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Get Up, Stand Out: How Grads Can Make Themselves Employable

17/04/2013 11:46 BST | Updated 16/06/2013 10:12 BST

Last week the National Union of Students released a report titled 'The Modern Jobs Economy: trends in employment for study leavers'. Issued without fanfare or much attention, this publication offers considerable food for thought for students and graduates considering their first steps onto the career ladder. Addressing the "reality of career options" for the 300,000 soon-to-be graduates preparing to enter an over-crowded job market this summer, the report points out that competition is fiercer than ever, with 5% more young people studying for undergraduate degrees since 2007. At a time when a third of the working age population have a minimum of a graduate degree, students reading this report are justifiably concerned as to how they can better position themselves to secure their dream job.

Luckily, whilst this report offers little in the way of answers, we at Inspiring Interns are keen to offer a more optimistic response to job-hunting graduates out there. Yes, competition is fiercer than ever, and yes, your BA in **INSERT NON-PRACTICAL ARTS SUBJECT HERE** may not mark you out as 'special', but we believe there is an educational, eye-opening, and dare we say it, fun, way to secure the job you have always hoped for. In our opinion, differentiating yourself from the competition comes down to two things: personality and experience. Nope, not cover letters and CVs.

Evidence included in the NUS report certainly highlights this. As they state, the current job market shows that reliance on a degree is not an option anymore: "recruiters are increasingly looking for graduates with previous experience". In fact, 36% of graduate vacancies at the 100 largest graduate employers are filled by applicants who had already worked for that organisation. In some industry sectors the proportion is almost double! So why is work experience the holy grail in finding a job?

The answer probably boils down to the reality that our years at school and university do little to equip us with the knowledge of how to apply our soft skills to a work context. Without experience of the professional world, or indeed a referee willing to attest to your emerging skillset, it can be difficult for businesses to take the leap and hire someone who is something of a blank slate in working terms. Of course some large corporations are able to invest in graduate training schemes that go some way to nullifying this risk, but these cater to only 4% of the graduate population. The fact is, for the thousands of SMEs out there, an applicant without requisite experience is simply too big a financial or HR gamble to take. On top of this, those SMEs ready to take on a graduate often struggle to attract applicants; many students are simply unsure where to look for these opportunities (particularly given careers services' insistence on continuing to push blue chip grad schemes).

With SMEs responsible for 71% of jobs created in 2009-10, how can graduates ensure they get a slice of this employment pie? Well, we believe expert agencies such as Inspiring Interns play a crucial role in bridging this gap through work experience programmes and internships. These agencies provide a meritocratic, and in our case, personality-matching service, to ensure well-suited SMEs and graduates meet each other.

These supported and managed internships offer participants a real experience of an industry of their choice. It provides young people an opportunity to develop the practical skills that go beyond the soft skills learnt in an academic environment, and ultimately position them as a stronger candidate for full-time employment. They also provide a fantastic opportunity for prospective employers to get to know and educate a candidate. The figures speak for themselves: 66% of graduates that come to Inspiring Interns end up with a permanent job at the company where they have interned.

At Inspiring Interns we firmly believe that underemployment of graduates is a major waste of economic capacity and individual potential. The Government should too, having invested millions of pounds in the higher education of thousands of young people. With "nearly 35.9 per cent, or more than one in three recent graduates...[currently] employed in a lower skilled job compared with 26 .7 per cent in 2001" there is clearly an urgent need to help create jobs commensurate to the skills and knowledge of our growing graduate population - something that internships are doing.