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Recruitment 101 - Everything a Graduate (young, or old, experienced or not) of The Open University needs to know about it!

I have spent the last fifteen years in the talent, leadership advisory & recruitment sector. During that time I have worked for a small boutique, built a global business, got an MBA (Masters of Business Administration) (from the OU of course), and now work as a global leader in my field.  I would like to think, or hope, that I can help when it comes to all things people advisory and recruitment.  

First things first, Graduate Recruitment VS Mature / Experienced Hiring. These are two different things - it is like comparing the first car you buy as a happy 17-year-old, to a vehicle you might purchase as a 40-something-year-old, likely or hopefully two entirely different models, and budgets. Recruitment for Grads and Experienced Hires has different providers, operates in different markets, at different levels, provides different services, and looks for different things - they are entirely different.  

Graduate Recruitment - Where to start

The best place to start is to look for ‘graduate schemes’ - these are like apprenticeships for graduates. Companies offer them to inexperienced recruits to help them get a foot in the door. Typically these schemes are highly competitive, so in an ideal world, you would have been looking at getting on one of these before university. To help with that I would recommend applying for internships throughout the university, try and get as much industry experience before graduating - this will go a long way. 


If you are unable to get on a graduate scheme and were not able to gain experience through internships the next best thing is to identify student/graduate recruitment firms that can help secure your dream job. The UK has a thriving recruitment industry, with all of the major firms operating here.  Some of them, and by no means is this an exhaustive list, are; Michael Page, Hays, Reed, Robert Half - but there are many more. These firms are generalist recruitment firms, so typically have a broad spread of jobs across all industries and sectors. If however, you have a specialist degree, say Finance, HR, or Engineering, then I would look to reach out to the specialist recruitment firms within your domain. Google - “Finance recruitment company” AND “UK” and that should be a pretty exhaustive list.  

The CV

Now I appreciate that an individual with 20+ years of industry experience is going to have, or should have, an entirely different CV to a fresh-faced graduate - and that is fine, they should also look entirely different, but we can cover the CV later. As a recent grad, you might not have a long list of prior/current work history, so it might be worth highlighting other things, like skills, character traits, club and societal involvement, anything that a potential employer could look at and think positively of. If you have a marketing degree this might include doing a CV Video, or something animated to highlight your skills, whilst you don’t quite yet have the industry expertise. 

What a recruiter looks for

Having previously had the pleasure of hiring graduates I will tell you what stands out to me.

  • Appearance (dress appropriately for the company & environment, if you don’t know, ask ahead of time, this includes virtual and in-person interviews)
  • Do your homework (you aren’t expected to know everything about the company or industry, why would you. But please look at the company website, look on LinkedIn, and Google stuff about the industry, it leaves a good impression)
  • Be confident (it goes a long way)
  • Tell a story (all interviews no matter what level are about telling a story and how well you can do that. If you have been through hardship, or had successes, whatever it is, become great at telling YOUR story).

I am sure there are many more things that I could list and that other people value, but if you can nail these things, it's a good place to start.

Experienced Hiring

Now obviously this is entirely different from the recruitment of graduates, and this market is broken down into a few areas; experienced hires, executive hiring, and non-executive / board hiring. I have spent my career dealing with the latter two, helping CxOs and Board members find a new home, or helping them undertake leadership development. I wanted to get an MBA for multiple reasons, to help me understand how to build and lead a business, and to ultimately transfer out of the recruitment industry, yet, I find myself even deeper within it, now as a global leader, enjoying it more than ever.  

Whilst this applies to all people in all walks of life, let's just focus on the experienced executive for now - at this stage in your career you should be motivated and engaged in what you do. If you have gone to the OU to gain a qualification that is not directly related to the current career path and you looking to make that change think long and hard about what that next move or career pivot, looks and feels like.  I have spent a lot of my career hiring for start-ups, in most instances these businesses want to identify and recruit talent from proven industries or organisations to help these companies successfully scale.  If you are an experienced employee looking to make that move to a start-up you should identify a recruitment or executive search firm that specialises in this kind of work - as not all of them do.  

If you have graduated from the OU with a qualification that allows you to double down on your industry and advance your career either at your current employer or another that's great. To help make the next move you could start looking at job boards, on LinkedIn, Indeed, and the previously mentioned recruitment agencies. Alternatively, you could start networking within the industry, get out there, get to events, conferences, whatever you can, and start speaking with people. If that is not for you, which is fine, then you could look to target companies you want to work for. Identify them, identify the right individuals within your department or at the top of the business, and contact them directly, over email or LinkedIn - that goes a long way and you don’t know what is going on behind the scenes, just because there is no job ad does not mean they aren't recruiting. 

The CV

Short, concise, to the point, littered with accomplishments, achievements, and everything else that makes you relevant. I personally prefer a one-page CV, in PDF or PPT format, to be creative but to the point and highlight the necessary experiences.  At this point in your career, you probably require less guidance than that of a recent graduate. However, things have moved on since the two+ pager in Times New Roman size 12, please think about the formatting, make it easy to read, and in a good format, and don't be afraid to use colour or different text. Take a look on Word at the CV templates there, might be helpful.  

What a recruiter looks for

Again, this is different here and has a lot more relevancy and specificity to the job you are applying for, the organisation, the stage of the interview process, and many more things, but as above there are a few easy rules that help. 

  • Do not sell yourself like a door-to-door salesman, yes be a little direct and confident, yes do sell yourself a little, but do not come across as overly keen on the sales front! Even if you are discussing a sales role.
  • Don’t say to the recruiter they can’t afford you! Don’t presume anything.
  • My favourite candidates are those that are self-assured, content with their station in life, and know what they have to offer and allow that to come across in a natural conversation.
  • Tell a story! This one does apply to both. By this point, in your career, you should be able to articulate quite confidently your career arc, trajectory, and what you offer without being salesy.
  • Confidence and energy - especially the latter. Recruiters and hiring executives want to feel your passion and enthusiasm for the opportunity - and it's just that, an opportunity, grab it.


No matter whether you are a recent graduate or an experienced candidate, there are some fundamentals that apply to both; from CV presentation, to interview preparation, to the mechanics of the job search or application process. They might have different paths, but they should both have the same outcome.  I appreciate that a job search can be daunting, and scary, no matter your age or standing, but there are people and firms out there to help. The above guidance is by no means exhaustive, and many roads lead to Rome, if there is anything I can help with please reach out below via LinkedIn. 

Written by Josh Smith, Partner at True Search, the world’s sixth-largest executive search firm. Fifteen years of experience in people advisory, leadership assessment, and executive search. MBA from the Open University and previous business builder.   

September 2023

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