22/09/2017 06:18 BST | Updated 22/09/2017 06:18 BST

Top Tips For Success In The Graduate Job Market

It's that time of year again: leaves are falling, the football season is in full swing, school is starting, and university leavers are getting ready to apply for their first full-time jobs. "Milk round" wasn't a term used when I was at studying in the states. When I first heard it here, I assumed it was a wholesome drink. Then the reality was explained to me: hundreds of graduate employers in one hall vying for the attention of the best and brightest university students. Competition to swipe the free pens is fierce and the soundtrack can be a cacophony of clichés worthy of The Apprentice's greatest moments.

In my leadership role, I only meet candidates once they've been whittled down to the crème de la crème. Getting to know these students is inspiring and I'm impressed every year by their experience, intelligence, enthusiasm, and humility. Of those who didn't make it that far, the first stumbling block is often first impressions at the careers fair or company presentation. There, recruiting teams meet a much wider pool of individuals, and are witness to some behaviours that no employer are going to find appealing. You can easily avoid these early pitfalls.

Dress appropriately: its fine not to be fully suited up, but keep it smart casual. Yes, we have giveaways on our stands, but do limit foraging activities to one. And, if we're handing out sweets or chocolates, hold off from gobbling them until after you've finished talking to us. Please be respectful of your peers and our recruiting team's time: they're there to meet as many people as possible. Our candidates usually do impressive amounts of research, but keep your questions limited to two or three, so we can speak to everyone.

Be sure to start the process early - like right now. Spend time figuring out what would you like to be doing this time next year (or later if you are taking a gap year). Do research on the internet, through social media, and the good old fashioned way of talking to friends and friends of friends (and parents!) to find out which sectors and companies match your requirements. Then see which employers will be coming to your university and highlight those you are potentially interested in - but be creative. If you want to work for a charity but there are only a couple present, you can ask the other companies on your shortlist what community or charitable work they do - often they'll call this their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programme.

The dates for most company visits to campuses are available from your careers service or the company website. Map these dates out against the application deadlines and set yourself deadlines so you can keep track. Take advantage of company events on campus and at their office to engage with your target companies. The big events signal how the company wants to be perceived and often give an opportunity to meet previous graduates who work at the company now. Ask the recruiting team and reps questions to better understand what they do and what it's really like to try to get behind the spin. For example, you may want to know how many hours a new recruit will really end up working every week from someone who's been through it.

Once you reach this stage, there are five steps to make sure you are putting the best version of you forward:

1. Polish your CV

Your CV is usually the first encounter companies have with you. So, make it exciting! Use active verbs (such as organised, created, achieved, and transformed). Give equal weight to academic achievements, extra-curricular activities, and work experience. Utilise support available from career services and ask your friends and family to give feedback on your CV.

2. Tailor your applications

Consider the type and personality of each company and then tailor your application. This will make each more appealing and more likely to get you the interview where you can really shine.

3. Practice to get ready for the company tests and interviews

Just like you would study and practice for exams and tests at university use example questions on company websites and available on the internet to help you practice. Watch out for opportunities to attend events like "crack a case" on campus and go. Understand what questions you might be asked in interviews and get your answers ready for them. Practice interviewing with your friends. Just like with anything else: practice will make you better!

4. Interview the companies

While companies are interviewing you, you should also be interviewing them. In most cases, you are at work just as long or longer during the day than you'll be awake. You should enjoy the work and like your colleagues. Ask the interviewers questions to understand them, the company and the potential position better. Take advantage of opportunities to talk with current employees with whom you'd be working. Ask them how it really feels to work for that company

5. Smile and relax - enjoy yourself!

Do be honest - both to yourself about what is important to you and to the company you are interacting with. Think about what you enjoy and what you don't like. Be honest with yourself when considering what you would like to do for your first job - this isn't about impressing your parents or friends! During the interview process, above all be honest about yourself.

If you don't get an offer from your "dream" company, you might think it's a disaster, but instead think of it as a great opportunity. You never know where it might lead!