like parenthood go a long way towards showing your reliability, organisational abilities, and time management skills.

Improving career prospects for current professionals

It could be that you’re looking to take a step up in your career, or even change fields altogether. Just as with at other points in life, there are steps you can take while in work to make you more hireable in the eyes of employers. Here are some of the best steps.

Hone your skills while you’re working

One of the worst mistakes someone can make is becoming complacent on the job. While everyday is a school day, it still pays to actively pursue resources which will help you grow and develop in your role. This will help in the short term, but also set you up for further career progression.

Writing on whiteboard

Embrace your strengths

If you notice that you excel at a particular subset of your job, think about channelling your efforts into crafting a specific role for yourself out of these. That might mean moving on to pastures new, as you look to find a position which draws on your best assets.

Identify and fill your skill gaps

In order to improve, you first need to understand where your skill gaps lie. These are the soft or hard skills which you’re lacking in order to progress. If you find yourself struggling with a particular aspect of your job, consider looking for training courses in order to improve them.

Map out a career development plan

One of the most effective ways to get to where you want to be in your career is to have a detailed progression plan laid out. This can chart annual milestones, core skills to improve on, and even roughly what kind of salary you expect at certain points in your life. Having this yardstick to measure yourself against is an effective way of staying on track.

Working on a laptop