More jobs will be available for graduates this year, but those without work experience stand little chance of securing a position, research suggests.
Almost half of employers expect to recruit extra graduates in 2013, and a further third plan to take on the same numbers as last year, according to a report by High Fliers research.
But a more than a third of the jobs available will be taken by people who have already worked for the firm while studying, it warns.
The report examines the state of the graduate job market in 2012, and considers the prospects for those leaving university this summer.
It found that overall, graduate vacancies are set to rise by 2.7% this year, compared to last.
This is an improvement on last year, when Britain's leading employers recruited slightly fewer graduates than expected.
The research suggests that the biggest increase in job openings will be among public sector employers, engineering and industrial companies and retailers.
And Teach First, which recruits top graduates to work as teachers in schools in disadvantaged areas, is likely to take on the highest number of university leavers, with around 1,260 vacancies in total.
But while more graduate jobs will be on offer, competition will still be tough, with those students who have not taken part in internships or work placements, especially those hoping to work in banking or law, likely to find themselves left out in the cold.
English Literature and history student Lauren Hossack told The Huffington Post UK she was concerned at the latest research: "Not all of us can afford to work for free, or live near places where suitable work is available." While Naila Missous added: "I don't know how long I can keep doing things for free."
The report, based on a survey of the 100 top graduate employers, found that firms believe that 36% of entry-level jobs will be filled by students who have already worked for the company.
It reveals that three quarters of the jobs advertised this year by City investment banks are set to be filled by people who have undertaken work experience with these firms, along with half of the training contracts offered by leading law firms.
More than half of the recruiters surveyed suggested students who are leaving university with no previous work experience have little or no chance of getting a job offer for their company's graduate programme.
The research did find that more than four in five employers are offering paid work experience for students and recent graduates this academic year.
It also notes that while more jobs are expected to be on offer, the number of vacancies is still around 11% lower than in 2007, before the recession.
Martin Birchall, managing director of High Fliers Research said: "It's welcome news that Britain's best-known and most sought-after employers are offering more jobs for graduates this year, particularly after a drop in vacancies for university-leavers in 2012.
"This latest research confirms that taking part in work placements or internships whilst at university is now just as important as getting a 2.1 or a first-class degree. Graduate recruiters warn that in a highly competitive job market, new graduates who've not had any work experience at all during their studies are increasingly unlikely to be offered a good graduate job after university."
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