Backed with degrees from prestigious red brick universities, Russell Group graduates have historically been the ones to beat when it comes to getting into and progressing in graduate-level roles and training schemes. Even today, Russell Group universities use favouritism towards its universities as a selling point to attract applicants.

If you’ve been to a careers fair, you might have seen Russell Group graduates being given preferential treatment. It’s not nice feeling left out in the cold by a recruiter when you’ve studied just as hard as anyone else for your degree. Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can overcome Russell Group elitism and be competitive in the graduate recruitment market.

Contents

What is a Russell Group University?

Choosing an employer with a progressive approach to graduate recruitment

Making yourself a stronger candidate with work experience

Brushing up on interview technique

Identifying Your Pride Points

Being Yourself

What is a Russell Group University?

The Russell Group is a group of elite universities established in 1994. The group came together to represent the research interests of its members to the government. To date, its 24 member universities receive roughly 70% of all research grants awarded in the UK. Including Oxford and Cambridge, the Russell Group is the most famous university group and has a reputation for attracting the brightest students and the best academic staff. Other university groups include The University Alliance, The Millionplus Group and GuildHE.

Choosing an employer with a progressive approach to graduate recruitment

The claim that Russell Group graduates will be more likely to possess the skills they need is very persuasive for smaller companies with limited recruitment budgets. But some of the biggest and best companies are taking a more enlightened approach that focuses on who a graduate is—their personality and ambitions—rather than the university they went to and the grade they achieved.

The priority for certain businesses taking this approach, such as Nestlé, is that they’re able to reflect the markets they serve—and they’ve realised that social exclusion is a barrier to that. Overcoming it means taking direct action to recruiting people from the widest possible range of backgrounds. That’s why they’re casting their net wider than the overwhelmingly white and middle-class, Russell Group universities.

For these companies, the graduate recruitment process is approached in a way that feels much more human. They want to see that you’ll be a good fit for their culture and will be looking for qualities like ambition, creativity and passion for the career path you’ve chosen. A degree from a Russell Group university doesn’t guarantee those qualities—they are present in graduates from all universities. It’s just a case of showing you have them.

Making yourself a stronger candidate with work experience

Though essential for graduate roles, a degree alone isn’t enough to get recruiters on side—even if that degree is from a Russell Group university. They also look for your passion for your chosen career. That’s why candidates who have demonstrated this by getting work experience while they were studying, or shortly thereafter, will always be impressive.

Undertaking a placement while at university can be a lot of work, but it’ll add credibility to your CV when launching your career. Armed with actual experience, you’ll be able to give better answers with specific examples that demonstrate your skills. You’ll also have shown you’re serious about your career. A 2015 survey found that 58% of employers considered work experience “the most popular qualification, of those presented”, with personality second at 48%.

Brushing up on interview technique

Personality becoming such a big factor in assessing graduate suitability makes your graduate scheme interview—as an opportunity to show off your personality—even more important. Though this might increase the pressure in what is already a stressful process, it also levels the playing field for graduates from all universities. Applying the following interview techniques will help you to get your personality across.

  • Structure your answers using the STAR format: describe the Situation, Task, Action taken and Result gained.
  • Preparing specific examples of when you’ve demonstrated skill outlined in a job spec, drawing on actual work experience where possible.
  • Focusing on the benefits that your actions resulted in. This will attract the employer to you, just like their benefits attracted you to them.

Identifying Your Pride Points

Pride points make you feel good about yourself and the career you’ve chosen. They’re the professional, academic or personal achievements that you’ve really excelled at. Identifying and remembering them can help you play to your strengths on your graduate scheme and boost confidence when learning new skills. Not all graduate schemes guarantee you a role at the end so it’s important to perform at your best at all times to make sure that you’re one of the people chosen. Some of the ways you can identify your pride points are:

  • Making sure you get the credit you deserve for work you’ve done by putting your name on it.
  • Thinking about the importance of your role—what would happen if you weren’t there?
  • Looking to improve—if you can see a better, smarter or time-saving way to do something, tell your course leader
  • Taking pride in your achievements so far—you’ve been accepted onto the graduate scheme because your employer sees potential in you. Use that feeling to drive you on to further achievements.

Being Yourself

At organisations like Nestlé that encourage you to ‘bring your whole self to work’, your personality is a real asset. Remember that things like grades and universities don’t define you­—and it won’t for progressive employers. They want you for who you are. Be honest with yourself so you can find the graduate scheme that is best for you and maintain that honesty throughout the programme. Play your own game and you’ll find you’re able to win.

Looking for something else to read? Check out our blog on empowering female business leaders.

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