Research from the Higher Education Statistics Agency has found that more than 20,000 graduates were still out of work six months after leaving university. The market is undoubtedly competitive and daunting for today’s graduates, but there are certain criteria to benchmark roles against so that applicants get the best position to suit their skills and career aspirations. There are also greater opportunities emerging within certain sectors. In technology, the recent launch of the Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs from the European Commission is set to create up to 900,000 job vacancies in Europe in ICT by 2015.

However, while the number of digital jobs is growing by more than 100,000 per year, the number of new ICT graduates and skilled ICT workers is not keeping up. Graduates would do well to make the most of this skills shortage by considering this sector. Regardless of the specific field, it is also important to ensure the graduate’s aspirations can be met by the potential employer and that the employer has realistic expectations of the graduate. We have outlined some top tips for graduates and employers to bear in mind, with the aim of creating a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship.

Sector-specific experience

Given the competitive landscape, it is worthwhile for graduates to look at different sectors to maximise job search success. Popular industries like media and finance will always be tough to break into, but other areas such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) can be just as rewarding while providing greater job opportunities. The survey by the Higher Education Career Services Unit (HECSU) found the proportion of IT and computer science graduates in jobs rose by 8.5%, yet the volume of uptake still remains low in comparison to other sectors, and there is still an outstanding gender difference. The 2012 skills survey from the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) highlighted a significant gender gap in engineering roles specifically, with only 6% of roles in the UK held by women, a figure unchanged from 2011.

With the STEM industry on the look-out to boost employee numbers, female graduates, often reluctant to consider a career in technology-related businesses, would be wise to look at this sector to increase their chances of getting their first job. At the same time, employers need to do all they can to attract more women right from the start, from targeting prospects through the most appropriate channels, right down to using more business-focused and appealing language in job descriptions in place of overly technical terminology. Having well-honed business skills are crucial in understanding client requirements and their markets.

It is then important to match this by providing appropriate training and tasks to develop wider business skills once they have been recruited. With the European Commission’s proposed legislation aiming to attain a 40% objective by 2020 of women in non-executive board-member positions in publicly listed companies, the pressure is building to increase female numbers. Many FTSE 100 companies are embracing family-friendly policies that should help women to achieve a better work life balance and be able to take on more senior positions. Above all, the employer must support them and ensure that they can develop, while offering the same levels of responsibilities as their male counterparts.

Giving responsibility early

Many graduates look for careers and initial positions that offer them responsibilities early on in their role. It is understandable that employers may shy away from giving them this until graduate staff is more firmly rooted in the company, but we frequently encounter ambitious university leavers who demand more responsibility. While looking for positions with a strong career path, good training and the opportunity to be given responsibilities early on in their role is critical, what will set some companies apart are initiatives such as mentoring schemes, the chance to move around the business and make valued contributions, as well as the opportunity to travel. If they are given the chance to work abroad, this will also encourage graduates to learn new languages or enhance existing language skills.

Recruitment packages – make it beneficial to the employee

Employers also need to create the most attractive recruitment packages and prepare to support graduates as best they can. It is vital for employers to have resources available for graduate training and accept that investment and time is needed before graduates are fully up to speed. As the Skills Minister, Mathew Hancock, pledged a further £150 million of funding to improve training schemes, which was heavily supported by the CIPD, comprehensive skills and training sessions should be integral to any recruitment package. If employers fail to invest in this, the education and training system as a whole will never deliver the skills needed to grow businesses and contribute to economic growth.

To add to this, comprehensive mentoring schemes should also be considered. This gives employees the opportunity to share ideas, expertise and experiences with colleagues at different levels and departments within the organisation. To be successful, employers should firstly look at their existing talent and determine who would make the best teachers to help more junior staff learn and develop. Secondly, they will have to guide and train mentors ahead of the programme, so that they will really add value. It is also important to take the time to ask mentees what they want advice on and help with ahead of the scheme and gain feedback following the sessions to see if they are working effectively.

Tapping into the global talent market

Global businesses can benefit from different skills and expertise by recruiting candidates within different markets. For example, Israel, Sweden, Finland and Japan rate very highly in terms of innovation and technology skills, Sweden and Finland are said to be leaders in creativity, while the US, Japan and Germany possess the highest scientific skill-sets, and India a high proportion of highly skilled STEM (Science, technology, Engineering and Maths) graduates. Employers that have a real mix of talent across these geographies will have greater chance of long-term success. However, it is important that these skills are shared and transferred globally. Being able to easily communicate and share knowledge is critical. This can be arranged by sending individuals to global offices to learn from others and gain new experiences, while also ensuring that virtual communication is possible, for example through social media and video conferencing facilities.

The right tools for the trade

Employers need to account for the digitally-savvy graduates of today. As younger generations move into the work environment, they expect the same technology which they have been using at home and during their studies and this is true for more experienced employees too.

To meet this demand, businesses will need to become more nimble and adapt to new technologies and ways of working. This will include full integration of social networks to improve collaboration, mobility, analytics and cloud computing technology to allow for remote working. This “SMAC” (social, mobile, analytics and cloud) technology is all well and good in theory, but putting it into practice is where the challenge lies. Business heads will need to decide which combination of solutions and tools will work best for their organisation and, once agreed, how they will integrate the new tools within the workforce.

Getting the balance right

Ultimately, it comes down to setting and meeting expectations on both sides and, to do this, they need to be realistic. Graduates require (and demand) an equal investment in their career as they have become accustomed to in their education. While many employers feel they cannot afford the commitment or time, they need to rethink their recruitment policies to ensure they attract and retain the best talent around. After all, supporting the early stages of graduate careers should prove beneficial as the best individuals can go on to shape the future success of the business.