Skip to content Accessibility statement

Two students walking across bridge

How do I go about it?

European Social Fund logo

As mentioned in the "Is it Right for me?" pages, although student employment is outside the scope of the Specialist Skills Support Programme, it is worth considering starting with employing a student, prior to long term employment. A student placement or internship may create links to permanent graduate employees, in which case these graduate employees would be able to take part in the Specialist Skills Support Programme's graduate networking opportunities. We have provided some useful information and advice in the sections below about how to recruit students should this be of interest to you, and there is more support available related to this from the University of York's Careers and Placements Team.

In practical terms, once you’ve shortlisted the universities you want to speak with, you then need to find the right person to speak to. Each institution might have a slightly different access point and process, but there are some common themes. 

This section aims to introduce the key contact points and actions involved in recruiting a student or graduate.

Finding the right initial contact(s) within a university

Universities can sometimes seem like impenetrable behemoths that actively repel your attempts to make contact! In reality, this is not the case at all – you just need to know where to start. There are many departments and individuals who will be very happy to support you in recruiting their students and graduates.

Academic departments

If you need a particular knowledge base to support your business, it can be useful to start with the most appropriate academic department(s). Developing a dialogue with an academic staff member who has an interest in your specialism, is a useful tactic. Usually, a university will have clear policies and procedures relating to student or graduate recruitment, and the academic should be aware of how to plug you into that system.  

They will also be able to advise about the relevance of their course content to your needs.

If you’re not sure exactly who to target within an academic department, the Head of Department will be a useful starting point, as they can ensure your message gets to the correct member of their team. It is usually relatively easy to identify the Heads of academic departments on a university website. 

Career departments

University career departments have many different titles, but can usually be identified by searching for ‘careers’ on the institution’s website. Within, or closely linked with, a university careers team, there will usually be employer engagement professionals, responsible for connecting you with students and graduates in the most appropriate ways.

Careers staff will be aware of (and often lead on) any internship or placement programmes offered, as well as being able to brief you on the ways that an employer can engage more widely with students and graduates across the institution. Their remit is to enhance the employability of the institution’s students and graduates, so it’s their business to know the relevant contact points for an employer across the university. If they can’t help directly, they will be able to refer you to the right person. 

Many career departments offer programmes and events specifically designed to facilitate SME access to students and graduates, including part-funding of local SME internships.

Knowledge transfer teams

There is usually some form of ‘Research and Enterprise’ function within a university, responsible for supporting and developing research, knowledge transfer and impact activities. This is often where the knowledge transfer team sits. If you can’t identify them easily on the institution’s website, put ‘knowledge transfer partnerships’ and the name of the university into a reliable search engine, and it should come up.

Students' Union

Approaching a university from a different angle can also be productive. The Students’ Union is often very committed to enhancing the employability of its members and will usually offer some form of job shop for part-time opportunities.

Students’ Unions typically have their own website, and they often have strong links with the careers team, so referral should be straightforward if they can’t meet your needs.

Advertising a vacancy

If you decide to recruit a student or graduate, you can either do so through a particular scheme offered by the university, such as an internship or placement scheme, or you can post a job advert on the institution’s jobs database.

Recruiting through an existing university scheme

This option will give you access to advice and support from the relevant university team. As outlined in previous sections, the careers department is often a good place to investigate your options further. They will have a designated process for advertising the internships and placements they organise, including the use of targeted emails, jobs boards, campus plasma screens and social media.

For information, the following pages provide a useful flavour of what is usually involved - The University of Bradford’s Summer Experience Programme, and The University of York’s Placement Year Programme. 

Using a university job vacancy database

The job vacancy databases used by universities are usually outsourced to external providers, so the details and services vary. They can enable you to upload your own vacancy information, source and message candidates, track any applications, and some provide the opportunity to post your adverts across a network of UK institutions. 

One example of a job vacancy system used by universities is Handshake. Relatively new to the UK, this platform is already used by institutions including the University of York, University of Liverpool and University of Cambridge.  Although this might not be the platform used by your chosen institution, the overview provided by the University of York gives you a really useful insight into how these systems work.

Another platform used by several UK universities is JobTeaser, although it will usually be embedded within the existing web provision of the institution so you may not see the name. 

The careers team at the university you choose to advertise with will be able to advise you on how to post your vacancies etc.

Although advertising your vacancies in this way is normally free, some universities also offer advanced digital advertising packages, for which there will be a charge. Durham University is one example of an institution providing this type of service.

Where else to advertise

You’ve already noted the value of advertising your vacancies, usually free of charge, with relevant universities, but if you want to reach a wider pool of candidates with a single advert, there are many specialist websites supporting student and graduate recruitment, both regionally and nationally. They will have a range of charges depending on the package you choose. All the links below will take you directly to the employer pages for each site.

Students and graduates are also advised to explore general job websites such as Indeed, LinkedIn and the government’s Find-a-job service. Employers can usually post jobs for free, but can then boost the visibility of their vacancies by paying a fee.  

Other vacancy sources recommended to students and graduates include the websites of companies that interest them, ie your own site, and those of relevant professional bodies and trade associations – so these could be options worth exploring too.

Attracting the right talent

There are several steps to producing a useful package of materials to describe your role and its requirements. Taking the time to get it right, should maximise your chances of attracting appropriate applicants. 

One top tip is to be open-minded about the type of student you’re looking for – the transferable skills gained from a wide range of degree subjects could be equally relevant to your needs.

Students and new graduates currently in the candidate pool are mostly from what is known as Generation Z. You can find more detail about them and the previous ‘millennial’ generation in Why would they want to work for an SME? in the Is it right for me? section. 

This Telegraph business blog post, Five things generation Z look for in an employer, suggests that they value salary, autonomy, openness, good technology and the opportunity to ‘do good’.  If you can reflect those priorities in your job information, your role has the potential to connect with a wider audience.

This Yorkshire Universities guide for employers, Inclusive recruitment guide (Yorkshire Universities) (PDF , 311kb) offers practical recommendations for delivering an inclusive approach to the recruitment of students and graduates. With inclusive recruitment, you are more likely to attract and employ people from a wider range of backgrounds and with a broader range of skills and characteristics. 

Choosing a job title

Students and graduates will see numerous adverts whenever they access their university jobs database, so you need to ensure that your job title is clear and specific.

If you’re not sure about the job title yet, it can be useful to start with the job description and work backwards. 

Another tip is to look for advertised jobs that sound similar to the one you are thinking of. What titles do they have? That way you’ll ensure that your title is industry-relevant and potentially more recognisable to students or graduates who are relatively new to the job market.

Writing a job description

It can be helpful to write your job description before you create the advert, as you’ll then have all the details required and can choose the key elements to share in the much shorter ad.

The purpose of the job description is to include details about your organisation, to describe the role’s objectives and day to day activities, and to explain what you are looking for in the ideal candidate. Applicants can then use this to assess whether it is a job they could apply for.

Recruitment agency Morgan McKinley describes a range of best practices in their Job description writing guide.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) also provides useful advice on defining the role in their introduction to Recruitment, including the benefits of starting with a job analysis. 

Once you have a person in the role, the job description can also be used to inform training needs and evaluate performance. You can find out more about that in the section: What ongoing support should I provide?

Writing a person specification

This is a document that outlines the qualifications, skills and experience you are looking for in a candidate, creating a profile of your ideal new employee.

When considering qualifications, a key aspect will be the relevance of degree level studies and specific academic disciplines to the role you are creating. Are you looking for subject specific knowledge or the wider transferable skills and experience gained through studying for a degree?

The University of York HR team provides a useful overview of what to include in a person specification and a job description.

Creating a job advert

The purpose of the job advert is to attract a large pool of well qualified applicants to your role.

The tone of your job ad can have a big impact. Use it to represent the tone of your business, and you’re more likely to attract people who respond to that. For example, if your work environment is relaxed and informal, try to reflect that in the language you use. Communicating the close-knit, family feel of a small business will often go down well with students and graduates.

Small business advisors at Bytestart have created a Guide to writing job adverts – for small business owners, which provides useful advice on key content to include and the risks of discriminatory content.

The CIPD recommends including the following content. Use it in an order that works for your chosen narrative:

  • key points from the job description and person specification, and links to the full documents
  • job location
  • type of employment offered – for example, is it a fixed-term role?
  • the organisation’s activities and values
  • reward and benefits package
  • flexible working opportunities, where available
  • details of how to apply and the deadline.

For a small business, a competitive benefits package can be challenging to achieve on a tight budget, but students and graduates often value wellbeing, and opportunities for training and development. Offering activities to support those priorities might be cheaper than you think. Various organisations offer advice on this for SMEs, including This is Money and Workspace.

A typical starting salary for new graduate will vary between sectors, but the average in 2021 is £24,000. A recent Save the Student blog post provides a useful overview. 

Stages in the recruitment process

If you choose to recruit your intern, placement student or graduate through a university-led programme, there will be support available for your recruitment process. This might include advice on devising a suitable project, CV-sifting to pre-select suitable applications for you to view, or provision of an interview room. 

If you’re running your own graduate recruitment process, there will be decisions to make about the application format and the interview process.  

Application options 

The two most common formats for a job application are the application form and the CV. Usually an application form is designed and developed by the company using it, ensuring that the questions asked are the most relevant to them. 

However, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) also provides free to use templates to help you write forms for both job applications and equality and diversity monitoring.    

CVs are of course produced by the applicant, who chooses the format and the content. If you want to receive CVs in a particular format (for example, one page only), that can be specified in the job advert.

Assessing applications

Recruitment website Totaljobs offers useful advice about shortlisting candidates for interview, such as ensuring you start with a clear job description and agreeing a set of assessment criteria beforehand with relevant stakeholders within your business. They also suggest application form screening questions you might use, and keywords to look out for.

Morgan McKinley provides useful advice on How to review CVs and choose the best candidates to interview

Interviewing applicants 

Several blog authors recommend conducting a short telephone interview as a first round before inviting successful candidates to meet you. This is usually quicker to organise than a face-to-face event, and will allow you to assess some of the basics around professionalism and fit with your organisation. 

When you do invite them to your premises, it is a good idea to interview alongside colleagues where possible so that you have a shared experience of a candidate’s performance and can discuss your perspectives on whether they offer what you are looking for.

In the current post-lockdown climate, you might choose to interview via Zoom or a similar platform. offers useful tips and techniques.

Real Business provides a detailed guide to interview techniques, tailored to the needs of SMEs. It includes a particularly useful summary of questions to avoid, ensuring you don’t find yourself in breach of the UK 2010 Equality Act.

There are several different types of interview questions you could use, including competence or strengths based questions. Although this Prospects blog post on interview questions is aimed at students, their broad selection will give you a useful insight into the focus of each questions and the ideal responses. 

A Glassdoor team blogpost also provides a list of the 50 most common interview questions and how to answer them, which should give you some useful material to draw on. 

Assessment tasks 

Another way to help you narrow down a field of strong applicants is to give them short assessment tasks to complete. This can give you a clear insight into their skills and is especially useful when assessing someone who has been strong in the interview. Will they bring what you need to the role, or do they just know how to ace an interview?

Tasks should be context-based and role specific and might include activities such as:

  • a 15 minute technical test, reflecting a key element of the role, for example data entry
  • a simulated task asking them to prioritise a series of actions, for example responding to emails, returning a customer’s call, etc. – particularly relevant for a role that involves multi-tasking
  • a communication test, reflecting the context of the role, for example wording a sensitive email, or explaining something complex to a layperson.

If you are interviewing several people in one day, and teamwork or leadership skills are particularly important for this role, you could devise a group activity, such as working through a case study or having a discussion on a relevant topic.

If you have budget available, you could pay to use a package of standard assessments from a well-known provider such as SHL. These might include behavioural tests, personality tests or cognitive ability tests.

Is it right for me?

What ongoing support should I provide?