Finalists and graduates are often frustrated in their search for work, sometimes by the apparent lack of available opportunities and sometimes because they simply do not know what opportunities are out there.

In fact it may be that the graduate jobs exist but have not been advertised. Not all vacancies for graduates are advertised, particularly in competitive areas such as public relations, journalism or consultancy work. Employers expect applicants to take the initiative.

For a variety of reasons graduate employers will rely on alternative methods to fill jobs; these include graduate recruitment agencies, speculative applications, word of mouth and talking to people whom they have already met. It has been suggested that up to 70% of potential graduate jobs could be hidden in this way.

You can access this hidden graduate job market by developing a campaign which does not only rely on applying to advertised jobs but uses "creative job hunting techniques". You will need to adopt a creative, pro-active and speculative approach, and have a clear strategy for what you want to achieve and how.

Creative graduate job hunting

Here we will largely focus on one creative technique which is not so well known - networking.

Networking to find graduate jobs is an excellent approach, but it can be difficult to do in practise. Networking is simply a pro-active approach to seeking information. It means that you speak to as many people as possible about your plans, in the hope that they will in turn provide you with further useful contacts. You are then actively building a network of contacts which is expanding and changing as you speak to more and more people.

Networking can help you to:

  • Gain useful information to help you decide if this is a career path for you; useful if you are unsure what you want to do after university. 
  • Gain information and contacts which can help you access the hidden job market.
People Networking

Networking in the hidden graduate job market

Networking doesn't just happen and you do need to take a systematic approach to this kind of job search so that you can quickly become an expert in your chosen field.

There are 5 important steps:

  1. Do some basic career research on yourself and the options - know what you want and broadly what jobs involve.
  2. Identify appropriate people to contact.
  3. Decide on and use the best method of contact for you.
  4. Try to arrange a meeting and get the information you require.
  5. Follow up and develop your network.

We will look at each stage in more detail and then discuss how it can help you in your job search.


Graduate employers are more likely to spare time to talk to you if you have done some preliminary work on what you want. Think about what skills, experience or potential you have to offer, and try to match these to a career which might interest you. You can find out about anything you want at this stage. You are not applying for a job but you are looking to learn about a job. Before you begin to contact employers, consider what you want from your discussions. Do you just want further information to clarify your career options or are you quite clear that this is the job area you want to get into? Do some background reading to identify the sort of organisations which interest you - in particular you should think about size, function, public or private sector and location. Distance is important since you may not be able to afford to travel too far to visit.

Who do you know?

This is not as difficult as it sounds. We all have more contacts than we realise. Family? Lecturers? Friends? Friends of friends? Brainstorm whether you know anyone you could talk to who either works directly in the area you are researching or knows someone who does. You can say to these people ' Will you help me to obtain advice? Do you know anyone doing this type of work or do you know anyone who would know someone doing this work?'

Making contact

Send a graduate CV (curriculum vitae) and covering letter. Say you will be ringing later. Then ring a few days later and ask for an appointment. This is the safest method.

Or ring and ask for an appointment. This is quicker, but less appealing to the timid! It helps to think, word for word, about the message you are putting across.

The following text suggests one way of writing a covering letter:

Dear Mr Jones,

Your name was suggested to me by Jane Smith as someone who may be able to help me decide my career direction. I graduated this summer.

(Quickly gain credibility through having a common contact)

I am particularly interested in finding out more about marketing and Jane suggested that with your experience you could offer me some relevant advice.

(Explains who you are and how he can help)

I am not seeking a job at this time and would not want to take up more than 20 minutes of your time.

(Removes employer's major worry in seeing you)

What I would appreciate is a few ideas on how someone with my background and experience could get into marketing.

(Clarifies exactly what help you need)

I will telephone you next week to arrange a time to talk which would be convenient for you.

(Defines what you will do next, and the recipient does not have to do anything but wait for your call)

Yours sincerely, etc

This letter is only an example - do use your own words. However, it does show the important points you must include. Make it very clear that you are not asking for a job. You are seeking information and advice. It can also help if you state that you will only take up a short amount of their time.

Holding your meeting

Prepare some questions in advance. Try to find out whether this work will be satisfying. You can also include questions which have not been answered by your background research; for example, How did you get into this kind of work? What are current entry routes? What is a typical day, if there is one? What do you enjoy/dislike about it? What are the skills/experience that you need to get in? Could you give me the names and addresses of one or two other contacts I might approach?

Dress as if you were going to an interview for a job. Arrive early. It is important to remember that the relationship you develop during your conversation can be very important. If you can strike up a good rapport are more likely to want to help you. Carrying out your discussions in a business-like manner will help this process.

Empty Board Meeting Room

Follow up

Do remember to follow up your meetings with a thank you letter. This is not only good manners but it will also help them remember you - this could be important if an appropriate job should come up in the future!

What can you achieve using this approach?

At the very least you will have the up to date information you need to produce a quality focused CV.

You will gradually develop a network of contacts over time. This is at the heart of the creative job hunting approach. The more people you can meet the more you will learn. If you are able to make a good impression during your information approach then you are likely to find that you are being considered for jobs which do come up. Your contacts may lead you to someone who has a job available.

You might be able to arrange a day's work shadowing or getting vacation or short term work experience. This could lead to permanent work in due course, and in some areas such as the media and advertising, is generally the only way to get full time work.

A concern is that this simply a rather underhand way to get a job interview by the back-door...and therefore isn't it dishonest? If this is the case won't employers see through it and refuse to see you? The simple answer is no to all these points. Once you can get to meet them, most people are flattered and enjoy talking about what they do. They are also likely to appreciate the initiative you have taken, and if you get on together, will want to help.

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