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“.



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.

New Partnership to Serve West Country Businesses


Gradsouthwest, the South West’s graduate jobs board, has announced a new partnership with Business West, the leading provider of business support services in the South West.

The new partnership will provide local businesses with a quality service to access an unlimited pool of graduate talent. To celebrate this new partnership, recruiters in the West of England are invited to take advantage of a special 10% discount using code BW012016 until the end of July with Gradsouthwest.

The partnership is a fitting way to mark Gradsouthwest’s first anniversary as a private company. Founded in 2001 by university careers departments, the service is now managed by the former staff team who are passionate about the value graduates bring to the local economy.

Retaining strong campus links, Gradsouthwest attracts candidates from a wide range of universities and disciplines who share a desire to work in the South West.

Commenting on the partnership, Dr Deborah Watson, Director of Gradsouthwest, said:

“We are delighted to be working with Business West and to feature as one of their impressive suite of business solutions. As a small business ourselves, we recognise just how critical high quality business support can be, and welcome the opportunity to assist other businesses in accessing talent to drive innovation and growth.”

Phil Smith, Managing Director of Business West, said:

“Gradsouthwest has an excellent reputation and is led by an experienced and passionate team. Youth unemployment remains a barrier to long term economic growth, and businesses tell us that the skills gap is hurting them day in day out. This platform addresses this issue by linking our young talent with businesses of all sectors and sizes. I am pleased to welcome them to our extensive network of partners.”

To find out more about Gradsouthwest, visit www.gradsouthwest.com , or contact the Business West Skills Team via  skills@businesswest.co.uk

What are students telling us?‏

Speaking to students and graduates is one of the great CareersFlierMarch16things about working with Gradsouthwest. Having spent last Friday at the University of Exeter’s Creative, Public and Third Sector Careers Fair we were mulling over the many conversations we had with students and a few things sprung out as worthy of a blog post.


Messages for Employers:
1. Students are actively thinking about their careers from the earliest stages of University. We spoke to many first year students, who still have at least two to three years at University, but they were at the Careers Fair seeking information about the jobs available locally: summer placements, longer internships and permanent jobs for when they graduate. We’d certainly encourage employers to consider offering more summer placements and internships: they are a great way for the employer to get an extra pair of hands and some fresh eyes/new ideas and for the students to get real experience. Summer placements and internships can be seen as a long job interview and can lead to permanent employment at graduation when both the employer and student hit it off.

20160311_123551.jpg2. Many of the students were heading towards dissertation deadlines in the run up to Easter… so we think employers need to give plenty of time on their closing dates at the moment to enable applicant’s to do a good job on their applications. Recruiters: if you want to add a couple of weeks to your job advert with us, we’ll do our bit to help you and our students and will add the extra time for free. Just tell us if you want us to add an extra couple of weeks.

Messages for students:
3. Lots of the students we spoke to were unaware of the great opportunities for recent graduates to work in the South West. When we showed them the jobs currently available they were pleasantly surprised. Many students wanted to remain local, but didn’t know if it would be possible – it is! We recommended registering with Gradsouthwest to get a better feel for the local graduate jobs market.

4. A few of those we spoke to really didn’t know what they wanted to do upon graduation. We recommended thinking about the things they love, the skills they have (or want to develop) and the type of work they’d like to do. We also recommended looking at what types of graduate jobs were currently available, what employers were seeking in terms of skills and experience, and thinking about what they could do before they graduate to fill the gaps.

So if you are a student considering a career here in the South West then we would recommend you register for our job alerts. This way you will get a feel for the employers and the types of jobs available in your chosen field. And if you haven’t chosen your field yet, keep the search wide and use the job alerts as a way to test what is out there – something you see may inspire you!

Gradsouthwest attends the University of Exeter Careers Fair

Finally, we wish all those we spoke to graduating this summer all the very best in their finals and imminent job search – good luck!

Dr Deborah Watson, Director Gradsouthwest

Interview Tips

There are a few useful things to remember about interviews.


Firstly, an interview is a two way process.  It is an opportunity for the candidate to see if they think they would fit in the role and organisation, as well as the organisation testing the candidate’s fit for the role.

You need to plan for your interview – take time to prepare:

  • be familiar with the job description, person specification, and your own application – make sure you remember why you said you would be perfect for the role in your covering letter!
  • if you’ve been asked to do a task, e.g. a presentation – prepare it, and have a fall back for if the technology lets you down.  If you are asked for a 5 minute presentation, make it 5 minutes!
  • think about likely questions and your answers to them – “Why do you want the job?”, “What are your key strengths?”, “Why did you leave your last job?”, “Where do you want to be in 5 years?”
  • think about questions you would like to ask the employer – “What opportunities are there for training and progression?”, “How do you see the role developing?”

First impressions count.  Turn up at the right place, and be on time (practically plan to be early!)  If you are going to be late – let them know!  Be appropriately dressed – research the organisation to get a feel for what appropriate is – and be a bit smarter than the average employee.  Display confidence, and be polite and friendly to all the staff you meet.  Make eye contact, and shake hands when offered.

Once the interview has started take your lead from the interviewer(s) – hopefully you will establish a rapport and the interview will flow with both sides able to ask questions. Remember:

  • listen carefully to questions and clarify if you are unsure.
  • answer the question, but try not to wander too far off topic.
  • be confident and enthusiastic.
  • be clear in what you say.
  • keep your body language in mind – don’t fidget, fiddle, look aggressive, look too relaxed or disinterested – remain more neutral.
  • keep good eye contact with all interviewers if there is more than one.
  • put a positive spin on past challenges – e.g. don’t be overly negative about past employers.

As the interview concludes, remember to:

  • ask what the next steps are in the process, and when you are likely to hear the outcome.
  • restate your desire for the role.
  • thank the interviewer(s) for seeing you.

Reflect on the process:

  • what were your impressions of the organisation and people you met?
  • what about the role?  Does it meet your expectations now and as a career choice?
  • what could you have done better at the interview?

And finally, the waiting is over, and you are notified of the outcome:

  • you are through to the next stage – either another interview or some further assessment activities – so again prepare as above.
  • you are offered the role – you may have to negotiate salary, hours, start date etc. so be prepared to do so.
  • you are not offered the position – ask for feedback as to why: how could you improve on your application and interview performance; are there shortfalls in your experience or skills you could work on? By being proactive here the interviewer might well consider you for future roles or refer you to others as you are demonstrating a willingness to learn and improve!

For more top tips go to: http://www.gradsouthwest.com/careers-advice/


Dr Deborah Watson, Director, Gradsouthwest Ltd.



Our 2015 Highlights

2015 was a momentous year for Gradsouthwest with the management buy-out of the service in June 2015 ensuring the continuation of this well respected service for graduates and employers.  Initially founded in 2001 by SW university careers departments, the service is now run by a small group of experienced graduates and still enjoys the support of universities in the south west peninsula.

Over the summer of 2015 we launched this blog to enable us to share our experience with both graduates looking for jobs and employers wanting to recruit.  We hope you find it useful.  Our most popular post was “Why graduate training schemes are seen as the gold standard. And why you should re-think.”  Click on the link to read it if you missed it first time.

September 2015 saw the redevelopment of the platform meaning that our tried and tested service to match great graduates with great jobs got better:

Better for candidates
Great jobs for recent graduates plus:
– Job browsing open to all
– Use social media to register
Upload your CV to get in front of recruiters
– Apply online with one-click applications
– Manage your applications online

Better for recruiters
Unlimited access to graduate talent plus:
– Higher visibility for your vacancy
– More candidates
– New CV database – browse before you buy
– Alerts when new talent registers
– Streamlined Post a Job and payment options

Our closely targeted approach focuses on quality and relevance – and it works!  On average each vacancy receives 6 quality applications.


We’re passionate about what we do and we’ll go the extra mile to help so talk to us!

And finally, over 2015 we have continued to build our social media presence, and here are our year end stats:


Let’s make 2016 a year of new opportunities, new jobs and new employees.  Happy browsing to all our candidates and recruiters – now go find each other!

Dr Deborah Watson
Director, Gradsouthwest Ltd.
Images from:

December 2015 Exeter Business Survey Results

Good news on recruiting intentions from the Exeter business community according to the December 2015 business survey published by Exeter Chamber of Commerce and Industry.  We copy their news story below for you.  If you are looking to recruit, the New Year is a great time to do so, and here at www.gradsouthwest.com we can help you find great graduates.


Top Exeter Business Survey Findings this quarter:
– Business is preparing for future – 69% of business are looking to take on more employees in 2016
– Recruitment & retention of quality staff is still an increasingly important issue as businesses effected by skills shortages rises back up to 62%

The latest Exeter Business Survey carried out by the Exeter Chamber of Commerce and Industry has indicated that although businesses are planning for the future, there is an increasing concern that businesses are not able to recruit and retain employees with the right set of skills.

The survey has shown that 62% of businesses have reported that the skills shortage has had an effect on their business with 22% reporting this as a bad effect, 14% higher than the last quarter’s survey.

An increased number of businesses also signified that they expect to take on five or more employees in the next year, with 24% reporting this as their intention, up from 14% last quarter and 13% year on year.

Attendees at the Bank of England panel meeting held on Thursday 11th December, at which the survey was presented, gave evidence that while businesses are performing well and investment is seen to be an ongoing operation, there is still an issue of recruiting and retaining staff with the right skills.

Graham Austin, director of Exeter Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said “This quarter’s Exeter Business Survey results show that there is increasing demand for skilled staff as businesses focus on growth. This, coupled with the move towards the Living Wage and auto-enrolment pensions for businesses of all sizes, is likely to add pressure to wage budgets, meaning that careful planning for the next year will be required in order to continue to see business growth.”

The full survey results can be seen here.

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.

Gradsouthwest delivers on the ground support for students and graduates

Over the past few weeks Gradsouthwest has been helping students and graduates with their next career steps by working directly with Universities and Colleges at their recent events.  We have seen literally hundreds of students and new graduates as they enter the graduate job market in the south west.

University of St Mark & St John - Graduation November 2015

On the 28 and 29th October we were at the University of St Mark & St John’s graduation ceremonies held at the Guildhall in Plymouth.  What a couple of fantastic days we had celebrating graduation and providing all the graduands with careers material to help them with their job hunting.

From early years studies to sports science, from BA’s to PhD’s, Gradsouthwest were on hand to provide advice and information on our services. It was great to hear so many had secured a graduate job since finishing their degree, particularly those completing their PGCE’s. However we were able to highlight some great job opportunities to those Marjon graduates that were still looking for their first dream graduate job, many of whom wanted to stay in Plymouth, Devon or the surrounding area.

Gradsouthwest were delighted to be part of this important event and work alongside the employability team who showed their heartfelt admiration for their graduands.

This week we were again in Plymouth – but this time at Plymouth College of Art at their employability festival for 2nd and 3rd years “I’m a creative, what next?”  We had the pleasure of meeting some of the college students considering the options available to them and the types of graduate job in Plymouth. We were pleased to answer questions about the graduate job market as well as the importance of gaining experience with a summer or industrial placement. Several of the students were keen to find out more about the jobs in the creative industries in Plymouth, Devon.

Gradsouthwest are looking forward to returning in early February to present to the final year students at Plymouth College of Art discussing CV’s and the graduate application process.

We will be appearing again throughout the year at various careers and employability events including:

  • Plymouth College of Arts – Feb 2016
  • University of Exeter – May 2016
  • Falmouth University – dates tbc
  • University of St Mark & St John – dates tbc
  • Petroc – dates tbc

If you’d like us to attend one of your events then please do get in touch – we will if we can!

Fiona Boyd, Gradsouthwest Ltd.

Fiona is a Management and Public Relations graduate from the University of St Mark and St John, having specialised in customer relations for the last 14 years with specialisms in website account management. She is proud to be a dedicated member of the Gradsouthwest team and remaining in Plymouth to help manage the day to day service of this well renowned graduate job board.

A quick guide to Job Descriptions and Person Specifications

The Gradsouthwest Recruitment Guide provides information and resources to guide and assist you in attracting, selecting and developing graduate talent. It’s based on our experience of working with graduates and SMEs. You can use this resource as a step-by-step guide or you can dip in and out to use what you need. Here are the sections on job descriptions and person specifications for you.

Job Descriptions

A job description…

  • Summarises the main purpose of the role in one or two sentences.
  • Lists the key tasks and responsibilities using active verbs.
  • Describes the scope of the role – who it reports to, who it works with, supervisory responsibilities, degree of precision required etc.

Active verbs are an effective way to communicate about the job. Examples include;

Negotiate, influence, supervise, evaluate, design, train, motivate, organise, create, promote, persuade, plan, manage, identify, produce, delegate, research, time-manage, facilitate, review, analyse, problem solve, direct, monitor, advise, initiate, present, arrange and develop…

Sample headings

When writing your job description, it may be useful to use the following:

  • Job title
  • Location
  • Department / section
  • Duration (if not a permanent appointment)
  • Normal working hours per week (you could mention that some flexibility will be required)
  • Main purpose of the job (short description of why the job exists)
  • Key responsibilities / tasks
  • Key contacts / relationships (internal and external)
  • Challenges (what are the most difficult, complex or challenging parts of the job?)
  • Responsible for (staff, equipment, budgets etc)
  • Responsible to (line manager)
  • Additional information (working to appropriate policies etc)

Person Specifications

A person specification…

  • Lists the skills, knowledge and behaviour that the candidate will need to bring to your organisation.
  • Breaks down your list into qualifications, knowledge, experience and skills.
  • Prioritises this list – which are essential and which are desirable?
  • When writing your person specification, you can refer to our downloadable sample person specification.

Sample headings

You may find it useful to use the following:

  • Company name
  • Job title
  • Knowledge (including qualifications and experience)
  • Skills
  • Attributes
  • Other

For more information and further resources to guide and assist you in attracting, selecting and developing graduate talent go to our Recruitment Guide pages.  You can download example templates there, and can use this resource as a step-by-step guide or you can dip in and out to use what you need.

Dr Deborah Watson

Director, Gradsouthwest