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How to stand out as a graduate

Book open Reading time: 6 mins

You've probably read about the increasing competition in the graduate market, often highlighted by a new statistic about how many graduates are applying for each role available.

It's true that securing a job after university can take a lot of perseverance and personal branding, but there a number of things you can do to boost your chance of landing that dream job, beyond high academic achievement. Here are five things we've picked out.

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Always be commercially aware

It’s easy to get so engrossed by what you're doing at university and miss things in the world around you. However, it’s important when applying for jobs that you know what’s going on in the news and the business world. A good knowledge of current affairs and issues relating to the firm you’re applying to will impress employers and demonstrate you have a real interest in that sector.

Even if you’re not applying for jobs at the moment, it’s important to keep your finger on the pulse. Keep track of our Commercial Awareness Updates for an easy way of doing this. 


Attend networking events and make contacts who can be helpful when starting your career. Meeting someone in person gives you a much better chance of making a good and lasting impression, compared to submitting a CV online or randomly adding them on LinkedIn. These contacts can also be incredibly helpful throughout your future career.

When you’ve met someone you want to stay in touch with, be proactive and connect with them on LinkedIn. Always send a personal message referring to when you met them or something they mentioned that you found interesting.

It may even be worth getting some business cards before you attend events. It’s easy and cheap to get them printed and they show you’re prepared and serious about your future career. Plus, it's something a little different.

Click here for a beginner's guide to networking.

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Have a professional headshot

Here's our advice on how to take expert headshots:

  1. Professional but approachable - Getting the perfect headshot is a fine balance between looking professional and trustworthy, but also friendly and natural. You don’t need to dress to impress – wear something smart that you feel comfortable in. 
  2. Know your audience - Think about who is going to be seeing these photos. What sort of roles are you applying for? You want to take into account what is appropriate; to fit in with the culture of the industry. For tech start-ups, for example, the culture is likely to be completely different to large Investment Banks. You want to demonstrate that you are right for and understand the area of business you’re applying for.  
  3. Smile, but not too much - A nice, genuine smile will give the impression that you are both approachable and easy to work with. That being said, a big cheesy grin probably isn’t the best way of getting across that you are a professional and can take yourself seriously. If you’re worried about your smile looking too forced or fixed, try a subtle laugh and you will come across much more natural.
  4. Know your angles - What’s your good side? We all have things that we would rather not emphasise in photos, so it’s useful to understand how you can work the camera to your advantage. A useful top tip is to align yourself slightly below the line of the camera, as this is supposed to be the most flattering angle (and helps avoid the dreaded double chin).
  5. It’s all about the lighting - Good lighting is key to taking a great photo. The trick is to opt for more diffused, natural lighting as it will create almost an airbrushed effect, hiding any unwanted blemishes or marks. To achieve this, position yourself to face where the light is coming from with the camera in front of you.
  6. Consider your surroundings - Background and surroundings will contribute to the photo more than you might realise. White walls will reflect the light back onto you, whereas strong darker colours are more likely to leave the colour or shadow on your face. If in doubt, it’s best to find a fairly plain light background for your headshot.
  7. Avoid graphic disasters - Any clothing with obvious logos, bands or slogans is a big no. Not only are they unprofessional but are often distracting. Our tip is to steer towards plainer, more muted colours that enhance your features. Remember, headshots usually have a shelf life of about two years, so you want to ensure that what you are wearing will not only be suitable for now but also for the foreseeable future. 
  8. Filters - This is probably an obvious one, but important nonetheless. Your headshots are not the time to be experimenting with the latest Instagram filters. If you’ve found a nice well-lit spot, a natural-looking photo will be much better anyway. And finally, definitely no selfies. If you or a friend has a camera, that’s ideal. However, a good smartphone camera will do the trick.

Have an online presence

Having a well-put-together LinkedIn profile is just the start – a professional Facebook, Twitter and even Instagram account can enhance your employability. You don’t have to set up separate ‘professional’ accounts, but make sure all your social profiles show you in a great light.

Many employers check their applicants’ Facebook and Twitter channels to get an idea of their personalities. If they see that you’ve shared an article related to the industry or the firm itself, this will automatically give you the upper hand.

That being said, LinkedIn is the most important professional network.

Learn how to perfect your LinkedIn profile with Bright Network.

Get creative with applications

How creative you can be will depend on the sector you’re applying to. In marketing, you’re often expected to do something completely unique, whereas you don’t have the same scope in law. What you can do for any application is to think about what makes you different from other candidates. This may be the experience you’ve already acquired, a skill or even a hobby. Graduate recruiters see many similar applications, so make sure you have something in yours which will grab their attention and make you memorable (for the right reasons of course).

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Be passionate

As a student, you won’t have developed all the skills needed to excel in your future career yet. That’s not a problem, but it does mean your attitude is crucial. Whichever firm you’re applying to, show them how passionate you are about the sector and the company. Enthusiasm and tenacity are often valued above more technical skills - all graduates should be able to demonstrate these skills (but often don’t).

And finally, be persistent. If you do experience rejection, make a point of finding out where you can improve and then move on to the next application. If you're not quite right for one firm, there is no reason why you can't be the perfect fit for another.

Not sure what you want to do? Find out with Career Path Test 

If you're not sure about what you want to do, don't worry. Our Career Path Test matches you with roles and sectors that are in line with your values and interests.