By Margaret Dane
Chief executive of the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (Agcas)
Margaret Dane: Patience is the key
In today's economic climate there's no guarantee that graduates will walk straight into their dream job after leaving university.
But recent graduates currently without a job should not despair - all the indicators suggest that the vast majority of graduates do find professional jobs within a relatively short space of time.
A degree is an excellent long term investment and statistics consistently show that high levels of graduates securing jobs.
The 'What Do Graduates Do?' report, which Agcas produces in conjunction with Graduate Prospects and UCAS, examines the first destinations of graduates six months after leaving higher education.
The most recent report reveals that around 68% of graduates are in employment after six months and of these, 65% are in professional employment, that is, a job requiring a degree or equivalent.
Another report, 'Moving On', is even more encouraging as it shows that within just three and a half years following graduation, 98% of economically active graduates are employed and more than 90% of these were employed in graduate occupations.
So, the figures are encouraging but what can today's graduates do to find their dream job?
There is now more career guidance available to graduates than ever before and a good starting place to access this is the university careers service office.
Thanks to a reciprocal agreement, graduates can visit practically any higher education careers service in the country for up to two years following graduation, regardless of where they studied.
So, graduates who have moved away from their place of study, back to their home town for example, should make contact with the careers service at their nearest university or college.
Careers services don't operate to the academic timetable and most remain open throughout the summer recess. This means that graduates don't have to wait until the start of next term before they visit.
It is, however, worth phoning ahead to check local opening times and perhaps arrange an appointment to avoid waiting until an adviser is free.
There are a number of websites that are useful for graduates. In particular, Prospects.ac.uk, has details on types of jobs available in particular sectors, potential employers, plus a job search facility and interactive services including CV checking, Email a Careers Adviser, chat forums to talk to other graduates and regular live chat rooms with graduate employers.
It also has links to a number of regional online services which can help graduates looking for work in specific parts of the country.
Graduates could also consider work experience or voluntary work.
Recent research has revealed that the primary reason for employers offering work placements is to find suitable permanent staff so, by targeting sectors of interest, graduates could get some practical experience under their belts which could lead to the perfect job.
Other options include taking a gap year which, if well thought through and structured, can provide graduates with invaluable experience which will aid their job search.
Graduates could also consider postgraduate study and take a relevant course which will increase their suitability and appeal to employers - perhaps a specific professional qualification which will give them the edge over other candidates.
Graduates need to be flexible in the early stages of their job search.
The perfect job is unlikely to come knocking so they need to be out there working and networking so that they are in the right place to spot opportunities.
They should also be prepared to tweak their careers strategies and be open minded to all opportunities.
For example, whilst it's predominantly the large blue chip companies that run formal graduate recruitment and training schemes, small and medium companies need graduates too and there are many challenging opportunities in smaller firms where graduates can make a real difference.
There are also some careers where the entry point is at a non-graduate level to encourage graduates to 'learn the ropes'.
Graduates should not be put off by this but use the time to develop vital skills which will pay dividends later.
So, the overriding requirements are to keep an open mind, explore all opportunities and really make the most of the advice and guidance, which is freely available through your college's careers services. Good luck.
Did you graduate this year and are still looking for a decent job? Do you have any practical tips for graduate job hunters, particularly, those who are having difficulties finding the job of their dreams? Send in your comments:
I left college three years ago to the usual promises of a well paid job, career prospects and up front loans to clear student debts. All these things just do not exist in the UK so I packed my bags and emigrated to Australia. Over here it's a graduate's paradise. The best companies are queuing up to recruit graduates from UK universities with better pay and career prospects than in the UK , most positions entitle you to loans in order to clear your student debts more quickly. The first time buyers grant enables you to purchase clean and affordable apartment in a good area and graduates are treated with far more respect than in the UK. My advice to anyone leaving college this year is to forget about the employers in the UK and apply for your Australian visa straight away. When I hear about all the hassles all my friends back home are having I think this was this best move I ever made
John Stewart, Aus (ex UK)
I graduated this June with a 2:1 in Computer Science, and am already working in the career I wanted. My advice for Graduates:
Apply to every job you can find, even if you don't have all the experience the advert asks for - you might impress them at the interview. Don't expect a huge salary - an initial low wage can be a career investment. Be prepared to travel if its for a job you want.
If you've only applied to two jobs, and you're looking for £20k outside your front door, you're going to be disappointed.
Anne Morgan, uk
One of the most common problems which seem to arise time & time again is the simple fact that graduates can't differentiate from the mentality required between the real world of work and their student days.
If your looking to get into the corporate world & work for a blue chip company, you need to come across with that corporate attitude.
Graduates like most young prospects looking to get into work tend to be rather volatile in the decisions they make and this often comes across in interviews.
Yes you have the odd handful who are rather clued up as to how things work, but the majority don't.
This can usually be put down to life experience.
Remember employers want continuity and stability.
Graduates tend to still have a lot of living to do i.e. travelling. But try and give the impression you are content with life achievements, and ready to pursue a career.
At the same time don't just take on a job for the sake of getting employment. You'll soon realise that its not what you want to do, and job hopping is certainly a no!
The Recruiter, London, UK
I was fortunate enough to have a job lined up when I left university last year. However, many of my fellow graduates are still doing temp jobs or PhDs, just to get by.
Recent redundancies in several economic sectors has flooded the job market with skilled, experienced people who are as desperate for jobs. This has edged a lot of graduates out.
I feel more should be done by the government to encourage employers to actively recruit and train graduates. Graduates will go on to provide a substantial part of the nation's wealth and the rewards of a hard-earned degree must be as clear as possible, especially in the light of increased study costs in recent years.
I graduated last year with a good degree and lots of work experience, although I have been in steady employment, most firms and agencies laugh when I ask for a salary of even £15,000 +. Not sure where all these graduate jobs of £20,000 are? Due to this despondency I am about to start a postgraduate course in September, as even my manager will say, 'everyone's got a degree' today, you need to specialise!
Helen Anderson, England
I graduated two years ago and the best advice I can give is to find some direction before you leave university. If you don't know what direction you're going to go in then, like me, you'll end up temping for £5 an hour or spending time unemployed and getting no closer to a permanent, well paid position.
Ben Harpham, Wales
I graduated 10 years ago into the worst recession ever in Manufacturing Engineering. 10 years of hard slog and 8 jobs later I am on a decent £30Ksalary and only 5 years ago I was earning £11K. To do this I've had to continue with constant professional development, together with working in less 'fashionable' areas of the country. My advice is be prepared for a long slog and you'll be content in the end - everyone else is in the same boat!
Francis Edwards, United Kingdom
I keep hearing that graduates are better paid, etc. Well, I have a 1st class Honours degree and a post graduate diploma with distinction and I earn less than £10,000 a year. I have massive debts through going to university and earn a lot less than I did before I went. If I do get an interview for a better paid job it is made perfectly clear that they don't want people with first's. Higher education is a con.
I graduated last summer with a 2.2 in International Relations. However, most of the career paths that are open to me with my degree are based either in London or out of the country. And being from a working class background, I am currently struggling to pay back my student debt; uprooting and moving to another part of the country is just a financial impossibility.
I am prepared to accept any graduate level career that will provide me with invaluable experience, and a chance to get on top of my finances, as I am fully aware that this is the only way that I will eventually get the position that I hope to one day have. However, I have applied for countless jobs in the Leeds area, and despite having a solid 12 months admin experience, a good degree, a lot of previous work experience, and more extra-curricular activities than you can shake a stick at, I am yet to be offered a graduate position.
Young people often fall into the trap of thinking that a degree automatically guarantees employment; if I could go back 4 years, I would have either changed my subject to a much more relevant, vocational one, or I would have taken a position with a company and by now, would have worked my way to a higher position than the one I currently hold.
I feel like I have paid a ridiculous amount of money for a useless piece of paper that has, so far, been more hindrance than help.
Zoe Wilson, UK
I graduate four years ago with 2.2 degree in IT. Not the best result in the world. I applied to all the major IT companies in the UK, sometimes not even making it to interview due to degree results, and I still have a pile of rejection letters at home.
I took a three month temporary support role in a bank. The three months of work I undertook were boring and mundane. However, it was all experience which led on to me working for the banks technology department in a permanent role.
Remember that you don't have to work in your first job forever. In most industries, employers would rather have someone with relevant experience than a new graduate, so make sure your first job gives you the right kind of experience, even if it is badly paid and horrible. You can always move on to your dream job after a year or two.
I left university intending to go on and do a masters' course, but decided that it would be good for my CV to do some work experience over the summer in between. The two months of work experience turned into a full time job with almost double the salary I could have hoped for in a graduate training scheme. If you can afford it, doing work experience gives a prospective employer a far better view of your skills and potential than a half hour interview, and can pay handsome dividends.
After graduating I volunteered for nine months in the campaigns department of a development charity. This was worth so much more than "looking good on my CV" (a vacuous phrase if you've not got the substance to back it up at interview or the world of work.) The experience was as worthwhile as my degree course in building my confidence, developing new skills and really helping me believe I had something to offer employers. Working with other volunteers in a similar position (graduates, looking for a break into a rewarding, ethical area of work) was also an invaluable source of support and information. It's vitally important that you keep contact with people in your position at this time as the low of unemployment after a successful spell at university can be one of the hardest periods of your life. You WILL get there and you will use the skills you develop in landing your first proper job for the rest of your career.
Unless you are one of the lucky few, the days of highly paid graduate jobs are over. Big companies are increasingly setting up offices in India where they can employ graduates of the same calibre for a fraction of the pay in the UK.
Our parents always believed that a degree would be the key to a good career and a comfortable life. That is simply not true anymore. In fact, you would probably have been better off leaving school at 16 and becoming a London tube driver or a plumber since they earn much more than a graduate these days.
Perhaps if people thought more about the career path that their degree course could offer them before they started it then their expectations of the jobs they are likely to get would be more realistic.
Also, employers still want graduates to start at the bottom and work their way up to decent salaries by doing a good job and being loyal to the company. I think too many people expect a high salary just because they have a degree.
Finally, you don't have to run up huge debts while studying, simply spend less on clothes/cds/beer and go to a university in a location where the cost of living isn't so high!
My advice to anyone thinking about going to Uni is be expected to work. I graduated with a 2.2 two years ago and in today's market a 2.2 just isn't good enough. Uni undoubtedly was one of the best times of my life though I do wish I had tried a little harder. Its far easier to work a little harder in your 2nd year rather than relying on working hard in your third. But uni is a must I have found that the people I work with who have gone to uni seem to have a bigger outlook on life, which I think is essential for any role.
Dan , UK
I graduated 11 years ago and spent 2 horrible years earning a pittance. I then spent a year at Cranfield undertaking a Masters degree then spent a year travelling. It took me 4 months to find a job when I got back but my employer was impressed that I had taken the initiative to try and further myself through higher education and working abroad. I now earn >70k and have never looked back.
My advice is to be persistent, be flexible and recognise that most first jobs are rotten but look at them as a means to an end.
Quite simply, everyman and his dog has a degree of some sort these days and it is no longer the free dinner ticket that it was when our parents were at university in the 60s. In addition, although unemployment is relatively low overall, there has been a slowdown after 9/11 and the end of the dot com boom in the 'Gucci' city/consultancy type jobs that graduates always hanker after. My advice: be flexible and realistic! When I realised I was going to get a 2:2 not 2:1 in law I knew that effectively I could kiss goodbye to a legal career; instead I applied to join the armed forces, I'm about 20 times fitter, learning loads, and earning the magic 20k everyone goes on about.
I think the problems people are talking about are a result of the government's policy of getting as many people to go to university as possible. This further results in a large number graduates with throw away degrees from Universities that employers do not rate. If you want to get that well paid job then you need at least a 2.1 from a rated University in a subject relevant to industry. Everyone I know from my course (Electronic Eng) who did this is being paid well over 20k two years after graduating.
I graduated 5 years ago and have just come back from a 6 month round the world trip which was great. The best advice I can give is really dedicate some time to thinking about what you want to do at a very early stage in your career and then follow that path. You don't want to waste time going the wrong way because once you have decided a few years down the line that you NOW want to do something different you have to start at the bottom again because all your experience will be in the wrong areas. Don't waste the optimum career years of your life - sit down with a pen and paper and try to figure out what you want to do and then follow that path!!! Do what you are good at!!!!!!
A job is for Christmas not for life. Take the first job you can find - even if it is low paid, and network, network, network to find the position which will give you the experience you need to set you on the career you want. Any paid job will put money in your pocket and give you access to the working world. It is also psychologically easier to look for a job whilst in a job. Whilst looking for this first paying job give up some of your job hunting time for voluntary work - try your local government, schools, hospitals, charities, etc and offer your voluntary work so that it is relevant to your career. This will not only get you that experience you need but open you up to more people for you to network with to get you a paying job. Finally, remember the career position you want will go to that person who is the most persistent. My background? I am a serial recession graduate. Graduated in 1992, now MBA from 2003.
Apply, apply and apply. Don't just go for investment banks, you may well be wasting your time. Never give up trying. Also remember there is no concept of a dream job.
I head up Graduate Recruitment for one of the UK's largest graduate employers - PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Whilst it is true that there are generally fewer jobs around for graduates this year there are also many graduates simply not bothering to apply. As of today, we still have over 100 vacancies for start dates from September to November.
We select our people very carefully but would be very happy to hear from appropriately qualified graduates who are interested in a career with one of the world's premier organisations. For further details please visit our website - www. pwcglobal.com/uk/careers
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