When for most of your life so far you’ve been a student, it can be difficult to think of yourself as anything else. But in your graduate job search, you must leave behind your student identity.  That’s because employers don’t hire students.

When you apply for a job, the recruiters reviewing your application will look out for ‘keywords’ that tell them you can do the job.   ‘I’m a final year student’ or ‘I’m a recent graduate’ aren’t those words.

I’m not saying your degree doesn’t matter.  Despite news stories about big name graduate employers no longer considering or requiring degrees, the reality is that often you won’t get an interview if you don’t have a degree.  For some professions you may even need a degree or professional qualification in a specific area – I’m thinking of jobs in health care, engineering, manufacturing or IT, just to name a few examples.

Still, don’t let your CV, cover letter or application shout out: “I’m a student…” or “I’m a recent graduate…”.  Remember, there are probably tens, hundreds or even thousands of other students applying for the same job and saying the same things.

In your job search, you need to stand out.


By showing potential employers that you’re the young professional they want to join their team.

Here’s my graduate career tip for today.

Graduate Career Tip #1:  Present yourself as a future professional.

Employers don’t hire students or recent graduates.  They hire future professionals.  In your introduction, present yourself as one.

As you write your job application, don’t focus on what you’re now, i.e. a student or recent graduate.  Focus on the next phase,  on who you want to become.

Look at the job title and essential requirements listed in the job advert.  In your job application, give yourself a title that reflects the job title and some of the key requirements.  In other words, become the person the company is looking to hire.

This isn’t about pretending or misleading.  It’s about articulating what you’re interested in, what you’re really good at and what you can offer the employer.  It’s about helping the hiring manager(s) see how you may be the right candidate for the vacancy.

Here are a few examples of how you can do this:

Example 1:  You’re applying a job where direct work experience may count more than your degree subject, such as in marketing. 

Don’t:  ‘I’m a graduate with a BA in marketing’.

Do:  ‘Entry level Social Media Manager – blogger, managed multiple social media accounts, degree in marketing’

Using ‘entry level’ in your job title tells the hiring manager(s) that you’re applying for your first job in this field.  Following this up with any hands-on experience, and then your degree if it’s in a related area, balances out the fact that you’ve not worked in marketing before.

Example 2:  You’re applying for a job that may requires specialist qualifications, such as in accounting. 

Don’t: “I have a degree in Accounting”

Do:  ‘Trainee Accountant – BSc Accounting [name of university], CIMA certification’

In this example ‘trainee’ is part of the job title.  Jobs that are specifically designed for recent graduates don’t usually ask for work experience, or the job advert may say it’s ‘desirable but not essential’.  Formal qualifications, such as a degree in a specific discipline or a professional qualification may be listed as the top essential criteria.

Employers don't hire students: 5 ways #graduates can impress hiring managers Click to Tweet

Example 3:  You’re applying for a role that requires technical skills, such as in web development.

Don’t: “I’m a Computer Science graduate”

Do:  ‘Junior PHP Developer – good PHP coding skills, basic MySQL knowledge, BSc Computer Science from [name of your university]’

In this example, the word ‘junior’ shows that you have little or no work experience in the area.  As this is a specialist, technical role, do mention your degree and possibly also your university.  But notice how this example doesn’t say ‘BSc Computer Science graduate‘. The trick is to present being a graduate as a ‘qualification’, not as your ‘identity’.  Remember, you’re aiming to become a programmer / engineer / support staff / etc. – use the title of the job is that you’re applying for.

Example 4:  You’re applying for a job that requires specific abilities, such in the finance sector. 

Don’t: ‘An ambitious Economics / Finance graduate’

Do:  ‘Graduate Financial Analyst – Advanced MS Excel including Pivot Tables and V-Lookups, strong mathematical background, BSc Economics [University of…]’

Here ‘graduate’ may either be part of the job title or you could add it to say that you’re looking for an ‘entry level’ position.  Look at the job description and pick out the top 2 – 3 requirements and include them in your title. If you’re missing any of the essential skills, consider taking a small break from your job search.  Invest time (and money if necessary) in getting those skills.  In this example, you could probably learn Pivot Tables and V-Lookups to a decent level in about 2 weeks if you work intensively.

Example 5:  You’re applying for a role that requires a degree in any subject and for which you have no direct work experience. 

Don’t: “I’m a Masters student and speak two languages”

Do:  ‘Sales Department Coordinator – Strong communication and team working abilities, bilingual (German), Masters from [name of your university]’

Apparently, only about half of UK graduates work in a field related to their degrees – in some areas the percentage is even lower.  Sometimes, it’s by choice, sometimes because of lack of graduate job opportunities in specific fields.  Often, job adverts just say ‘must be educated to degree level’ but they don’t say in what subject.  If you have any direct work experience or relevant skills, I would always list these first.  If you don’t, look at your strengths and the key selling points that may be an advantage over other applicants.

A final thought….

Some people understand the term ‘junior’ as reflecting young age as opposed to level of experience.  I would recommend you search for the job you’re interesting in using the four different qualifiers I have used in the above examples (‘entry level’, ‘trainee’, ‘graduate’, ‘junior’).  See which of these terms is  used most often in relevant job titles.  Or simply pick the term that you feel most comfortable with.

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