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'Savvy' graduates can claim dream jobs in economic downturn

By Matthew Knight for CNN
The current job market is a world away from the joy of graduation day as many young people struggle to find work.
The current job market is a world away from the joy of graduation day as many young people struggle to find work.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Graduates finding it tough to find jobs in recession
  • UK survey suggests many more graduates prepared to take any job in current economic climate
  • Career expert urges graduates to differentiate themselves from other applicants
  • Graduates told to be savvy, take risks, do unpaid work and use experience to sell themselves
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London, England (CNN) -- Recent graduates may think that after years of study the hard work is over. But finding a job after studying can prove an altogether tougher assignment.

Like the wider economy, the recession has hit graduate recruitment hard with more applicants looking for fewer jobs.

According to a recent survey by UK recruitment company, Alexander Mann Solutions, graduates are resorting to "blanket applying" to companies across all sectors.

Nearly a fifth of 2009 graduates said they were applying "for any job" according to the study, while 59 percent said they were applying to roles across a number of sectors.

Only around a quarter of 2009/10 graduates are confident of finding a graduate position this year the survey reported.

It's a situation Corinne Mills, managing director of UK career consultants, Personal Career Management is all too aware of. In recent months she has watched a procession of graduates walk into her office in numbers she's not seen before.

From Cambridge University students with impeccable qualifications to graduates from less august seats of learning, they are all consulting Mills in the hope that she can change their luck.

Mills, who has also written the best selling book: "You're Hired! How to write a brilliant CV," says graduates are struggling to differentiate themselves from each other at the moment. Here, she offers some tips on how to make your application stand out.

Experience

Experience is something graduates crave but don't have a lot of. But it doesn't have to be glamorous to pay dividends for job prospects.

Mills says that retail work experience could help make a difference even if you are applying for jobs in the finance sector by exposing you to financial transactions or procedures.

"Employers will see that you haven't got banking experience but they can clearly see that you have been able to draw out the business skills from what you've been doing already. It's this kind of savviness that employers look for," Mills said.

"What graduates quite often do is they set their sights on something that is usually very competitive and then don't do anything else around that," Mills said.

With this approach, despondency can set in quite quickly Mills says.

"Clearly go for your dream job, but also go and get any experience at all that is going to give you transferable skills that you can use to sell yourself with employers."

In the current climate Mills thinks that getting any job is preferable to just sitting at home filling out job applications.

"Employers will ask you to account for your time and if you say you have just been job searching that's not going to sound very impressive. Do anything -- waitressing, work in a pub, work in a shop -- while you're still looking for the dream job."

Research

Graduates could be forgiven for not researching all the companies they apply to, but if you don't do your homework it might not be worth turning up to the interview.

"Employers really want to know that you have thought through why you want to work for them. If you don't know the answer they're not going to give you the job. You have to be very focused and clear about what it is you want. If you are still focused on getting that job take anything else in the mean time," Mills said.

Sales pitch

What graduates say on their CVs and what they say at interview doesn't always do them justice Mills says.

"Get somebody else to look over your CV and test your interview skills. There is a gap between what people think they are saying and what employers are actually hearing."

For graduates, the immediate job prospects don't look good and Mills doesn't see the market which she describes as "palpably different" from picking up anytime soon.

"I know there's a lot of talk about the economy picking up with better prospects, but I haven't seen any indication of that yet," Mills said.

If there is an upside to the downturn it's that graduates are learning lessons which will stand them in good stead for future bumps in their career path.