The problem with graduate job applications

Aug 31, 2021 | Attraction & marketing

More support is needed so graduates don’t lose motivation and make mistakes in their job applications, says Laura Greaves at Prospects.

Job hunting during a global pandemic can be stressful for graduates, and data shows they are feeling unmotivated and lost during this time. Could this have a negative effect on their performance in interviews and job applications?

We spoke to 29 employers and sent out a poll to 232 members of the Institute of Student Employers to hear their views on the quality of graduate job applications and what lets them down. You can find more on the ISE findings in Tristram Hooley’s blog on the July poll.

Our findings highlight where graduates are going wrong as well as learnings for universities and student employers.


Issues with job applications

While it’s positive that only a small proportion of employers found that their graduate applications were poor quality and there appears to be no significant difference pre-pandemic, recruiters found that some applications were untailored, lacked enthusiasm and contained mistakes, which reduced a graduate’s chance of securing an interview.

Over half of the employers surveyed reported that a common issue was ‘applications not tailored to the role’. One respondent said it was clear when a CV was not tailored because it lacked key terms that were included in the job advert. It is expected that graduates embed keywords and phrases into their applications so hiring managers can see that they meet the requirements for the role.

Poorly written applications and letters was another problem that stopped graduates getting to interview stage. Some of the most frequent mistakes were unstructured text with no paragraphs and poorly formatted letters.

A tailored and well written application or CV/cover letter that clearly state suitability and desire for a position are essential.

Action! It would be useful for recruiters and careers advisers to communicate to students what employers look for and why certain steps are important in the early stages of recruitment.


Challenges of work experience

Lack of relevant work experience was a factor mentioned by some recruiters. The ISE reported that employers recruited 29% fewer interns and 25% fewer placement students in 2020. These actions had a negative effect on students and graduates, with the Prospects Early Careers Survey 2021 showing that only 17% managing to undertake work experience in the past year.

Some of the employers we spoke to had not changed their selection criteria due to the pandemic, and this could limit the number of candidates shortlisted if relevant work experience is an essential requirement for the job.

Action! While the pandemic decimated the amount of formal work experience opportunities available, the covid generation of students are equipped with a unique set of experiences. Be mindful of this and shift your recruitment expectations accordingly.

Lack of motivation and passion

Data from Prospects’ early careers survey reported that students top three struggles during the past 12 months were staying motivated during their studies, taking care of their mental health, and feeling optimistic about their career.

This lack of motivation could manifest itself in applications, and may explain the ‘poor quality’ and lack of ‘effort/passion/research’ that some employers are seeing at the moment.

Student Minds found a statistically significant relationship between the number of applications submitted and a person’s wellbeing. They found that for every additional job application submitted, graduates have a .14 lower score on the mental wellbeing scale.

Furthermore, research by AGCAS found that over 40% of graduates surveyed reported that they had not felt supported by employers during the recruitment process since March 2020. The majority (77.8%) said employers should be clearer about what they are looking for in job applicants.

Action! It is important that students and graduates feel supported to ensure they remain resilient and motivated. An AGCAS survey suggests that graduates want more information about how a company recruits graduates, better information about available openings and a clear training pathway.


Simple recruitment

While psychometric tests and competency-based forms are useful to identify suitable candidates, too many stages in the recruitment process can make it confusing and difficult for jobseekers, which can reduce the quality of applications.

A recent poll by Prospects found that students and graduates are put off by a complex and unappealing application and recruitment process. They were discouraged by long application forms that asked (what they felt were) unnecessary questions or that required candidates to repeat information already supplied in their CV. One respondent mentioned that a long application process can be particularly stressful for those with disabilities. Read more about what puts graduates off applying for jobs?

Action! Simplifying the application process and removing any unessential steps as well as clear communication about what’s involved can ensure you don’t miss out on the top talent.

You can find more on the ISE findings in Tristram Hooley’s blog on the July poll.


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