An article in the Sunday Times from the Head of UCAS states that ‘Being a graduate is no longer a free pass to a graduate employment’. I think it is fair to say that most undergraduates know this by now. My experience is that the majority of undergraduates are focusing on doing and offering more than just a degree (and yes, I fully appreciate a significant minority are still over relying on their degree!). The challenge for graduates today, and for employers, is to look beyond the degree and at what more they can do, and offer, to secure that highly sought after graduate role.
In years gone by (and I fear I am talking about decades now!) the degree itself was the differentiator, back when the 2.1 or 1st was what helped employers shortlist efficiently (this was my graduate era!). But since then the huge increase in volumes of graduates with a ‘good’ degree, and the growing evidence that academic performance is not a guarantee of work based success, has lead employers to seek other ways to shortlist, and ultimately hire, the best talent.
“The challenge for graduates today, and for employers, is to look beyond the degree and at what more they can do, and offer, to secure that highly sought after graduate role.”
So what is the key, as an employer, to identifying the best suited talent quickly and effectively as most graduates look the same on paper? Work experience is obvious, but again more and more graduates know this, so lots have got that ‘badge’. Extra Curricula activities seems to be the growing focus as this provides evidence as to where students have taken the initiative to do more (such as volunteering, achievement in sport or music etc, or joining / becoming leaders of students societies, and what better on than the Bright Futures Societies, the largest network of career focused Societies in the UK!).
But when assessing graduates in terms of their work experience and extra curricula activities what is key as an employers is to look beyond the ‘badge’ they put on their CV, and focus on the graduates understanding as to how these additional ‘experiences’ make them right for the role. More often than not this ‘understanding’ and ability to convey or verbalise it cannot always be seen on a CV, so it requires someone to actually speak with them and / or an online application form which forces them to provide more of that evidence. So the truth is that recruiting graduates is not just a case of place an advert and the flood gates will open with masses of great applicants (although there are a lot of grads). Doing it well requires a time investment and knowing what to look for, but that investment will significantly improve the quality of graduates you ultimately hire, as the best suited talent will have taken the initiative to do more of the right things, and know how to showcase that at every stage of the process. At Bright Futures we see this every day with the employers we support, in the battle to compete for, and retain, the best graduate talent.
“Extra Curricula activities seems to be the growing focus as this provides evidence as to where students have taken the initiative to do more.”
And going back to what UACS had to say, perhaps this message is more directed to school leavers ahead of go into University. My experience is that this message is being heard loud and clear in High Education and now needs to be heard in the same way in Secondary Education; the sooner young people in school find this out, the quicker, and more effectively, they will take action on arriving at University to improve their chances of securing that all important graduate employment.
A recent article from the head of an all girls school, made the point that we need to move away from obsessing about getting A grades and that a B or C was good too. Her point being that not getting A grades led young people to feel they have failed or to not even try if they felt they would not get an A.
This got me thinking…
If as a student, they fairly naturally do well academically, that that success alone will help motivate them to do more and do better – i.e. strive for those A grades. But what about those for whom academic success does not come so naturally? What is the motivation for them to do better? Telling them ‘they might get an A if they try really hard’, or worse still, just be told ‘you have to do well at school or college if you want to get a good job’?! But if they don’t know what a good job is or are not excited by that thought then it seems we run a risk of them then disengaging. And with a generation who are increasingly vocal in asking ‘why?’ and challenging convention, when they do not get that success, many will start to question what is the point, or in the immortal words of Catherine Tate’s ‘character Lauren Cooper’ … ‘am I bovvered’?
So how can they be better inspired?
Young people need to know much earlier about the different jobs available and be excited by them. It is unlikely disengaged young people are going to be excited by dry academic subject matter, but the application of that subject matter and what ‘cool’ jobs it can be used in stands much more chance of inspiring them to then bother and do well in their education.
In short they need to be shown how what they learn can be applied in the real world of work – not just learning for learning sake.
We, as an organisation, have seen very recently a great example of this, with an unengaged student in an FE college, who was not performing well and had low attendance rates but through the experience given to him in one of our SPACEs, engaging with employers and the opportunities in the world of work, his attendance rate moved to 100% and his performance significantly increased. And why? Because he had a motivation and reason to bother!We have seen this too with our Bright Futures School Societies, where a student who was struggling with confidence and to achieve in the classroom, but by engaging with the society activity and employers, his performance and impact grew significantly.
In short we run a high risk of not maximising the potential of many young people who have great untapped potential, if we expect them to do well at school and college because that is what we expect them to do. We need to invest much more time showing them how their education can be used in exciting careers that previously they just did not know or were bothered about.
The latest AGR magazine (http://www.agr.org.uk/Graduate-Recruiter) has an article from Paul Redmond, Director of Employability at the University of Liverpool, ‘Dancing in the Dark’ which makes some key points:
– University is about learning to think, develop opinions, process information and grow as a person but it is also about work AND study.
– The Careers Services ‘task is to prepare students for the world of work, while employers provide the opportunities’. But this is not enough, he says, employability cannot be done to people (a point I have been making for years), ‘students have to engage and take responsibility’.
(I agree with both his points, by the way!)
And not by chance, employers want to hire graduates who will also take responsibility, in this case for their personal & professional development, their career and their future – in essence employers want their new ’emergent talent’ to take a lead and drive their own futures.
This ‘taking of responsibility’ it would seem is thus an agreed key theme and attribute that students need.
It is for this reason I am so passionate about our Bright Futures Societies, in Universities and Schools. Through these Societies students are taking responsibility for their employability and taking a lead on what they do when it comes to careers, skills and their future for their peers.
However does ‘taking responsibility and taking a lead’ get the profile at University that it clearly needs to? Through our work in schools, we hear more and more about ‘student leadership’ and the Schools that are establishing Bright Futures student Societies, see what a great opportunity for student leadership the Society presents. For some reason I just don’t hear that message as strongly at University. The University ‘Experience’ absolutely provides huge amounts of opportunity to take responsibility & to a lead but it seems that the important trait is not highlighted enough and made much of.
Students know that to get good jobs they need to demonstrate key skills such as team work, communication, flexibility etc, but do they realise how important ‘taking responsibility’ will make on their futures?
With tens of thousands of graduates melting their way through graduate ceremonies this summer it begs the question as to who will hire them.
A small % of the total number of fresh graduates will have secured themselves employment but the majority will be job hunting now or about to start.
Some employers might feel that the ‘best’ graduates will already be hired, and whilst that in part is true, many very talented graduates will not.
So as an employer why should you be confident that there is still lots of good talent available now & through the summer (or indeed year round)?
1. There is huge pressure on students (from their University, family, peer group etc) to achieve that all important 2.1 and get the very best academic results; as a result many will purely focus on that outcome and put off very time consuming job hunting until after exams
2. Students want to make the right career decision and will decide to make the time to do their searching and choosing for their future in a considered & focused way, with no other major distractions; we all know how time challenging it is to personally job hunt when we are in employment (todays students face similar time challenges). I know I would much prefer to interview a graduate who said ‘I was not sure what I wanted to do for a career whilst at University and so made a conscious decision to not apply then but wait until after exams and get the decision right; rather than apply to jobs in my final year because that is what I was told to do and all my mates were’ I want graduates who are applying to my organisation to know what they want to do and can articulate why – if they cannot do that be they an undergraduate (who has applied during their final year) or graduate (who applies in the summer) they won’t get past me! So making the time to get that right gets an applicant a ‘tick’ from me.
3. Graduates today are potentially facing 50 years of work, with the pensionable age getting later and later, so many will want to go travelling and enjoy their last long holiday until they retire! I am not sure we should begrudge them that?
And linked to this point and if you are thinking they should have wanted to start their career already, delaying it a few months is kind of understandable, isn’t it?
There is a caveat to all this in that at this time of year there are plenty of graduates applying for jobs, who have not been so decisive in their job hunting plans during University and the trick is to be able to differentiate one from another.
So is the summer a good time to recruit graduates? Yes there is plenty of great talent but you need to know what you are looking for – and part of that will be evidence of that considered thought during University.
It’s that time of year when graduate surveys are produced, which tend to have a big impact on expectations for employers, undergraduates and graduates. There is a good summary of a number of these surveys (from High Fliers and HESA, with AGR’s due out on 9th July) provided by the Guardian.
The Truth about Salaries – The surveys which tend to get most media attention (High Fliers and AGR) are important but it needs to be remembered they only reflect the major graduate recruiters, whom recruit in total, typically, around 10% of the graduates leaving University each year. So with High Fliers stating average starting salaries of £29,000 this is based on the 100 ‘leading graduate recruiters’ and when AGR come in with their figure, which I expect to be around £26,000 for this year, they represent the largest 600 employers.
So if as an employer you want to compete for the same 10% of graduates that is the salary levels you need to consider
If as a graduate you feel you are in that top 10% then those are indeed the salaries you can potentially get.
However for the vast majority of graduates, the HESA stats (these are gathered from data supplied by all Universities graduates) are more reflective, which is an average of £20,000. This is of course an average so graduates will get more or less than this depending on the role they go into and where in the country they work.
The Truth about Job Prospects – It is still a tough job market as a graduate. 74% of graduates, according to the Trendence Institute, expect to find it tough.
Graduates are making or expecting to make 34 applications to find their first position; and according to the AGR employers are receiving on average 83 applications per vacancy. This does not mean however, as the media have tried at times to make us believe, there are 83 graduates for each vacancy (because we know graduates make more than one application!).
Whilst it is true there are less graduates roles than there were pre-recession; the real reason the graduate job market is so competitive is not because of the recession (although that has of course had a significant impact) but rather there are so many graduates chasing those graduate roles. With 2,500,000 people studying in HE, which generates c350,000 graduates year, there are just no enough (traditional) graduate level roles for them all. Add to that almost 2/3rds of graduates get a 2.1 or better, so academic success does not make you stand out as a graduate, and nor as an employers does it help you identify the best quickly.
To become competitive as a graduate, you need to offer more than your degree; and as an employer to recruit the best you need to look beyond academic results (not to mention the fact that academic success does not always directly correlate to work based success)
The Truth about the graduate market is that each year (recession or not) it has become tougher and tougher for both parties. For graduates because of the huge ‘supply’ and for employers because of both the ‘huge ‘supply’ and ‘demand’ for the best as more & more employers (be they a global business or small entrepreneurial start up) want to attract & recruit the strongest talent.
So what’s to be done?
As an undergraduate and graduate you need to answers the question ‘what more have you done?’ Or put another way, and to quote one of our keynotes from the recent Bright Futures employability conference we ran, graduates need to be asking ‘what do I need to do to work for you?’ NB For a FREE copy of our post conference report go to: http://brightfutures.co.uk/home/events/national-conferences/employability-conference.html
And as an employer, find ways to spot talent early and build a relationship with that talent, both online & face to face on campus – because in today’s world it is not about how do you generate applicants but rather how do you generate ‘fewer and better applicants’.
It is rare to find an undergraduate or graduate today who does not know that getting a degree is no longer enough to secure a graduate job – which is great news that this hugely important message has got through to so many.
Students know they need to have more on their CV (as well as academic success) such as work experience, volunteering or charity work, society involvement, music, sport, the list goes on. But speaking to students who are exasperated and hugely disappointed that they are still being rejected despite having all these things on their CV brings up a worrying issue and the next big challenge facing Students, Graduates, Universities and Employers – namely that these additional CV items are becoming a ‘tick box ‘ activity for students to achieve. And to reinforce this concern our recruiter clients are beginning to spot this too, so that despite a great looking CV, with all these extras, students are still failing at interview.
So why despite all these great ‘full’ Cvs are they failing? My sense is that the piece of the jisaw being missed in the message to students is that it is how they have developed as a result of these great experiences that matter, not the experiences alone. Students need to learn how to draw out the qualities / abilities / skills / competencies (call them what you will) developed as a result of these experiences; show how they have become more ’rounded and grounded’ (to quote a recent CBI report) and that, as a result, they have become more resilient, more flexible and more able to take on challenges that the working world will throw at them.
Life at University through both the curriculum and extra curricula opportunities on offer provides the potential for a hugely rich and transformative experience (and not to mention nor forget fun experience too). Students need to make the most of these often once in a lifetime opporutnities and not just put it on their CV but reflect on their wide varaiety of experiences to demonstrate how they have developed and are ready for the world and life after University, and for many into work.