What do employers look for in graduates?

Employers are often looking for grads with at least a 2:1 under their belt. But it’s not just good marks they’re looking for when sifting through job applications.

See what else will make employers sit up and take notice.


For some graduate-level roles, you’ll need a 2:1 degree minimum to even be eligible to apply – an employer or recruiter will clarify this, along with any other requirements, in the job description.

A 2:2 or lower restricts your choice and generally makes the process tougher, especially if you are looking for work with big-name companies. But don’t panic – there are still jobs out there open to you.

With many major recruitment schemes, you don’t necessarily need to have a degree in a specific subject area – English graduates can make able accountants, while musicians can move into management etc.

But it’s not just your degree. Employers might also want to know about your other grades (A level or equivalent, for instance) and academic achievements (awards, notable research you've worked on, etc).

A levels explained.


Few organisations can afford to carry passengers, so it’s important your CV demonstrates how you go the extra mile in your studies and spare time. When you're at uni, you won't be in lectures and seminars all the time. Make the most of your downtime (outside of part-time jobs and other essential commitments).

This could be through your involvement in a society or the student union, a work experience placement you arranged yourself, the lengths you went to research your dissertation and so on.

'Less is more – we’d suggest you get very involved in one or two clubs and societies that you join and take a leadership role. Recruiters will be more impressed with a president’s role at one society than being involved at a basic level in four societies.'

Donna Miller, European HR Director, Enterprise Rent-a-car

When it comes to degree-level study, there's a far greater emphasis on independent learning than at school. Be prepared to seek out extra reading beyond your compulsory reading list (without being nudged by professors). This can take the form of films, online videos, talks, plays, or exhibitions too – basically anything that furthers your understanding of your subject.

In fact, one of these might make for an interesting talking point in an interview.


You have to show an aptitude for the job together with a personality and attitude that will complement the company culture. Warning: this isn’t something you should try to fake as you'll be sussed out quickly.

As part of the application process, you may be required to take a psychometric assessment. Someone from the company's human resources department might also sit in on an interview.

Try to get a feel for a company's culture before applying. An employer's website or social media might shed some light on what it's like to work there. You can also use job review sites like Glassdoor to get an 'uncensored view' from staff.

Obtaining work experience across a few different work environments (eg small start-up, large company etc) will give you an idea of the different ways of working and make the transition into a 9-5 workplace a little less intimidating.

Note, degree apprentices or students whose course involves a placement year may have an advantage, having spent significant time in such a setting.


Employers are looking for a mix of technical ability – whether it’s developing databases, calculating co-ordinates or writing reports – and ‘soft’ skills such as teamwork, communication, leadership, and commercial awareness.

While technical ability can be slowly gained through formal work experience or part-time jobs, the 'soft' skills can be developed through voluntary work, extracurricular activities and personal projects.

Evidence and examples

An employer will quickly weed out where you’re blagging or exaggerating the truth in an interview. What they want is real-life evidence and examples that back up what you say. That means:

  • which skills you’ve used, where you’ve applied them and how effective they were
  • what you’ve done that demonstrates your interest and enthusiasm for this area of work – internships, experience, volunteering, extra qualifications
  • evidence that you want to work there – that means more than a quick skim of its website when researching the company. Delve deeper and come up with a couple of questions that relate to what the organisation actually does and where the job you’re applying for fits into this grander vision. Additionally, have an idea of how you want to progress (and how this aligns with the company's structure and goals).

'It’s essential that you are able to articulate your motivations for your given career choice. Some in-depth research in relation to the career and the organisation you're applying for will really help to mark you out from other candidates.'

Laura Yeates, Graduate Recruitment and Development Manager, Clifford Chance LLP

Attention to detail

Getting the basics right goes a long way, and getting it wrong can be a real turn-off (and an all too easy reason for an employer to disregard you if they have a large stack of applications to wade through).

We’re talking things like making sure your CV and cover letter is grammatically correct, checking you have the contact’s name and spelling correct, turning up to an interview on time and dressing smartly and appropriately.

You don't want to spend ages on a job application, only to let yourself down on something silly.