8 things to look out for when choosing a good university – if you want to get a decent job

Cutting edge research, good quality education and opportunity for critical thought aren’t the only criteria for a choosing a good university (read part one as to what now defines a good university). If you want to get a graduate level job at the end your university must help you develop the type of employability skills you’ll need for the workplace.

A recent YouGov survey shows that much of the employability skills training offered by universities aren’t helping graduates get jobs so you need to know what to look out for. Here are eight things.

  1. How does the university approach employability skills? Your university may structure courses in a way that helps you to develop the employability skills you need as part of your course. Alternatively, it may run separate courses or provide extra curricular opportunities instead. Ask the university about their approach so that you’re clear.
  2. Does the university provide work placements? Your university should have links to employers who provide work placements to students, not only for those on sandwich courses but also across all programmes. Ideally, the work placement should give you the opportunity to develop your skills while meeting a real business need so that you have experience of solving actual problems as one would do in a real workplace.
  3. If not, does the university help with opportunities for work experience? If your university doesn’t directly provide work placements then it should at least provide support and advice to help you find your own placement, voluntary work, internship or similar, whether during term time or summer. Opportunity to gain work experience should be looked on as part of the experience of going to university.
  4. What skills will the university help you to develop? Employers and universities have different ideas about what constitutes a complete list of employability skills but they are more or less agreed on the following: team-working; business and customer awareness; problem solving; communication and literacy; application of numeracy; application of information technology; positive attitude; and entrepreneurship/enterprise. However, beware: not all employability skills are in equal short supply. The areas where employers say graduates tend to be least prepared are in basic literacy and numeracy skills, awareness of business and customer services issues, entrepreneurship and self-management.
  5. Does the university run special talks on employability skills? Ask whether the university arranges lectures and workshops to introduce graduates to the kind work skills employers value. If the workshops have add-on tasks that help students to develop the skills they need, perhaps through a group project, voluntary work or internship, then even better. Projects that give you the opportunity to get involved in real life business scenarios offer you the best chance of developing the skills you need.
  6. Is employability incentivised? What incentive if any does the university offer to ensure its students take advantage of all the employability skills training on offer? This might include rewarding the demonstration of employability skills perhaps through extra awards or credits, making employability skills training compulsory or offering workshops or courses that are led by employers.
  7. Is the employability skills training easily accessible? How much time and effort does the university invest in marketing employability skills to students? Many graduates have said that their university careers service did not adequately prepare them for work or took the time to let them know what opportunities were available to them until late into their time at university. A university that gives their employability skills provision a distinctive brand has a better chance of ensuring that students understand them and don’t confuse them with job finding skills, says the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).
  8. Does the university equip graduates sell their employability skills? Graduates don’t just need to understand what employability skills are but they also need help to develop the ability to discuss these skills. Research shows that more students are taking on paid work alongside or before their studies and so are already using some employability skills. However, they may not have heard them described as employability skills or realise they already have them. That’s why it is important for universities to explain them and to offer students the opportunity to articulate them.

If you feel that your university is not doing enough to help you to seek out work related learning opportunities, then you should either choose another or seek out opportunities to develop your own employment plan. Start with an organisation like the National Council for Work Experience, Enternships.com or speak to us here at Graduate Coach.

Re-definition of a good university: it helps you get a good job

Four years ago a joint Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and University UK report showed that employers were dissatisfied with graduates preparedness for the workplace. Last week, YouGov research revealed that not much has changed: employers still think the graduates they get are not ready for work.

Back then, as now, employers said improving graduates’ employability skills should be a top priority for universities. All agree that we have to move away from the old university education model where a graduate’s experience at university is largely academic – it now needs to be equally about developing the employment skills employers need.

As clearly seen in the YouGov research, universities that rank high do not necessarily live up to that ranking when it actually comes to helping graduates to get jobs so, unless you’re a graduate after an academic career, the criteria for choosing a university needs to change.

What an employment plan should do

The features of a good university in today’s business climate cannot be purely left down to its capacity for research and thought, though these are still extremely important. Graduates need to be asking universities about their employability skills provision and about what type of employment plan the university will help them put in place so they can emerge competitive, equipped and work-ready.

This is key since industry think tanks like the CBI and University UK say graduates need to be engaged in programmes to help them develop their employability skills if not before university then certainly from day one of starting university. Graduates need to consider a university’s activity on employability skill development when making their choice on where to study.

Employability training that’s not up to scratch

But it doesn’t end there. The problem highlighted by the survey is that many universities do some sort of employability skills training but their programmes just aren’t doing the job – or rather, helping graduates to get one.

And here is another issue. The survey reports that the percentage of graduates that do get jobs range from a poor 44 per cent to a reasonable 89 per cent but the definition of ‘progression’ includes moving onto further study. This means that the number of graduates that actually get a job is likely to be even lower.

So not all employability skills programmes run by universities are useful. Some have been simply bolted on in a bid to attract graduates onto courses so you need to know what to look out for when asking universities about what they offer.

In part two of this article we take a look at what you need to look out for when choosing a university that offers good support in helping graduates to develop their employability skills and in preparing them for the workplace.

Dear Ofsted, what about careers advice in universities – they need help too!

Ofsted’s findings that arrangements for careers guidance in schools are not working well enough should not come as a surprise considering what careers advice looks like at some universities.

Schools were only given legal responsibility for careers advice in September 2012 so we should expect that there are going to be some teething problems.

What is far more shocking and concerning is that many university careers services aren’t providing graduates with the quality of careers support they need to make the next step into employment. It means that many graduates are leaving university woefully unprepared for the competitive jobs market they are about to face.

That is not to say we can absolve schools of the responsibility or downplay the importance of careers advice at a time when young people are making crucial decisions about their future, decisions that could cost them dearly in terms of choosing the best path. Ofsted visited 60 schools around the country and a whopping three quarters were not implementing their duty to provide impartial careers advice effectively. Their career advice was not explicit, the National Careers Service was not being promoted well enough and there was a lack of employer engagement in schools.

University careers advice needs improving too

We have heard similar comments from many of the graduates that come to us for careers support. These are graduates who are still unsure which path is best for them, struggling to find a graduate level job, and who are beginning to feel disillusioned. The story we hear over and again is that they found their university careers service unhelpful and, unless they are on a vocation related degree, not specific enough.

As a result, 85% of graduates never use their university careers centre according to High Flyers.

Like the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), we would like to see the quality of careers advice improve right up the education chain with universities also playing more of a role to deliver employability skills training as standard alongside their academic courses.

Calling for better support for schools for the delivery of good quality career advice, Neil Carberry, CBI director for employment and skills policy, said better provision “must be part of a wider movement led by the government and involving education and career development professionals.

“Young people need reliable, inspirational and high-quality career advice which can be an essential tool in fighting youth unemployment.”

He added: “We warned earlier this year that careers advice was on life support and this report confirms the scale of the problem.”

Is it fair of Norman Rose to label graduates as snobs for refusing menial jobs?

Here are five reasons why we think it isn’t

Norman Rose from the Recruitment Society says unemployed graduates who refuse to take a job just because it’s not in their field or doesn’t reflect their qualifications are “job snobs”.

With recent ONS figures showing that unemployment has risen by 15,000, leaving 973,000 young people jobless, recruitment expert Mr Rose told the Independent that “too many graduates” are unemployed because they turn down work due to “job snobbery”.

He said “graduates can’t afford to stay unemployed while they look for the perfect job to suit their skills” and that those that do are in effect saying, “I’ve got these qualifications, I’m too good”.

5 reasons why graduates who want a better job are not snobs

Reason 1:

What Mr Rose seems to be overlooking is the fact that graduates often cannot afford to take up employment in a job that doesn’t reflect their level of qualifications. The measly pay can’t cover their living expenses let alone place them in a position to begin to pay off huge student debts.

Reason 2:

Neither does Mr Rose’s criticism hold much water against graduates who cannot find a job but have degrees in subjects with no particular associated field, like the humanities, English, maths and the like, all of which can open the door to any industry. What field are they holding out for?

Reason 3:

Many graduates are already working in non-professional roles that don’t require degree. According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), one third of them, with a large proportion of this number to be found in sales, customer services and elementary roles like office juniors, hospital porters, waiters and shelf-stackers. Who on earth wants to go to university for three or four years and then end up stacking shelves for Tescos – no offence to shelf-stackers but it makes little sense, doesn’t it?

Reason 4:

The million-dollar question is “Why shouldn’t a graduate expect to find the type of graduate level job they went to university in the hope of getting?” Is it fair that they should be called “job snobs” just because they would rather hold off until they get what they want?

In the Independent story, Dom Anderson of the National Union of Students gave a response that reflects our sentiments; he said it is understandable that a graduate should want to hold out for the right job. The investment of time and money a graduate and their parents make into a degree surely gives them right to expect employment that reflects that investment.

Reason 5:

The problem of unemployment is not down to graduates because we know there are jobs out there despite the challenges the economy is facing. We have previously quoted research from the Institute of Education that shows a significant rise in the number of jobs that now require a degree. More than a quarter of the jobs advertised are only open to those with a degree compared with 25 years ago during the mid 1980s when it was just one in 10.

We have also quoted research from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) showing that employers bemoan the fact that they can’t find the quality of employees they need. They need graduates with demonstrable skills in customer services, self-management and communication, and with attitudes that reflect enterprise, persistence and initiative.

The real reason why graduates can’t get jobs

Graduate unemployment is not the fault of those who are holding out for a job that reflects their degree or qualifications. That’s not why so many graduates are out of work. It is because the graduate market is increasingly competitive and graduates have no idea of how to successfully compete for a job having never been taught.

What the government, universities and recruitment specialists like Norman Rose should be doing is looking for ways to equip graduates with the skills they need for today’s recruitment market.

Rather than scolding graduates and labelling them as snobs because they want a better job, let’s find ways to help graduates become better equipped to a get a job that reflects the level of qualifications they have worked their socks, purses and wallets off in order to get.

That’s what we do at Graduate Coach.

5 tell-tale signs you are en route to a graduate level job

Is there anything a graduate can do to improve his or her chances of getting a graduate level job?

According to research from High Fliers, 36 per cent of graduates end up in low paid menial jobs that don’t reflect their qualifications. By now most graduates know that the likelihood of leaving university and stepping into a successful graduate career isn’t based on how great their degree is.

So what can a graduate do to better their chances of getting a graduate level job? Here are five things:

1. Choose your graduate career wisely

It’s important that you look at careers that would suit your personality, your interests and your values. For example, if you are the type that likes your own company more than others you will probably be happier in a job where the majority of the work you do is done on your own and away from the public. If you love being around people then of course the opposite is true. Your interests and values tend to play a major role too as they help provide you with the energy, inspiration and motivation to stay with an activity. If your interest level for a type career is low it will be harder to show the enthusiasm you need to convince an employer at the interview.

2. Make yourself employable

Employers employ people who they believe are going to add value to the company. They want to see evidence that you have the type of skills and achievements that will help them respond to continuous and rapid economic and technological changes at home and abroad.

So seek out opportunities to build the following employability or ‘soft skills’, and then for ways to show and convince an employer that you have them by demonstrating, firstly, how you have used them and, secondly, what the benefits were to others:

  1. Teamwork skills – working well in a team rather than dominating or adding nothing to it
  2. Self-discipline – managing your own work and completing tasks to deadline
  3. Positive attitude – showing a can-do attitude whether or not you enjoy a task
  4. Problem solver – seeing problems as there to be solved and learned from, and not as dead ends
  5. Enterprising – you demonstrate initiative, come up with original ideas and you don’t shy away from taking calculated risks
  6. Business awareness – respecting the business environment and understanding the importance of customer service
  7. Literate and numerate – communication and literacy skills are important, as too practical application of numeracy skills.

3. Develop your experience through internships

Whichever way you look at it you need experience of the working environment. You could gain some of this from other employment or from volunteering but graduate internships are still often your best bet for getting a foot through the door. Despite the stick they get internships still remain a significant entry path into full time employment for graduates with up to one in every three posts filled by a graduate who has already worked for the company – either through internships, industrial placements or vacation work, according to a Higher Education Statistics Agency report.

4. Does your CV tell a convincing story?

You also need to make sure that you have a CV that sells your skills well. It shouldn’t simply offer a standard list of courses and jobs you have done but also show employers what you have achieved through them. What difference did you make while at university or volunteering for the local homeless shelter? You need to be able to demonstrate evidence that you were proactive, initiated or contributed to ideas that solved a problem and demonstrated the needed tenacity to stick with something in the face of a challenge. Your CV story can either work for or against you. The kind of CV story that works for you is one that shows that you have followed a definite course toward the career you are interested in and are not simply trying to jump ship in order to get just any job.

5. What are your interview skills like?

You need to come across well in your interview if you are going to convince an employer to choose you over someone else. Interview skills cover a specific set of proficiencies all of which can be developed through practice and application. These skills are demonstrated through how effective you are at using your knowledge of the industry, the company and its competitors when answering questions; how well you sell your skills and experiences while answering questions; the type of questions you ask in return; and your general attitude toward other people. Using relevant examples, scenarios and insights in your questions and answers is more likely to help you to stand out as a person who knows their stuff.

Is your university helping or hindering your job prospects?

It may sound odd but your university could be hindering your job prospects if it isn’t teaching you how to get a job.

If you are like the 79% of graduates surveyed by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) a few years ago you will have gone to university for one reason: to improve your chances of getting a good job. So why is teaching good job skills so overlooked by universities?

Most universities are great at helping students to organise work placements and access industry specific career advice, but comparatively few are effective at helping new graduates develop the skills they need to compete for graduate level jobs.

In a nutshell, it leaves graduates falling short of employers’ expectations. 70% of employers think that graduates come to them ill equipped for the workplace. Graduates have very little in the way of skills and awareness around areas like customer awareness, team working and self management, which employers prize above a degree. Employers will not employ you without experience in these non academic areas.

A few months ago a national survey carried out by the Centre for Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge Economies and Societies (LLAKES), based at the Institute of Education, showed that across the job market there are now more entry level posts requiring degrees than ever before as employers seek out better qualified workers.

So more jobs for graduates – yet more graduates than ever unemployed, around one in five according to the latest figures from ONS.

Graduates don’t measure up

It’s an anomaly that requires urgent attention because

  1. The graduate jobs market is very competitive: competition for graduate jobs is intense and increasing with, as we have seen, up 160 chasing one job, 7.3% still unemployed six months after leaving university and 36% giving up hope of ever finding graduate level employment and settling for just any job.
  2. Employers want graduates who are employable: employability skills are the single most important consideration for employers when recruiting graduates. In fact 82% of employers say this and believe that graduates need to pro-actively develop relevant employability skills.
  3. Graduates want help to become employable: the graduates interviewed in the CBI research also believe they struggle to get graduate level jobs because they are ill prepared for the jobs market. Of the 2,614 surveyed, 66% want more help to develop these skills and 57% want that help to come from their universities.

As a result the CBI has been calling on all universities to do more both to explain and embed the teaching of employability skills into course structures. Working with the National Union of Students (NUS), the business support think tank developed a guide to show how these skills can be gained aside from university coursework, such as by participating in societies, volunteering and doing work experience.

Aaron Porter, NUS National President, said: ‘Access to higher education opens the doors to a world of possibility but it is incumbent on universities to do more to equip their students to face the challenges the future brings.’

So what’s your university doing to assist you to get ready for the workplace and to compete against other graduates? This should be one of the questions that you ask when considering which university to go to. If it isn’t offering much in the way of teaching you about employability skills like customer services, business awareness, enterprise, self management, and problem solving, then it isn’t really helping your career at all.

If you are already at university and yours isn’t doing much, complain loudly.