More money, more jobs, more competition

Milkround's Mike Barnard on the graduate jobs market and how you should prepare for it

Higher graduate starting salaries and an increase in the number of vacancies in 2013 have been predicted by the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR), bringing sighs of relief from finalists and graduate jobseekers everywhere.

The figures in the AGR's bi-annual survey are a significant improvement on last year, which saw 8 per cent fewer graduate vacancies available - a worrying trend with youth unemployment still over the one million mark and many graduates urgently in need of work to help them pay back their student loans.

The tough climate for jobseekers won't be turned around by the 9 per cent increase in graduate vacancies this year - effectively a 0.28 per cent rise on the number of jobs available in 2011 - but the AGR's claim that its 197 members will fill an average of 109 vacancies each is encouraging. The jobs are out there and they offer richer rewards than ever, with the average starting salary increasing to £26,500 - the challenge is proving your worth to employers.

In recent years recruiters have made no secret of the fact they want to see evidence of real work experience from those who are applying for their roles. Yet a lot of students still don't see the value of pursuing an internship, a part time job or even just some work shadowing related to their career ambitions. Doing so will help you add meat to your CV and provide crucial talking points in interviews.

You might even think that a degree is enough, and it certainly used to be. Several years ago the big training schemes would rate each applicant based on their performance during interviews and assessment centres, while academics and work experience were less important than they are now. But the recession knocked the graduate recruitment market and led to a decline in the number of places offered. Now recruiters put applicants under a lot more scrutiny, and the onus is on graduates to be work-ready as soon as they finish their finals.

For those still thinking that university is just for study, and that your degree, life experience and some unrelated part-time work is all you should aim for, consider another part of the AGR report about school leavers.

You might think getting a job straight from school is all about finishing your GCSEs or A Levels, then getting out into the world of work. But employers are even upping the stakes in this market. They're introducing apprenticeship and school leaver programmes to attract talented teenagers who may choose to bypass university as a result of the tuition fee hikes. And it's highly likely school leavers will soon be looking to improve their employability university graduates.

If you've yet to make any inroads into thinking about your career or gaining some experience, act soon if you want to take advantage of the rise in graduate vacancies this summer and the higher salaries. The vast majority of those who get the best roles already have - so don't fall behind!