More than a third of jobs for new graduates are taken by people who have already had work experience with that employer, according to the latest update on the graduate jobs market.
The report from High Fliers Research shows that employers are recruiting more graduates - but there are record numbers of graduates chasing jobs.
Employers are reporting a 19% average increase in applications.
Those without any work experience have "little or no chance", says the report.
The Graduate Market in 2012 report, based on a survey of a hundred leading employers, reveals a recovering jobs market for graduates.
There will be 6% more graduate entry jobs for university leavers in 2012 than there were in 2011, suggests the research.
But this optimism is tempered by the increase in job-hunting graduates, with record numbers of university leavers competing with those who are still looking for jobs from previous years.
The research suggests that a third of job applicants for the current round of graduate entry posts are from previous cohorts.
New graduates who've not had any work experience at all during their time at university have little hope of landing a well-paid job with a leading employer”
End Quote Martin Birchall High Fliers Research
The report also shows that job-seeking young people leaving university are at a disadvantage compared with their counterparts from a few years ago.
Despite signs of growth, graduate vacancies have still not recovered to the levels from before the financial crisis, says the research. And there are 50,000 more graduates leaving university this year compared with 2007.
Starting salaries have also remained stuck for three consecutive years, with a median figure of £29,000.
But the report highlights how many graduate jobs are being taken by young people who already have a connection with an employer, such as work experience during holidays or placements as part of a course.
Among investment banks, three-quarters of graduate jobs are taken by applicants who have already spent time with the company.
More than half the employers expect would-be recruits to have some kind of work experience, without which they are unlikely to be considered, regardless of their qualifications.
Martin Birchall, managing director of High Fliers Research, welcomed the increase in graduate vacancies.
But he said it was a "stark warning to the Class of 2012 that in a highly competitive graduate job market, new graduates who've not had any work experience at all during their time at university have little hope of landing a well-paid job with a leading employer".