ICYMI: Our top tips for students to make sure you make the most out of attending University Careers Fairs

The round of autumn 2017 careers fairs for Gradsouthwest kick off next week at the University of Exeter and the University of the West of England (UWE) in Bristol, so we thought it timely to re-issue our blog post from earlier this year: “Our top tips for students to make sure you make the most out of attending University Careers Fairs“.



Graduates – How to be useful and loved quickly in a new job role! From Nicky Luke, Unlocking Potential

Nicky Luke, Head of Talent Development, Unlocking Potential

Key messages for attracting and retaining graduate talent in the South West

Following Gradsouthwest’s work with DCBC over the past few months, June 30th saw over 100 people gather at Plymouth University to discuss talent retention and attraction at the DCBC quarterly conference.

Charlie Ball, from Prospects, gave an overview of talent migration from a national perspective. We also heard from our partners Unlocking Potential with Nicky Luke speaking about ‘recruitment being like fishing’. Sharron Robbie, of Devon & Cornwall Training Network discussed the use of training for retention, and employer-led developments in the Building Plymouth project were provided by Julian Phillips of Midas.

Click HERE for the key messages from the sessions.

It’s Over! What you can learn from Candice and the Great British Bake Off…

Can Candice bake like Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood? Does she get it right every time? Does she stop being ambitious (remember that peacock)? Does she give up when it all goes wrong?

It’s a resounding ‘no’ to to all of the above. It’s why we love her. And why, if you can emulate her approach, recruiters will love you too.

So, what can you learn from GBBO winner Candice? Here’s our take….

#1        Respect experience

Candice is an outstanding baker. But she can’t trump Mary and Paul. At least not yet. You can be excellent – and still have room for improvement. Know this at every stage of your career, and more importantly, show you know it.

#2        Take feedback

Honest feedback can hurt.  It doesn’t mean you’re not brilliant. It just means that, if you listen and learn, you can be more brilliant. Listen, hear, take notes and be gracious.  Cry later if you need to – but do take it on board and act on it.

#3        Go for it

If we could tell you just one thing, it would be to GO FOR IT. When Candice applied to GBBO, she didn’t think she’d win. She had no idea of the standard required and the competition she would face but she applied anyway. You should do the same. See a job you like the look of? APPLY. Most people won’t – they’ll focus on the things required that they don’t have. If you can meet most (not all – that’s an ‘ideal’) of the criteria – and show willing – you stand a really good chance. Be brave. Be bold. Go for it.

We wish you luck. And if you need inspiration for your graduate career, head over to Gradsouthwest.com for lots of SW graduate jobs with companies that value graduate skills.

Charlotte Weston

Charlotte is a graduate with many years’ experience in both large and small organisations. She now works as a consultant to a range of SMEs across the south west and is a Non-Executive Director of Gradsouthwest.

Avoid the #1 Graduate CV Error

We see a lot of CVs. And we know it’s really hard to make sure they’re perfect. But there’s one area where we see lots of graduates shooting themselves in the foot; attention to detail.

Attention to detail is important. Recruiters like it. But if you’re going to claim you have it, you’d better be sure that your CV is absolutely perfect – and that’s not easy. Even when you’ve spent hours on it and checked it the requisite a million and one times.

The problem is clear. As soon as you claim you have attention to detail, anyone reading your CV will immediately be looking for evidence or counter evidence.

Here’s an example of where things go badly wrong – an amalgamation of the most common errors we’ve seen in CVs lately. How many errors can you find?


So, what to do?

Well firstly, do you really need to include ‘attention to detail’? It’s not generally a skill prioritised for graduates so maybe you should use the space to give evidence of something else. Creativity? Initiative? Teamwork? Ability to learn?

And if you must include it, can you get three people to check your CV first? Don’t just ask them to read it but ask them to find  five mistakes in it. Even better, take your CV to your university careers service to give it the once over.

Few skills as attention to detail are so easily debunked. And, when they are it makes recruiters sceptical about the other skills you list. So exercise caution – or extreme proof reading and checking – before you claim Attention 2 detailed.

Do you see what we did there? Recruiters certainly will…..

Charlotte Weston

Charlotte is a graduate with many years’ experience in both large and small organisations. She now works as a consultant to a range of SMEs across the south west and is a Non-Executive Director of Gradsouthwest.

Just Jobs. Fabulous Graduate Jobs.

Because sometimes we just want to cut to the chase and show you what we do best….

Head on over to www.gradsouthwest.com to check out these beauties.

Latest jobs

Graduate workforce – Patterns and Trends

Yesterday Universities UK published its latest Patterns and Trends report which presents a range of data on the changing size and shape of UK higher education.  Why does this interest us?  Well, it tells us about the changing nature of qualifications in the workforce, and the growing importance of graduates in the mix.

The report focuses on the decade between 2004–05 and 2013–14, and some key findings include:

Number of Qualifications – Between 2004–05 and 2013–14 the number of higher education (HE) qualifications awarded each year increased by 144,515 to a total of almost 778,000.

Gender split – In 2013–14, 56.1% of students were female.

Non-EU international students – The proportion of students coming from outside the EU increased from 9.0% in 2004-05 to 13.5% in 2013-14.

Part-time – Part-time student numbers continue to decline; full-time students now make up nearly three-quarters of the student body, up from just over 60% in 2004–05.

Disadvantaged backgrounds – The student body has become more diverse in terms of student background, with 42% more students from disadvantaged backgrounds on full-time first degree programmes in 2014 than in 2005.

Employment – Figures show that graduates have had consistently lower unemployment rates compared with non-graduates, even during recessions. Latest HESA data show that 95% of the class of 2010–11 were employed or undertaking further study three and a half years after graduating.

We now delve into the employment sections of the report, which we abbreviate here for you…

HE qualifications improve employment prospects. The 2013–14 Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey showed that six months after their course 92% of other undergraduate, 89% of first degree and 92% of postgraduate students were in work or doing further study.

Three and a half years after graduating, 94.9% of the class of 2010–11 were in employment or further study and were earning on average £26,000.

Office for National Statistics figures show that graduates have lower unemployment rates, even in recessions. Although unemployment rates have risen since 2008, particularly for recent graduates, they have remained considerably below those of non-graduates.

Graduates earn more, and a government report shows that female and male graduates can expect to boost their lifetime earnings by £250,000 and £165,000 respectively.

An increasing proportion of the UK population is going to university, and more than half of people in their thirties now have HE qualifications, up from just 36.4% (for those aged 30–34) and 31.4% (for those aged 35–39) just ten years ago.


The number of graduates in employment has increased in all age groups over the past ten years, but the UK is not alone in this increase as other advanced economies are also developing their labour force.

The UK has increased the proportion of highly skilled young adults from 32.6% of the population thirty years ago (the proportion of 55 to 64-year-olds with higher education qualifications) to 47.9% (the proportion of 25 to 34-year-olds with the same qualifications).

However, this growth has been smaller than in many of our competitors, and the proportion of young adults with higher education qualifications remains lower than in many competitor economies.


The increase in the proportion of graduates internationally is meeting a growing demand for higher-level skills in the workforce as the global economy changes.

Looking into the future, the UK Commission for Employment and Skills has calculated that the proportion of those in employment with undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications – which they use as an indication of the demand for these skills – will rise from 28.7% in 2002 to 51.3% in 2022, while those employed with skills below this level will fall from 71.4% in 2002 to less than half, 48.7%, in 2022.

What is clear from the data is that as the economy changes graduates will play an increasingly central role in the UK workforce.


The full UUK report is available here.


Dr Deborah Watson

Director, Gradsouthwest Ltd.



Job Advert Tips

Your job advert is competing with hundreds of others. What you write and how you write it will make a big difference to the response you get.

Use our experience to get results:

Job title
Take care over your job title. It’s the first – and often only – thing candidates will see. Make sure it describes the role, and if possible, the field of work. For example, ‘Events Administrator in PR’ is likely to get more interest than ‘Administrator’.  Keep it factual though. Candidates are put off by job titles that read ‘Earn £££££’s’ etc.

Offer a decent starting salary (we recommend a minimum of £17,000) and state it explicitly in your advert. Candidates are wary of jobs where there is no salary information. Don’t offer a salary dependent upon experience as this may discriminate against younger candidate.

Training and development
Candidates look for training and development opportunities. Tell candidates what they can expect. It doesn’t have to be a formal training programme but some indication of your commitment to training and development will attract candidates.

Be clear where the job is located – it’s often a deciding factor for candidates. Please don’t specify where candidates should live – we think that if they meet your criteria, that’s for them to decide.

You know what you want from candidates but have you been clear about what you can offer in return? List the benefits you offer – they don’t have to be monetary – it could be free parking, flexible working etc.

For more of our recruiter tips visit: http://www.gradsouthwest.com/recruiters/

Dr Deborah Watson
Deborah is a graduate and a Director of Gradsouthwest.  She has worked with universities and businesses for a number of years, building partnerships to support innovation, economic development and to get graduates into great jobs.

Why graduate training schemes are seen as the gold standard. And why you should re-think.

Photo of Charlotte Weston
Charlotte Weston

Ask final year students where they want to work and the majority will identify a graduate training scheme with a big, well known company. Probably in London.

This will become a reality for just 10% of graduates so why the mismatch between perception and reality?

It’s mostly about scale. The large graduate recruiters – many of whom undoubtedly run fantastic schemes – have the budgets to run glossy recruitment campaigns and the staff to work with university careers services. Which is great – and something most businesses might aspire to. The downside however, is that the low profile of small firms means that many graduates feel that taking a role with one is a bit of a come-down.

And it’s not.

Working for a small company is hugely rewarding and highly underrated. So why should you consider it?

Well, for a start, small companies are the biggest employers of graduates. Developing a successful career starts with knowing the job market and being realistic. Given that 90% of graduates end up working in small companies, you’d be crazy to rule it out. And small companies dominate the south west labour market.

In a small company, you’re kind of a big deal. Smaller businesses don’t employ anyone, let alone graduates, without giving it lots of thought. They will have identified a need for your skills and are likely to have a clear picture about what they want you to achieve.

Make no mistake, working in a small company gives you a great opportunity to manage your own projects. You’re unlikely to have departments dedicated to every aspect of the business so you’ll need to knuckle down and get to grips with a wide range of new tasks. Need to manage a budget? Chances are, you’ll be knocking up your own spreadsheets and dusting off the calculator. Have to collect data? It’s likely you’ll be responsible for finding the best software and checking out the rules on privacy. You get the picture. It may sound daunting but you’ll have others to call on and will develop a fantastic range of transferable skills – not to mention initiative.

The others you have to call on may include the senior management team. It’s not unusual for smaller companies to have flat management structures which give immediate access to experienced senior managers from who you can learn first-hand. And working with the top brass is an excellent way to develop your confidence.

Another advantage of working in a smaller set up is the relative lack of red tape. Large organisations necessarily need to adopt a very structured approach to managing their workforce. In smaller organisations, there tends to be a more pragmatic approach so it it’s a good idea, there’s more chance of running with it immediately. And this often extends to working practices; in my experience, smaller companies don’t have to worry so much about setting precedents so are sometimes more able to accommodate flexible working, provided, of course, that you’ve proved your worth.

Perhaps the biggest advantage to working for a small company is the sense of ownership. You’ll have the satisfaction of seeing that what you are doing makes a difference and this is hugely satisfying. There’s nothing better than working as part of a close knit team to make good stuff happen.

Now there are drawbacks to working in smaller companies. The most obvious ones are salary levels and opportunities for career progression. But are these real drawbacks or are they just common misconceptions?

Take salaries. Every year, average graduate salaries hit the headlines from the Association of Graduate Recruiters which represents the big graduate recruiters. Remember, only 10% of graduates go on to work for these companies, so the figures that make the news are the average salaries of just 10% of graduates. Which, when you think about it, isn’t really an average at all. The wider ‘What do graduates do?’ survey reveals that average salary after 6 months for 2013-4 graduates employed full time in the UK is £20,637. So, if you’re in this ball-park working for a small outfit, you’re doing good.

Similarly, the lack of opportunity for career progression is a bit of a myth. Nowadays, graduates are expected to have two or three different careers within their working life. Working for a large company may give you access to more structured career progression. But it might not. And if you’ve worked in a small company and developed a range of skills, you’re in a good position to apply them in a different environment.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not knocking the large graduate schemes. They offer outstanding opportunities. But so do smaller firms – and this is a fact that goes widely unacknowledged. If we could address this, we could narrow the mismatch between perception and reality and ensure that graduates make the best use of all the choices available to them; different but equal.

Charlotte Weston

Charlotte is a graduate with many years’ experience in both large and small organisations. She now works as a consultant to a range of SMEs across the south west and is a Non-Executive Director of Gradsouthwest.

Look for graduate jobs in the south west at Gradsouthwest

How social media can get you the employee / job you’ve always wanted…

When we asked our graduates and employers about social media usage we came up with a few differences of opinion that are worth sharing. Firstly, most of our employers are using Twitter and LinkedIn to look for new staff; whereas most of our students and graduates are using Facebook to look for jobs! If you’re not looking in the same place you won’t find each other… that’s why Gradsouthwest use all three 🙂

Both recruiters and job seekers now actively search out information on-line about the other… This is now a given, so clean up your profile and make it reflect how you’d want to be seen.

Job seekers – more employers are using social media then ever before to screen prospective employees.  Before sending that post you should really ask yourself “Do I really want my (future) employer to see that?” This means cleaning up your image and making yourself look professional and employable.

Recruiters – similarly, prospective employees know more about your business than ever before.  Job seekers will have checked your website, but also your corporate social media posts – or lack of them. This means making your company look like a great place to work. Your social media activity really does give prospective employees a flavour of your company culture, so make the most of it to recruit staff who match your aspirations.

Other social media tools, like instagram and snapchap, have yet to make it into recruitment mainstream, but with regular new social media arrivals we are always looking at how we can help you find each other!

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Deborah Watson, Director, Gradsouthwest Ltd.

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