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Jamie Lawrence

Wagestream

Insights Director

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Interview: Gerry Wyatt, Operations Director, graduate-jobs.com

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1. What are today’s graduates looking for from modern employers?

To be honest, I don’t think the fundamentals of what the majority of graduates are looking for have changed all that much over the years.

They’re eager to start their career and discover the working world, and the typical graduate is looking to do so in a secure and supportive environment.

Graduates are often hungry to learn, and keen to gain experience within a particular industry, whether through formal training or informal mentoring. And of course, they look to be paid what they consider to be a decent living wage.

These things have remained more or less the same over the nearly 15 years graduate-jobs.com have been helping graduates begin their careers. In our experience, most graduates are realistic in terms of the benefits they can expect at the outset of their career, and are actually looking to find jobs with employers that offer clearly outlined training and mentoring opportunities within the role. Many graduates have a ‘make up for lost time’ attitude once they begin their career, and want a strong foundation for their working lives from which to springboard into their chosen career.

2. What three mistakes do graduates most often make when trying to get a job?

The more incisively a graduate approaches their job application process, the more likely they are to succeed. One of the main mistakes we see is when graduates forget the basics, such as applying for roles they just aren’t qualified for. Many employers set minimum requirements which are overlooked by some graduates, whether through optimism or oversight. If the job application says ‘minimum 1st’ and a graduate has a 2:1, it isn’t rocket science that they shouldn’t waste their time and the employer’s time by applying. Instead graduates should spend time finding the most interesting jobs that are suited to their CV.

Secondly, many graduates are firing off the same standard cover letter to multiple employers. It shows a lack of care. Our research shows that creating tailored cover letters for each role graduates apply for improves their chances of being called for interview. It’s an absolute must, yet many graduates continue to take shortcuts.

Finally, many graduates have unrealistic expectations about beginning their career. It’s vital to be realistic. Don’t expect the first job to be the dream job. Compromises may have to be made in order to start climbing the career ladder. It might not be “Trainee Marketing Manager – West London, £36k”, yet “Marketing Executive – North London, £22k” is a strong start. It’s crucial that graduates seize opportunities when they present themselves, rather than waiting for the perfect job. In 12 months time graduates will be competing with another year of graduating students – so they have to get that foot in the door!

3. How are graduate attitudes to careers evolving?

The introduction, and subsequent increase, of tuition fees means that the decision to go to university is a serious one. Given the debt they’ll incur, there’s now a greater emphasis on university as a route to a career – not just a 3-4 year jolly. We’ve witnessed a growth in students in their first and second years of university beginning their career search. Ten years ago one-in-eight students on our site registered in their first or second year of university, now it’s one-in-four.

4. If you could only tell employers one thing about the graduate mindset, what would it be?

Graduates know more than employers think they do, and they’re keen to show what they’re capable with when trusted by their employers. Employers can do more to harness the enthusiasm of graduates starting out on their chosen career path. Today’s graduates are also more clued up to what’s going on in the world, and have a greater awareness of business as a result. Generation Y has grown up with the internet. They have instant access to a wealth of information about companies, from review websites, news, employee blogs, or work/personal Twitter accounts of employees. They can arrive at interview with a completely different, fully-formed opinion of your company compared to what you were expecting.

5. The working world is often a ‘wakeup call’ for young people. What three lessons do you wish you could tell graduates before they enter the working world?

Firstly, be aware of the relevancy of your degree to the job you want. Chances are there isn’t a big overlap. Graduates have to be able to demonstrate the skills that are required for the job they want. It’s no longer the case that employers will hire someone as a blank slate and be expected to fully train a graduate to do the job. It’s a hirer’s market, and graduates have to make sure they stand out as the best qualified or most capable candidate for the role.

Demonstrating initiative is always impressive, and candidates who’ve voluntarily involved themselves in a real-world project that showcased their relevant skills for a job they apply for are at a huge advantage. Looking to teach? Volunteer at the local school, or tutor in spare time. Hoping to get into social media marketing? Set up and run social media accounts for local organisations, demonstrate your ability at engaging people online. Basically, start doing the job you want, and eventually someone will probably pay you to do it.

Secondly, be organised about learning the market you’re looking to work in. The amount of knowledge you can pick up from subscribing to a trade magazine’s newsletter and scanning it every week is phenomenal. An understanding of the market will set you in a great position in an interview. If the job you’re applying for has a particular regional focus, be prepared to answer whether you’re willing to relocate. Graduates who are flexible on where they work have an advantage.

Finally, take time to become as proficient as possible on a computer. It’s an absolute must for a 21st century graduate. There are free websites to get the hang of basic coding, faster typing, and refresh your memory about some of the more obscure functions of Word and Excel. Every little edge over a rival candidate is important in starting a career.

6. People say work-life balance is more important than salary for today’s graduates. True?

I’m not so sure. We think there’s an understanding among graduates that when you first begin your career you put in a shift, learning as much as possible, as quickly as possible, in order to climb the ladder. Today’s graduates seem to have shifted to doing meaningful work, rather than simply chasing pound signs – yet entry level salaries aren’t especially generous, and the ‘life’ part of any work-life balance has to be funded from somewhere. Graduates know that once they’ve learnt more, achieved more and have proven to be even greater value to their company, they’re likely to be put on a salary where they can fully enjoy a work-life balance.

7. What are the key skills and abilities that employers often miss in today’s graduates?

  • Commercial awareness
  • The ability to get up to speed quickly
  • Team-working

8. People say young people nowadays have no loyalty to their employer. Is this true?

That seems harsh. I think all we’re seeing is that the graduate mindset reflects the fact that people can no longer expect to join companies for life. The moment that dynamic disintegrated, employees across the board felt the change in the relationship they had with the company they worked for. I think young people have as much loyalty towards employers as anybody else, they just recognise that first in the door is often first out, and getting overly sentimental about work’ll only end in tears.

9. What are the most common frustrations graduates feel towards the companies they work for?

The most common frustrations we hear are completely understandable – graduates who take up a role to find a lack of support and scant training, leaving them feeling very unsatisfied and unable to effectively do their job. It’s vital that employers have training programmes in place, or at least properly monitor their staff to ensure that new employees are getting the tools and training they need to be effective contributors to their company’s work.

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Jamie Lawrence

Insights Director

Read more from Jamie Lawrence
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