degrees

A degree does not equal a graduate job… do graduates know this by now?

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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!).

Students investing their time into increasing their employability post education

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.

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Not knowing what you want to do on leaving school is okay…

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‘What are you going to do when you leave school?’ How many times do young people get asked this question? And why is it that we expect all young people to know what they want to do when they leave school? I hate this question as the message it gives to those young people who don’t know what they want to do, is that there is something wrong with them and that they should know – and that is no way to encourage them to do anything about it.

When I speak in schools, colleges and universities across the UK, I tell young people that it is absolutely okay to not know what they want to do when they leave school (and even University), BUT it is probably a good idea to do something about it. In other words don’t worry if you don’t know and as long as you are taking genuine action to find out about careers and FE & HE options, asking questions, meeting and talking to people who can help and have knowledge, then you are on the way to finding out what you want to do.

IMG_5321I would rather a young person who left school not knowing what they want to do, took some time to actively find out what they want to do, rather than went straight to uni, as that’s what their mates do, or get a job as that’s what their mates do – as there is a fair chance those options might not be right for them.

Universities want students to come to university because they have consciously chosen to do so. Employers want employees who really want a job and career in their industry and company. I know any smart university or employer would look very favourably upon anyone who said to them ‘I took time out after school (or Uni) to find out what I really wanted to do, and I now know this is what I want to do. This is what I did to  find that out and this is why I am in front of you now…’

You can always apply to university next year and you can always apply for a job when you are ready and know what you want. People who know what they want are much more likely to make the right decision and gain their ‘success’ they want, and if it takes a week, a month, a year to find that out I would argue that is time well spent.

The Rise of Personality

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At the recent Bright Futures Society Committee National Training Conference (hosted by the excellent President of City Bright Futures) one of the committee members asked the panel of employers we had assembled: “If so many graduates get a 2.1 and they all have work experience, what are you looking for now to differentiate one applicant from another?”
Great question and the answer, which drew agreement from all the panel was simply ‘Personality’.

So have recruiters come full circle and returned to a place where it is the individual personality that makes the difference, not their degree, nor the type of work experience they have been able to secure, because so many have these things?

This feels to me like a great leveller, especially when we hear so much about issues such as social mobility, as the issue of the contacts students may or may not have to get work experience is less valid, the University they attended is less important, what matters, as I sum it up to students is ‘YOU’!

Back in 1994 when I started out in graduate recruitment we used to talk about ‘Knowledge, Skills and Attitude’. We always said that the most important was Attitude. The world was, and is still, full of very Knowledgeable and Skilled people who under perform but someone with the right Attitude will want to build their skills and knowledge to do the very best with what they have and constantly be better; and that was what you want to hire.

So our message to students when we are working with our Societies is simple, yes getting a good degree matters, yes work experience matters, but what matters most is YOU.

This then is the message that recruiters need to be communicating to students and their potential hires: ‘You’ and who you are matters; Your Attitude matters and does make a difference. What a refreshing message to give and how great for students to hear that!

There really are jobs for graduates

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Communication and the ease of it today is great but it has a huge downside. There has been so much doom and gloom, reports dominated by redundancies and companies going out of business that this has affected the new graduate workforce of the UK. They believe there are no jobs so they are not job hunting – so instead even more are going travelling or taking up post graduate study.

The rationale being that come 2010 – when they return to the job market things will be better when it comes to jobs. But this is just not the case.

So many finalists are not applying that many of the big firms still have vacanies to fill – so there are jobs out there now! Taking on the costs of a post graduate degree just to put off job huting is an expensive mistake.  Employers wants graduates with real world, work based skills not more academic knowledge. And come 2010 there will be another 300,000 graduates leaving University to compete against for jobs. 

So what’s the message? If I were a finalist today or a graduate from last year, knowing what I know, I would apply to as many companies as I could and if I did not secure the job I want this summer, I would get work experience and apply again for next year – as that work experience will help me stand out for the rest.

Looking beyond the 2.1

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After 3 years of work the report came back last year from the Burgess Group that the degree classification system would stay largely the same but with the addition of a HEAR – Higher Education Acheivement Record – to give a fuller view of each graduate and their time at University. This HEAR sounds to me like more paperwork for the academics, which being ordinary people, they will want to find ways to get it completed as fast as possible or find ways to avoid doing it directly themselves.

A great alternative idea I read about today (suggested by Prof Mantz Yorke) talks about ‘acheivement claims’ where essentailly the students do the work themselves making a claim for their degree classification by presenting why they feel they have satisfied the aims of their course. Thus putting the student in much more control of the process and getting them, very importantly, to reflect on what they have learned from all their time at University and it’s value. This skills of ‘reflection’ will stand them in great stead for their job hunting as they will be able to much more strongly articulate what they as an individual have to offer (that is different) rather than expecting a 2.1 to do all the talking for them. 

Sadly I fear like too many great ideas little will come of it but I know I will introduce this to our assessment of graduates and perhaps from little acorns…..