Graduate employment: getting the right fit

What will give you the best chance of getting a job?

Sitting at a computer and filling out job application after job application can be a little soul-destroying, especially at a time when fewer roles are being advertised. What exactly do employers want? What will give me the best chance of getting a job?

In the midst of what can sometimes feel like an increasingly frustrating job search, it’s easy to forget that the employee needs to find an employer and a position that fits what they want.

We put together an expert panel of recruiters, careers advisers, postgraduate course providers and trade-union specialists to provide some expert tips.

What graduates should look for and remember

1. Laura Bambrick: Don't work for free. The national minimum wage legislation applies to work trials and internships. It is not enough for a business to claim that you are 'just' an intern or only on trial; nor can they require you to sign anything saying you have no right to be paid – you cannot sign away your right to be paid at least the €10.10 per hour minimum wage.

2. Derek Diviney: While some of the most resilient businesses have been larger companies in sectors such as technology and pharmaceuticals – and these are often the same companies who operate larger, more formal graduate schemes – graduates must not forget smaller companies, which account for the majority of the Irish workforce. Many are still hiring, and although they may not run formal graduate schemes, they can offer a great opportunity to get hands-on experience as they generally have smaller teams.

3. Jane Lorigan: Graduates want to know and understand more about the employer, their work culture, and their values before they commit to them and sign on the dotted line.

4. Laura Bambrick: Having graduated at the height of the financial crisis, I know first hand how bruising an experience it is to be job hunting in a recession. If you are struggling to get a job, don't take it personally. The world is experiencing the largest economic shock ever recorded. An unprecedented one in four Irish workers are unemployed and young people are disproportionately impacted. Postings on jobs websites are down 60-40 per cent on last year. Put any job search knockbacks in context and look after your mental health.

5. Josephine Walsh: If you're graduating now and looking for work in a sector that is struggling as a result of the pandemic, don't sit around despondent: think of something new. Plan B or plan C may ultimately lead you back to plan A without losing sight of the goal. Concentrate on what you have to offer, not on what you will be. A lot of roles are looking for graduates from any discipline, and what might count is your grade and your transferable skills, as long as you can show them that you are smart.

6. Gearóid Tully: A lot of graduates currently feel that there's nothing online and nobody coming back to me, or they applied for 20 jobs and got no feedback, but your really do need to hustle or you won't get a phone call back. Make sure that you don't use the same CV for multiple jobs: you must tailor it to be specific, and you need to value and benchmark yourself and explain to the company why they should hire you. If you just throw in your CV and it doesn't stand out, it will be buried in a pile.

7. Laura Bambrick: "Don't fall for the gig economy hype. The reality of on-demand, pay-per-project freelancing for fresh graduates is insecure work and uncertain hours. It takes time to build a reputation, contacts and experience. Go with the employer offering a permanent contract and the security of a steady paycheque when starting out.

8. Fergal O'Brien: Consider doing a postgraduate course or some form of further training. People are repositioning themselves and enquiring about shorter courses or programmes they can study. This pandemic has shown us that the world is a volatile place and you need to be dynamic in how you move and position yourself for careers.

9. Ronan Kennedy: Graduates want to know when they go into a role: what are the next steps and opportunities, where might they be in two years' time and whether the organisation is big enough to allow them make progress. Will their skills be transferable or is their knowledge too specialised to use elsewhere? Some companies have big graduate programmes because they haemorrhage staff: if you are on a graduate programme and training to be an accountant, but don't really like the fundamentals of accounting and want to become a project co-ordinator, it's okay to want to look elsewhere in a few years.

10. Laura Bambrick: Many job adverts don't give details of the pay; at most they will contain a vague statement on offering a competitive package. Transparency around pay grades and pay scales will protect you against bias and discrimination. Nothing stings like the realisation a junior colleague is paid more than you.

11. Laura Bambrick: In-house barista, gym membership, bottomless snacks and funky office furniture are all well and good, but when company perks are not matched with good employment conditions the novelty grows old quickly.

12. Ronan Kennedy: Graduates see all these co-working spaces, flexible working options, and being allowed from home for a day or two a week, as well as the chance to work in an office. It's no longer about the home worker versus the office worker: graduates want a choice and will place a value on this.

13. Derek Diviney: Graduates should cast their net wide and be open to opportunities they may not have considered before. Employers are increasingly looking for candidates with diverse experience, so not landing your dream job straight out of college is not the end of the world; in fact, it may give you the edge in the long run.

14. Ronan Kennedy: Having professional and consistent mentorship from someone in your chosen profession is really valuable. It provides space for graduates to reflect on their performance with constructive and positive feedback, and it also provides training, builds confidence and helps develop accountability. Be open and clear in any job application: is there mentorship? And if they say yes, ask how it looks so you can get a real idea of whether it exists or not.

15. Laura Bambrick: Extended periods of working from home are likely until a Covid-19 vaccine is found. Research shows remote working creates particular challenges for new hire younger workers. All employers have a legal duty of care to their staff. Good employers will have protocols for monitoring your workload and fostering a sense of belonging while working remotely.

16. Ronan Kennedy: A good environment will help you do your best work: it's all about leadership and if the boss is open, honest, has integrity and communicates well, it filters down through the organisation.

17. Laura Bambrick: Human resources is there to protect the interests of the company, not you. Join a union. Your union has got your back. If there isn't a trade union in your workplace you can sign up online:

What employers want – and what you should demonstrate on your CV and at interview

1. Ronan Kennedy: We have all had to adapt to working remotely over the last six months, so employers need people who are flexible, adaptable and able to embrace change. It is trickier to maintain productivity with the distractions that come with working from home, so they need someone who can, as far as possible, manage their own morale and well-being. They want people who can work autonomously and show they can delegate the work and get it done.

2. Ronan Kennedy: Graduates have completed good degrees, and they're intelligent and hard-working. In the world of education we can be passive, listening to information, but in the world of work we have to be as active as possible. Employers want people who can take an ill-defined, complex problem with an unclear goal and get into the habit of dealing with it. If your boss has to tell you everything and you just put it together, they have already done half the work.

3. Ruairi Kavanagh: Employers are really looking for people with foreign languages. They also want people with data analytics skills who can visualise data with graphics, charts and presentations to make evidence-based decisions.

4. Jane Lorigan: Many firms recognise the importance of keeping their talent pipeline flowing and graduate recruitment will remain a vital component in their ongoing recruitment strategy. Employers appreciate that recruiting the best and the brightest young people brings enormous benefits for their business.

5. Josephine Walsh: What did you do with your time during the pandemic? This is a question employers will ask. If you are out of work, think about how you can keep learning, developing new skills or building your portfolio.

6. Ronan Kennedy: If you want opportunities to grow and progress, identify where the problems are and come up with proposed solutions. This graduate might, for instance, write out a one-page document for themselves dealing with any issues that have come up, how long it might take to resolve and what measurable difference it might make. Those are the graduates that go from punching in and being paid to someone a company wants to hold on to and who will progress.

7. Ruairi Kavanagh: In our gradireland survey, 41 per cent of employers said they are looking for people with tech qualifications irrespective of the sector. This included public-sector employers.

8. Ronan Kennedy: Employers want someone who is open to improving on how they approach something and are able to take constructive feedback on the chin.

9. Ruairi Kavanagh: Being able to write clearly and concisely is important: remember you are not in a WhatsApp group and you need a different tone for different communication channels.

10. Gearóid Tully: Some of the graduates I see are amazing, but if you want to work with a particular company, they'll notice you if you've done some good work – and this might involve doing some gig work or taking on bits of work where you get paid per job.

11. Ronan Kennedy: Employers want someone who can do more than just complete the job – they want someone who can deliver results.

12. Josephine Walsh: A good online presence is important. Employers are increasingly paying attention to LinkedIn and use it to find talent, so a job applicant's online presence should be sharp, up to date and have words in your profile that reflect the job you're looking for.

13. Ruairi Kavanagh: Employers need someone who can demonstrate reliability and an ability to communicate what they need, as this makes the manager's job easier.

14. Josephine Walsh: It's always been a little easier for people with a more extrovert skill set but because the world is changing, so what is valued has changed too. Core skills like problem-solving and creativity still matter but now employers need people who can work on their own without others around them. Because graduates will often be working remotely or from home, this is a moment for introverts to shine.

15. Employers want leadership skills, but it is hard to develop these when you start as a graduate if you're afraid to help a colleague with a problem.

16. Ronan Kennedy: You'll often hear about the work culture of a workplace, which is really "how we do it around here". Employers are really looking for someone who can understand the communication and collaboration styles: some offices are open and collaborative, whereas others are more quiet and have a greater focus on deeper work. Understanding this is important in getting off to a good start.

Expert panel

Dr Laura Bambrick is head of social policy and employment affairs at the Irish Congress of Trade Unions

Derek Diviney is vice-president at recruitment company Indeed

Ruairi Kavanagh is managing editor of

Ronan Kennedy is an independent career coach and business mentor specialising in career coaching and planning, executive coaching, self-employment preparation and interview preparation.

Jane Lorigan is chief executive of

Fergal O’Brien is assistant dean of graduate and professional studies at the University of Limerick

Josephine Walsh is head of careers at NUI Galway

Gearóid Tully is head of construction for recruitment firm Sigmar Ireland