When to Apply for Graduate Jobs


As is all too often the case, finding that first impactful role after university can be one ...

By Pareto Team


As is all too often the case, finding that first impactful role after university can be one of the most challenging job hunts in an individual’s career. Knowing what to do after graduation can be difficult enough, but understanding when to apply for graduate jobs and how to rank top graduate employers is a roadblock for many early-career professionals. It’s no surprise that recent graduates often struggle to make a start with their job search. A LinkedIn analysis of over 3.8 million vacant positions posted to the platform since December 2017 highlighted that over 35% of roles that were billed as “entry-level” required at least three years of relevant work experience, particularly within industries where competition is high for those just starting out—such as software, manufacturing, and design.

This guide is for those soon to complete their studies and seeking a no-fuss understanding of connecting with top graduate employers. We’ll explore the question of when to apply for graduate jobs, some pros and cons of applying earlier and later in the year, and offer additional advice to help set you apart from the competition.

Understanding What To Do After Graduation

Whilst you likely had a career in mind when you picked out your course of study, it’s possible that this has changed in the three years since you began your degree. It’s often going to be the case that the role you have in mind after you graduate could require the experience only a graduate placement or entry-level position can offer.

Of course, this isn’t cause for concern, but it’s important to manage your expectations and understand that you may need to work your way up within an organisation. However, given that you’ve shown commitment to earning a degree, you’ve already got the determination and passion down—crucial graduate employability competencies to possess for long-term career success.

Revisiting the question of what to do after graduation is a vital part of your university experience. Each module and assignment exposes you to new ways of working and thinking, meaning that new career paths could present themselves at any opportunity.

Whilst your degree may be in a field such as Sociology, for instance, you could find working with demographic data particularly invigorating—and whilst you may not have considered an analytics role within the marketing industry, experiences like these can help you to form a solid plan of where to go and what to focus on after university. Moreover, with the number of marketing positions for those with data skills set to grow by 22% by 2030, it’s never been a better time to leverage those analytical abilities.

There are many other ways to gain more understanding of the post-graduation job market, too. Consider the following examples: 

  • Draw upon your research skills. If there’s one thing your studies have prepared you for, it’s self-directed research. Explore different industries and roles that align with your passions, skills, and education. Don’t just think about where these roles begin—think about the prospects and growth potential for positions within those fields.
  • Utilise your university’s Career Services department. Your university’s Career Services team are there to help you with the difficult question of what to do after graduation. You certainly won’t be the first student from your course to come to them, and they can offer personalised guidance for your situation. They’ll also be able to point you in the direction of career fairs, networking events, and industry-specific publications that can help you to stay informed.

  • Leverage your technical ability to network and forge connections. Everyone has likely heard “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” before. While the reality of searching for work is more complex, building connections with professionals in your desired sector can provide an impactful way to gain insights directly from the coalface and potentially be made aware of vacancies that haven’t been advertised publicly yet.

  • Volunteer your time to causes that make a difference. If you’re noticing that entry-level roles within your chosen field require experience, there are few better ways to build it than volunteering your free time, which can help you to build a body of evidence of relevant work, build your CV, and start establishing a professional network. Employers love to see graduates take the initiative, so seek out opportunities to develop your skills, which is one part of the battle of understanding how to get a graduate job.

It’s important to remember that gaining a picture of the job market within the fields that interest you is an ongoing process. This deep industry knowledge is half the battle of knowing when to apply for graduate jobs, so taking the time to research is vital.

With data showing that there’s been a 25% change in skills required for jobs since 2015, and a doubling of this figure expected by 2027, it’s essential to stay flexible, remain open to learning opportunities, and take advantage of the mentorship and guidance being offered to you by academic and pastoral staff, industry professionals, or family and friends.

When to Apply for Graduate Jobs: Applying Earlier or Later

Whilst it’s generally good practice to start thinking about when to apply for graduate jobs earlier rather than later, each method has its pros and cons—and indeed, some industries will start accepting applications from graduates later in the year rather than earlier.

When asked how to get a graduate job, one of our most commonly offered pieces of advice is to know what your specific field of interest considers the normal period for receiving applications since this is bound to differ from other sectors.

Typically, graduate intake takes place from mid-May through to September. Still, as you will see when you start looking for roles, many employers have a rolling deadline for their graduate scheme, understanding that students will be completing their studies at different times of the year. Moreover, as this handy guide from the graduate and student support group Save the Student illustrates, many large employers will accept applications for the coming year.

So, what are the positive and negative aspects of an early application for a graduate job?

The Pros of Early Applications

  1. Applying early gives you an opportunity to build relationships. By getting your application in well before the closing deadline, you can start earning a reputation with that organisation by demonstrating your enthusiasm for the vacant role.
  2. More consideration from hiring managers. Applicants that get in early will often receive more attention from hiring managers, who will be able to take the time to review their application before an influx of candidates.
  3. Interview flexibility. If you’ve applied earlier in the year, you’ll be more likely to secure an interview slot before the competition. Making a good first impression as early as possible can benefit the graduate hiring process.

The Cons of Early Applications

  1. Applying too early can mean that you’ve got limited information. It’s vital to the application process that you’ve diligently researched the company, such as any recent news or updates from them, and understood their products or services inside and out. Don’t rush to get your application in or make a decision since you need to gather as much relevant information as possible to ensure your first impression is a good one.
  2. Circumstances can always change. If you commit to a role too far in advance and any potential conflicts arise, it can harm your credibility with a company to have to turn down their position. Consider your future plans before applying for a role that’s still some time away.
  3. A longer waiting period can be anxiety-inducing. Job hunting can certainly take its toll, especially if you don’t have the support of an organisation or mentor to offer advice and tips on how to look after your well-being during the search.

We would always suggest that for those thinking of when to apply for graduate jobs, it’s a good idea to get your application to a graduate employer in “good time”, but what that phrase means can differ from industry to industry. For example, distinct hiring practices, seasonal demand, or specific recruitment and onboarding timelines can all play into calculating the ideal time to apply for a role.

If you’re considering roles within the education sector, for instance, it will typically require you to get your application to the employer well before the school year you intend to begin working.

On the other hand, a tech or life sciences start-up will have a fast-paced hiring process, which means they’re seeking out graduate talent year-round.

Meanwhile, government and public sector roles will run recruitment campaigns over set periods. Therefore, it’s crucial that you figure out where you’d like to focus your efforts and make a note of all relevant deadlines. Since meticulous planning is a core graduate employability competency, you’ll set yourself in good stead if you spend time honing this aspect of your skillset.

That said, there are some pros to getting your applications in slightly later.

The Pros of Later Applications

  1. There’s likely to be a wider range of vacancies to apply to. Knowing when to apply for graduate jobs can be difficult. By getting your application in later, you may have access to additional openings that have become available closer to the date you’re due to graduate. Many employers wait until these dates for a clearer illustration of their hiring needs, which you can use to find niche roles matching your skill set.
  2. There’s extra time to build experience. Waiting to apply for a graduate job can give you more time to gain relevant skills and expertise in the field you’re looking into. By developing additional skills, you’ll be able to set yourself apart at the screening and assessment stages, enhancing your chances of securing that all-important first role whilst simultaneously giving yourself the time to figure out precisely what to do after graduation.
  3. More Opportunities to tailor your application. By getting your application in later, you have more time to fine-tune your materials, evidence, and cover letter. This allows you to thoroughly research what is needed to get a graduate job with that employer, helping you to thoroughly ensure that hiring managers recognise you meet the core competencies and requirements for that role.

The Cons of Later Applications

  1. More competition is a given. Applying later in the hiring cycle means that you’ll be competing with a greater number of candidates that have already submitted their materials. This means that you’ll be increasing the number of job seekers that you need to beat out during the interview process, which can be difficult for roles where there are potentially limited job openings.
  2. It’s possible you could miss opportunities. It can be incredibly frustrating to see that perfect role pop up on our job search, only to realise when you come to apply that you’ve already missed the deadline. Unfortunately, missing deadlines like this could also highlight to employers that you’re disorganised or even lack passion for work in that specific industry. People who are keen and organised are much more likely to apply early, so it’s often best to get that first impression right and apply well in advance of the deadline.
  3. Procrastination can lead to stress. It might go without saying that getting your application in later is perfectly acceptable, but getting it in late, by which we mean cutting it close to the deadline is an entirely different matter. Keep track of closing dates and understand how you work best, since the added stress and pressure of having to rush an application can certainly impact the quality of your application materials.

Ultimately, the correct approach will depend on your specific circumstances and how you work best.

Some graduates will thrive under pressure, producing their best work when they’ve had the time to research and plan thoroughly. Others will like to get their materials in early as the thought of leaving the writing and submission closer to the closing date can cause them stress and lead to producing lower-quality work.

Whatever the case may be, planning ahead is vital. Assess the requirements of the roles and companies you’d applied to, and precisely and meticulously track all the submission deadlines you need to keep in mind. Create a timeline showing when you need to complete each section of the application materials and aim to set aside time each day to stay on top of industry news and recent job postings.

If you’re looking to learn more about graduate employability or how to get a graduate job after reading these suggestions, see our Graduate Survival Guide for advice on how you can make a positive impression on assessment days.

Considerations When Choosing From Your Top Graduate Employers

Whilst it might not be crucial to graduate employability, understanding how to effectively assess different job offers to shortlist and rank top graduate employers is a valuable skill for any professional to begin developing. Throughout your career, you’ll likely move around quite a bit—particularly with data illustrating that the average Gen Z candidate will change jobs around ten times by age 34.

When considering an employer, evaluating their EVP—employee value proposition—is important to ensure that they align with your principles, values, and long-term career ambitions. But what should you look to address, specifically?

  1. Opportunities for learning, development, and career progression. Whilst knowing when to apply for graduate jobs is the first part of the battle, knowing when you’ll be receiving training is equally important. As early-career professionals, graduate candidates need to understand the potential for them to gain new skills and advance within an organisation. Consider whether the employer offers additional funds or uses the apprenticeship levy to upskill their staff. Similarly, check the employer on LinkedIn to see if they’ve built a track record for internal promotion.
  2. That company’s reputation and stability within the industry. Whilst it’s unlikely that you’re an expert in the running of a business, it’s still important to examine a potential employer’s market position, financial stability and plans to scale up their operations to make sure that the role you’re going for will be viable in the long-term. As part of the research for your application, check out recent news and media that may give you insight into their prospects.
  3. The size of the organisation and their culture. Cultural fit might seem unimportant, but at this early stage in your career, it’s important that you work with a company that aligns with your attitudes on diversity and employee relationships. You may prefer to work for a large corporation with established processes, or you might want to help to build something special with a smaller start-up. Try to think about the kind of environment you thrive in.
  4. What they do to encourage work-life balance. Do you want to work remotely? Are you interested in hybrid roles where you’re between the office and home each week? Or are you driven by working in person alongside your colleagues? It’s important to consider what works best for you and how that employer will help ensure your well-being is looked after.
  5. The compensation and benefits package on offer. Last but certainly not least is considering what an employer is willing to offer you in exchange for your skills and time. Whilst the top graduate employers will all utilise competitive salaries, it’s worth considering those that offer a lower level of compensation since it may be made up for with additional benefits and perks such as bonuses, health insurance, or flexible policies on annual leave.

Ranking top graduate employers by prioritising how they align with your career goals, ideal work environment, and values will be a helpful well to make a decision after you’ve understood how to get a graduate job.

You can also seek insights from your current employer, lean on the expertise of any professional networks you’ve already established through platforms like LinkedIn, or utilise the Careers team at your university—who will be more than happy to support alumni who are no longer studying.

Graduate Employability Support and Advice from Pareto’s Experts

At Pareto, we’ve been helping graduates to realise their potential for over 25 years. We can help you to understand when to apply for graduate jobs and the skills you’ll need to succeed in them. Our consultants provide market-leading assessment and placement support for candidates across several sectors, and we’re proud to deliver 360,000 hours of training globally every year. If you’re looking for your first graduate role or need career advice, contact us—we’d be happy to hear from you.

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