The 4 types of graduates you’re up against when looking for a graduate level job

In any competition it helps to know what you are up against if you want to win. In the race to a good graduate level job it is no different.

Who are the graduates that are winning and what are they doing different to those struggling to get a foot on the career ladder?

The graduates who are most likely to fare best are those who spend time developing the skills and experience they need to differentiate themselves from other candidates.

This is true of even those graduates who study degrees in subjects specific to an industry, such as law, teaching or finance – they still spend time building a portfolio of employability skills that distinguishes them as different. Their aim is to make themselves more attractive to an employer.

Who are the graduates you are up against?

Employers are increasingly looking for people with new ideas, who think in different ways and can bring a fresh perspective to the company. The head of recruitment at the Bank of Scotland recently told the Times, ‘We don’t only want people who think and perform like an economist.’ A diverse workforce helps a company to serve its clients better.

Let’s break it down.

  1. You are up against graduates who started developing their work skills long before they graduated. The closer graduates are to graduation the more likely they are to limit their thinking and options, said a graduate head hunter from the US bank Merrill Lynch. The bank therefore targets graduates while still in their first year at university because they are less likely to limit their options and there is plenty of time to mould their thinking for the work environment.
  2. You are up against graduates who do internships. The graduates who get job offers before or soon after they leave university are those who do summer internship programmes. By giving up the ‘right’ to a summer break these graduates are showing that they are already thinking like an employee rather than a student. They don’t see themselves as losing out but gaining the key skills and head start they need. The simple act of doing a summer internship sends a good message to an employer about the sort of person you are.
  3. You are up against graduates who work while at university. Graduates who work while doing their degree stand a better chance of getting a job once they leave university. Of course this chance is increased if the graduate works in a role or industry related to the job they are trying to get but there are ways around this that we look at below. Once again, the fact that you have some experience of the working world says good things about the type of person you are.
  4. You are up against graduates who develop the right skills at work. The problem for most graduates is not that they have not worked while at university but that they have not developed the right set of skills to get them into the type of job they really want.

Graduates who fare best are those who understand exactly what these skills are, go out to get them and then sell those skills on their CV and at the interview.

These skills include the ability to think outside of the box, to communicate well, to work in a team and to use your initiative. They go hand in hand with an attitude that shows persistence, resilience and optimism.

The only way to show that you have these skills and abilities is to have had the opportunity to demonstrate them in a job, even if that job is not quite related to the job you are after.

If you are a graduate who does not fit into any of the groups above then you may find yourself upstaged by candidates who do.

Graduate level jobs: Day of reckoning draws near

Tories’ plan is a blow to universities that fail to help graduates get good jobs

The day of reckoning draws ever closer for universities that fail to ensure students graduate adequately equipped to land graduate level employment.

No longer will institutions be able to hide behind lofty towers while churning out unsuspecting graduates who end up in dead end jobs because they are ill prepared for the working environment.

The pre election banter between the present government and the opposition reminds me of the warm up punches in a boxing ring.

Within days of the release of figures showing a grave miscalculation in the government’s estimation of the numbers of students that would not be able to repay their loan (in the region of 48% to 50% as opposed to 35%, as previously claimed) the Labour opposition announces its manifesto showing how it would cap university fees to £6000 it were in government today.

Pow. That was the first punch.

The next day the Tories hit back with plans to:

  1. Remove the cap on the numbers universities can enroll – universities can accept as many top performing students as they wish but can only enroll students on a finite number of funded places. This will be lifted in 2015.
  2. Introduce minimum qualifications for graduates who take out loans – universities will now have to meet minimum standards in the quality of the degrees students receive.
  3. And, critically, end the right to charge fees for universities that fail to meet these minimum standards – where fewer than 60% of students fail to achieve at least a first or 2:1 these universities will not be accredited for student loans.

Pow. Pow!

More help for graduates to find graduate level jobs

Universities would be therefore required to do more to produce graduates who are in a position to pay back their student loans. This makes absolute sense and would ‘encourage’ universities to do more to help curtail the black hole created by the student debt crisis.

Paul Kirby, former policy chief for the Tories, told the Guardian that these universities currently ‘offer limited chances of graduate level employment and cost students more than they gain financially’.

These plans would draw the proverbial lines in the sand that determine ‘which universities should be attended and which courses followed’ to guard parents, students and taxpayers from ‘wasting time, effort and money’.

Is this is the wake up call for universities that has been long coming? If a graduate cannot get the graduate level job they need to repay their loans because the university they attended failed to provide them with a good quality of education and preparation, and the university risks financial set back from this as a result, then we should see a good number socks being pulled up.

Universities that already do a novel job in helping their graduates develop the employability skills they require need not fear: it is the estimated 30 per cent whose graduates currently fail to get a graduate level job and the 24 per cent who have a higher than acceptable student drop out rate that need to pull their socks up.

Meanwhile, it will take some skill in the ring for Labour to come back from this right punch with something significant. The Tories say there may be a slight increase in the £9000 fees to fund their plans so perhaps there is opportunity for a left jab there.

How to get a graduate level job and repay your student loan

Recent debates over the current 45% deficit in student loan repayments – said to be rapidly increasing to 48.6% where it will leave the government worse off than if it had kept fees at £3,000 – pave over the real problem facing graduates.

They can’t find graduate level jobs that pay at least the required annual salary of £21,000 to start repaying their loans. We now know that 33% of graduates are not finding, and are never going to find, a grad level job.

Acquiring a long term debt of £60,000 at age 21 or 22 and never being able to pay it off because you never earn enough money is terrible. Experts estimate that by 2042, £90bn of the total £200bn issued in student loans will remain unpaid. The student debt problem is going to eventually explode because we also have a real graduate jobs crisis that everyone is ignoring.

In fact shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna told the BBC that this is a ‘time bomb’ that has already exploded under the government.

The Guardian described the university education system as a ‘money pit’ that has descended into chaos and is now ‘haemorrhaging cash’.

National Union of Students higher education vice-president Rachel Wenstone said it was a failed experiment.

Dead-end jobs for graduates

But meanwhile, as government ministers and financial analysts play word games over the best way to disguise the problem, the Guardian hit the nail on the head when it identified the problem as being an oversupply of graduates and too many in dead end jobs earning low pay. How can graduates ever begin to repay their loans if they cannot find good jobs?

When the government tripled university fees to £9,000 it effectively dug a pit and fell into it, dragging thousands of graduates along with it too. Graduates are still being encouraged to go to university, by taking out huge loans that will start them on their working lives in debt, meanwhile very little has been put in place to ensure that they emerge at the other end equipped to deal with that debt.

Today’s graduate faces a graduate recruitment market where competition for the relatively few graduate level jobs available is tough.

It is a very different graduate system to the one in place when their parents and grandparents went to university. They were almost guaranteed a job on graduation.

Avoid the student debt pit by finding a graduate level job

Graduates who want to avoid falling into the pit the government has dug cannot depend on their degree alone.

You must do all you can before and during your time at university to build solid experience and awareness of the work environment or you will struggle to compete.

You must seek out opportunities to build a portfolio of skills, aptitudes and experiences that will set you apart from your peers, especially those who are on the same degree path as yourself.

You must be able to walk into an interview, look the interviewer in the eye and offer a firm handshake.

You must know how to sell your skills by clearly showing what you have to offer, what you have achieved and how you can deliver the same value and outcome to a potential employer.

Then, and only then, will you be able to avoid the pit where our coalition government and, sadly, thousands of ill-prepared graduates, are destined to languish until someone has the bottle to do something about the current state of graduate recruitment.

Don’t trust in your degree

It is astonishing to find that there are graduates who still believe that their degree is the ticket to getting a good job.

It is not. And sadly this realisation comes too late for many.

You can easily spot those who fall into this trap. They spend a lot of time at university focused on getting a good grade but very little on developing the skills and experience they will need to stand out from others.

It is the skills and experience you have that gets you noticed and opens the door to a good job. If you like, your skills and experience validate your degree because they show that you have more than the ability to study; you also know how to apply in practice what you have been learning in theory.

A different graduate market

Why is this so important?

One reason is that it is an employers’ market. With so many graduates unemployed or stuck in jobs that don’t need a degree employers have lots of candidates to choose from, many of them with equally good degrees. At the same time graduate recruitment is an expensive and lengthy process so an employer cannot risk taking on the wrong person only then to have to start all over again. There is too much at stake.

It is therefore understandable that they tend to look for graduates ready-made for the workplace.

Think of it: two graduates apply for the same job. One has a first class degree but little or no evidence of skills and experience gained in the real working world. The other graduate has a second class degree but a CV listing skills and experience that demonstrates that he or she has business awareness, can communicate with customers and clients, can submit to authority, and has led or contributed to projects that have resulted in measurable outcomes – which one poses the least risk for the employer?

Well, of course, it is the graduate that has proven he or she has the potential to do the job.

Internship schemes

That’s why it comes as no surprise that employers are now targeting graduates for a place on their internship schemes while still in their first year at university. The aim of these recruitment schemes is to help position graduates for top graduate jobs well before they leave university.

In other words, graduate employers are  building talent pipelines. candidates in these pipelines are moore likely to get places on graduate schemes and jobs.

If this is what you are up against, leaving it until the final year or after leaving university to start thinking about developing your employability skills is too late if you want to compete for a good job.

It is for the same reason that the Bank of Scotland, Citi Bank and Merrill Lynch, the American bank, are all targeting graduates as early as possible while in their first year. These banks are also moving away from the traditional route of employing only those with maths related degrees and are now trying to attract graduates with humanity degrees.

Due to the challenges faced by the financial industry over the last few years and the growth in the central roles of technology and global communications, the financial industry is looking for ways to future-proof itself by widening its talent pool and skillset. Its managing director told the Times that he is looking for graduates with common sense, communication skills, lateral thinking skills and diversity of thought. People with generalist skills make better team players, he said.

If you are in your first or second year at university and haven’t yet begun to develop the skills and experience you need to validate yourself as a work­-ready graduate and a good investment for some wary employer, start now.

Stop trusting in your degree and start looking for opportunities to get the skills and experience you need.