Graduate Recruitment Blog

In this blog, we will look at the best strategies for early careers advertising.

Using data from our platform, we looked at a sample of 3,734 graduate jobs across a broad range of employers from within the last 12 months.

The jobs were all advertised across our ClickIQ network of 25 pay-per-click job boards and aggregators including Indeed, ZipRecruiter and Adzuna.

Summary Benchmarking Data

There was a very wide variation in number of applications – ranging from 0 to 500.

Graduate recruitment generated high volumes of organic (free) traffic. In fact, 90.7% came from this method.

Rather than look at blended data across a lot of roles (which is skewed heavily by the volume recruiters) we have broken the data down into Volume, Specialist and Balanced (a mix of the two) to try and provide a deeper understanding depending on the type of recruiter.

By type

Volume Recruiter

Specialist Recruiter

Balanced Recruiter

% Organic (free) responses90%21%68%
Cost-per-Click (Paid)£0.16£0.67£0.20
Average Cost-per-Application£0.18£6.34£0.77


(Paid advertising only)

Recommended Spend per Job£4.46£158.47£19.16

The impact of brand is huge on organic response rates which is why we have separated out the cost-per-application between total and paid. For those recruiters who don’t have the benefit of a strong employer brand, the paid cost-per-application is a better indicator of the stats you can expect.

Looking at the paid advertising for Balanced Recruiter alone, the average cost-per-application was £2.41.

The average conversion rate from click to apply was 14.1%, but was higher for organic responses than sponsored jobs.

Indeed was responsible for the vast majority of organic (free) responses. Their average response rate in July, across all of their graduate jobs, was 140 clicks per job which (based on the average conversion rate of 14.1%) should generate 19.7 applications.

The Employer Brand Divide

The best-known brands dominated response rates and had a significantly higher percentage of organic responses.

In contrast, a significant proportion of roles with less well-known companies (especially when they relied on organic advertising with no paid advertising) received zero applications.

Some Specific Examples for Large Brands

Let’s look at some individual examples. Below, we have highlighted 3 graduate roles from top graduate employers: Avis, Paddy Power and Mitchells and Butlers. Across the data we sampled, there were wide variations but the following was fairly typical:

Job Title


Graduate Finance Analyst


Retail Graduate

(Mitchells and Butlers)

Commercial Graduate

(Paddy Power)

Conversion Rate17.3%7.3%22.6%

Turning the tap off

One of the challenges that graduate recruiters have always faced is huge volumes of applications.

Unlike the traditional, duration-based methods of advertising where there is very little control over the volume of applicants, the pay-per-click methods give recruiters much more control and flexibility, allowing recruiters to automatically turn off any adverts once they have reached the desired number of applications.

Advanced Targeting

Many of the large graduate recruiters target specific universities and courses, often using on-campus methods and careers fairs. However, online targeting can also be used.

Facebook (and Instagram) allow you to create target sets that enable you to reach specific individuals.

Simply select which universities and which courses you want to reach then launch the campaign, either using employer branding or direct response ads (ClickIQ can dynamically create and manage these so you don’t have to spend huge budgets).

You will need to set a daily spend and max cost-per-click. These don’t need to be high, especially if you are advertising over a long period of time.

PPC Benchmarks

The average cost-per-click (CPC) for graduates was £0.20.

However, this can vary significantly based on specific jobs and locations. You reach the 90% percentile at £0.60 which is the top end. This becomes more important for high demand graduates and more specialist roles.

By paying more, you will attract better quality applicants as you will appear higher in the listings (which is where you will find the better applicants). Read our recent blog to find out more about this.

By using an automation system like ClickIQ, you won’t have to worry about overpaying as the system only spends what it needs too. Just set the CPC at the top end and the system will adjust spend down based on real-time results.

Focus on Indeed

Indeed is the UK’s largest job board. They kindly provided us with some specific data in reference to graduate recruitment in July 2018:

  • 168,000 clicks on graduate jobs.
  • 1,200 graduate jobs were posted.
  • 322,000 graduate CVs were uploaded.

This gives an average of 140 clicks and an estimated 19.7 applications per job.

They also told us that 52% of graduate responses were made from a mobile.

So how much should you spend?

Clearly this depends on a number of things including your brand, how many organic applications you attract, and how competitive/specialist your roles are. Below, we have once again broken down the spend suggestions into Specialist and Balanced depending on the type of recruiter you are.

Balanced hires (Mix of Volume and Specialist roles)

Brand strength



% organic response68%0%
Spend per hire£19.16£60.25

Specialist roles

Brand strength



% organic response21%0%
Spend per hire£158.47£200.50

These recommendations are based on the average conversion rates from click to apply and needing 25 applications to hire.

Millennials, Generation X – Application Forms and Chatbots

One of the most important factors when considering graduates is their dislike of traditional application methods, and given that 52% of them are job searching from their phones, being able to handle mobile applications is vital.

Unless you’re a leading brand in your sector that grads have wanted to work for all their lives, you’re more likely to lose applicants if you present them with a long application form.

A great way to overcome this is with a chatbot. You can collect all of the information you need, but remain quick and instantaneous for the candidate too.

They also provide a great opportunity for graduates to ask questions about working for your organisation without having to search through the pages on your careers site for answers. All of which can dramatically increase your conversion rate.

We typically expect to triple conversion rates when a chatbot replaces the traditional application process.

Recommendations to reach the best graduates:

  1. Pay-per-click advertising is a very cost-effective method for graduate/early careers recruitment.
  2. For large brands, a significant percentage of responses will come organically. For lesser known employers, you will have to invest in sponsored advertising.
  3. Depending on whether you are a Balanced or a Specialist Recruiter and how well-recognised your brand is, you will need to adjust your advertising spend accordingly. For specialist roles within less well-known organisations, we would recommend spending £200 per hire to ensure you reach a desirable number of candidates. If your roles are more Balanced (a mix of Specialist and Volume) and your brand is well-known then you can probably pay as little as £19 per hire.
  4. Make sure that the candidate journey is easy to follow via both desktop and mobile. This has never been more pertinent than for the generation of graduates starting to come through now. Everything is done on mobile these days and you need to make sure that your application process is mobile-friendly.
  5. Add a chatbot to drive engagement. Bots like ClickIQ’s Recruitment Bot can increase engagement by up to 40% as they give candidates the chance to ask questions and take much of the hassle out of the application process. Chatbots are also live 24/7 so they are a particularly great tool if you are looking to recruit grads or apprentices applying outside of work hours on mobile.
  6. Use social media to target specific graduates or apprentices. If you’re recruiting in a skills shortage area or have hard to fill roles generally then passive candidate targeting should be a vital part of your strategy. You can read our latest blog on how to integrate Passive Candidate targeting into your recruitment strategy here.
  7. Keep your careers site and employer branding clear and strong. Grads may be applying for a large variety of jobs so it’s important that you help them understand your organisation by conveying what you stand for and your employer values. Glassdoor is a great tool to use for this so it is worthwhile ensuring that you have a high employer rating.
  8. Make sure your jobs are on Google for Jobs as this is undoubtedly going to have a big impact on the applicant process over the coming months. Read our Google for Jobs Strategy Guide to make sure all of your jobs are appearing on there.
  9. Keep up with all the latest trends and discussions by signing up to Hung Lee’s Recruiting Brainfood here.

About ClickIQ

ClickIQ is an Automated Talent Attraction Platform which uses AI and Programmatic technology to intelligently manage and optimise your recruitment advertising in real time, across an extensive network of performance based recruitment media.

Saving recruiters significant time and money whilst also increasing their advertising reach.

Follow Richard Collins on LinkedIn to explore of the latest developments in the sector and to learn how you can keep your Talent Attraction strategy ahead of the curve.

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