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The realities of the graduate job market

Cover of  by Mildred Talabi

Over the past year we've seen increasingly alarming headlines about the number of young people unemployed in the UK. More shocking is the number of graduates who have studied hard at university, only to come out on the other side to no jobs and a bleak working future.

The job market has changed significantly and there are seven new realities that every graduate must face in order to succeed:

You may be on the job market for longer than you think

The average graduate now spends six months on the job market before landing a full-time job. If you find yourself in this situation, make the most of it by doing one of these four things:

? Learn something new. You can teach yourself anything you want these days online and for free. Log on and pick up a new skill while you wait for a job; the more skills you have, the more value you add to an employer and the more employable you become.

? Volunteer. Voluntary work is a great way to build your skills and boost your CV. It gives you a reason to get out of the house and can help avoid the depression and sense of worthlessness that can come with long-term unemployment.

? Travel. If you can afford to travel and explore new destinations, do so. Travelling makes you more interesting as a candidate and employers are generally impressed by candidates who have the get-up-and-go to adapt to cultural environments outside their comfort zone.

? Freelance. If you have any secondary skills such as web design, typing or even baking, you can exchange these for cash on freelance sites like People per Hour, Elance and Fiverr. It may not turn you into the next Richard Branson, but it can put some extra change in your pocket while you wait for that job.

You may need to lower your salary expectations

If you land yourself a graduate position in investment banking, you can expect to earn as much as £50,000 as a starting salary, compared with the more modest £24,000 in retail and £23,000 in the public sector.

However, these figures only apply to positions in the Top 100 companies. Outside of this, the truth is more sobering; starting salaries are closer to £16,000-£18,000 as a graduate. But remember, a low starting salary is better than no salary at all so initially it may be a good idea to take any job within your field, just to get your foot on the career ladder.

You can't follow the crowd and win

The job market exists on two levels ? visible and hidden. The visible market refers to jobs that are publicly advertised and due to the nature of their visibility, attract a lot of competition.

The hidden job market is where jobs come about through other methods such as speculative applications, word-of-mouth, networking, or going through recruitment agencies. Experts estimate as much as 60% of jobs are never actually advertised (some say more) so if you want to win in your job hunt, avoid the crowd and tap into the hidden market instead.

Ignore social media at your peril

Recruiters are now putting more emphasis on social media to attract quality candidates so if you don't have a social media presence you could be short-changing your job search.

There are many social networking sites and while you can't be everywhere, it's good to at least have a presence on LinkedIn and Twitter. And while you're at it, search on your name to see what comes up online and remove any pictures or information that doesn't portray you in a professional manner.

Your USP matters ? find it and flaunt it

It is no longer enough to wave the 'I went to university' flag to guarantee employment ? you need a unique selling point that makes you stand out from your competitors.

This could be the travelling experience mentioned earlier, the diversity of languages you speak, a business you've set up on the side ? anything positive that is likely to be uncommon to other jobseekers. Once you find your USP, flaunt it on your CV, cover letter, application forms and at interviews. Don't be shy about it ? the better you are at selling yourself, the more likely you are to get hired.

You may need to work for free

I'm not advocating exploitation under illegal internships but short-term work experience can be extremely beneficial, particularly if it's in the field you wish to build a career in.

Of course not everyone can afford to work for free, but if you're able to, here are five reasons why you should:

? It allows you to experiment and find out what you like and don't like for your future career
? It helps you to build vital skill and experience that can help with employment
? It can provide access to the right people in your industry
? It can directly open doors to paid employment
? It allows you to build your CV

If all else fails, hire yourself

More and more graduates are choosing to work for themselves either as a short-term solution to unemployment, or a longer-term alternative to being an employee.

Even if you venture in this direction and decide to go back to work at a later date, the skills and experience you would have accumulated in the process ? not to mention the character traits ? are likely to boost that all-important USP rating and make you a much more desirable candidate to forward-thinking employers.

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