I am going to make a statement and I have a feeling I may be banned from every university or educational establishment for saying so, but I believe the days of acquiring a first in your degree to guarantee a job is dead and gone!

I propose that the rules of acquiring a job when you have left education have changed but the careers coaches and key influencers in your life decisions (parents, family) have not and this disconnect between what private industry need and education is providing is one of the main reasons we have such a high unemployment rate of 16-25 year olds in the UK right now.

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The Job market is different to ever before

We have more people than ever before staying in education and this alone makes it more challenging for you.

  • In 2016 alone 535,200 students have joined a university, this is up 0.5%. In England, 43 per cent of the young population enter higher education by age 19, this is the highest level ever!
  • Almost one in four (24%) graduated with a first last year, compared with 17% – just over one in six – in 2011/12, according to data published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA).
  • An annual survey of graduate recruiters showed an 8% drop in vacancies on a year ago as companies also cited concerns about a new apprenticeship levy to be paid by all big employers from next April.
  • Stephen Isherwood, head of graduate recruitment at Ernst & Young said: “A good degree from a respected university no longer guarantees a job. We interview over 3,000 bright graduates every year, but only about 25% have the all-round skill set we recruit for.

What this says is that employers have made a cultural shift in what they look for in graduates….and why not? They are spoilt for choice!

Would you not change the rules of the game if over half a million people wanted to play it!?

This is some pretty sad news to read I must admit, however just by reading this you have an advantage over your peers.

You now know something that the majority of your competition does not and that is acquiring an education is simply not enough to be successful and you will have to demonstrate additional skills and behaviours to stand out from the crowd.

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What are these skills?

The key words Stephen Isherwood said where “only about 25% have the all-round skill set we recruit for”

That says to me that there is a major deficit between what we know when we leave education and what is valued by employers from graduates – I have also seen this when recruiting graduates and creating their development programs.

I believe that the skill set Stephen is referring to can only be learnt outside of education and are usually the first things you learn in a career.

Skills such as:

  • Resilience
  • Self-awareness
  • Self-development
  • Influencing skills
  • Intrinsic motivation
  • Customer service (and how to deal with upset people)

The list goes on and on and depending on the role you want these will differ (see my blog on interview tips to get the upper hand in this area)

Experience share

Over the last 5 years I have successfully completed a graduate scheme for a top 10 graduate company (times 100 list), Worked in graduate recruitment and talent/HIPO development for said company and been fast tracked after my graduate scheme and I left a metropolitan university just scraping a 2:1.

Employers know that you are capable because you have a degree with a good mark and they know they can teach you their ways of working and cultural stuff but if you don’t have the right behaviours and skills to work at that level then no amount of education will help you.

This was really evident for me when I first applied to my graduate scheme. I had a job on the counters at my local ASDA making pizzas during my time at university. Admittedly this was because I have an expensive lifestyle to accommodate and generally spent my entire student loan in the first 6 weeks.

Although at the time the main perks of the job included being able to get first dibs on the reduced section and being able to make 15 topping pizzas to take home, I had no idea I would actually be able to use this to catapult me into the career I have now.

When it came to the final assessment day of my interviews for a grad scheme I remember walking into the room where all the candidates met in the morning. I politely walked around the room introducing myself to my competition and trying to suss out my chances.

Hand shake after handshake followed by some politics masters from oxford or doctorate from another red brick university and here was me with my 2:1 in business from Leeds met. I ended up quietly slipping to the back of the room where I met another candidate who had made the same mistake as me called Dan. We both laughed and joked about being out gunned on paper as Dan had a degree in golf course management from Manchester met and had worked for American Golf during his degree.

We all quickly started our assessment day and split away from each other all hoping for the best outcome. It was only during the interview process did my hidden behaviours come to life from my days on the pizza counter (something I now look out for when recruiting graduates)

I was fortunate enough to be successful and on my induction day I looked everywhere to see if the impressive candidates I had nailed on during the assessment centre where there. I did not see a single person I recognised except for one guy….Dan the golf course management guy!

As we went around the room of accepted candidates talking about ourselves the one thing that stood out to me was not the degrees as these varied but that every single person had a job whilst at university from bar work to lab work and that is something that has always stuck with me.

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My solution to the problem at hand.

So now it has been established that having a first is not enough to acquire the job you really want what do you do with this information?

From my time in talent development the one thing that sticks with me is a comment one of my colleagues said when I first started “it’s all about spotting skills and behaviours, we know they are clever enough for the job but what we are looking for is the key competencies that will allow then to fit into our business”

I would suggest you change your tact and instead of spending 40 hours a week mentally grinding yourself to acquire the best grade possible, instead strategically work towards a 2:1 in your grades but use the spare time to get a job or do some volunteering work and take deliberate action to grow your CV at the same time as thriving educationally.

Use your working time as a part of your education. Going out of your way master certain skills and push yourself out of your comfort zones. This will develop you sub consciously and will be very evident when it comes to applying to jobs.

You will be more confident and driven around potential employers. You will have more examples and be able to demonstrate some of the skills we have talked about much better than your competition who have not entered the working world.

This job can be one day a week, Literally 4 hours a week in a role over the course of 3 years would be 624 hours of work and skill development that you can talk about when you are interviewing.

This could be working in a bar or shop or even a paper round! Any of these can be talked up to advance your CV when it really counts (bar work encompasses customer service, working under pressure, working as part of a team)

I admit what I have said here is against the norm of what people around you will be saying but the way I see it the well-trodden path no longer works and if you are going to stand out when you leave university you cannot go the same way everyone else has gone.

So I implore you….be brave, step away from the status quo and you too will no doubt be telling someone else about how you did it against people who did the same thing the other 90% of unimployed gradutes did.

Good luck my fellow graduates!

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