Education & Family

Graduate jobs: The hunters and the hunted

Students leaving university this year are facing intense competition for jobs. What do employers want and what is like chasing a job when there are so many applicants for every vacancy?


Image caption Aldi wants applicants with a mix of academic and social skills

This is the volume of graduate applications for the Aldi retail group's management scheme, which offers the carrot of a £40,000 starting salary rising to £61,000 in three years.

So how does the company decide who to interview? Among those who survive an initial filtering from an online form, applicants need to have a 2:1 degree and recruiters are looking for evidence of leadership and commitment outside of studies.

"For us, graduates who stand out from the mix are those that combine academic and non-academic skills and experiences," says head of graduate recruitment Richard Holloway.

"Leading a local or university sports team, carrying out voluntary or charity work, having a part-time job, or going the extra mile to reach individual potential is favoured over first-class honours."

But getting as far as an interview depends on a persuasive CV. And Aldi give some tips - advising applicants to provide an informative, succinct and spell-checked account of achievements, qualifications and skills, not spreading beyond two pages.

It even gives the best font to use. It's Arial 11 point.


Image caption Simon Prince says degrees are the "new A-levels"

Simon Prince graduated this summer with a 2:1 from Lancaster University. He wants a job in finance, but is now looking at management, IT or "any business graduate opportunity". He has applied for 10 jobs in the past week.

"My attempts to find a job are proving tougher than I imagined. From what I can tell, there are jobs out there, it's just that there aren't that many, and for the few there are, there are tons of graduates like me competing for them.

"I still hold out hope of finding something eventually, even if it isn't something I had spent four years to get. The problem is confounded by the fact that I will be competing with all last year's graduates as well.

"Most of my friends who completed university are struggling to find jobs, even those who finished two years ago. It's especially difficult for my friends who wish to remain in the north.

"I now realise how essential it is to make yourself unique by doing something different. I think a lot of people including myself will come to the conclusion that the best solution will be to extend our time in education by doing a masters or some other form of qualification.

"I think we as a society should seriously consider the value of a university degree. It has become nothing more than the new A-level. It seems that sooner or later you'll need to study until you're in your thirties before you'll be able to apply for a graduate role."


Image caption Ernst and Young say applicants should look beyond the City of London

The financial sector is one of the more optimistic areas for recruitment - with recent surveys suggesting a recovery after last year's collapse in graduate jobs.

The international accountancy firm, Ernst and Young, has increased its graduate intake by 30% since last year - with plans to recruit 900 university leavers to start work in 2011.

But it's tough competition - as last year's smaller number of vacancies drew 15,000 applications. Again, the company wanted people to have 2:1 degrees, but it's not an automatic cut-off.

"If they have a good story to tell we are interested in hiring them," said a spokesperson.

The firm's UK head of graduate recruitment, Stephen Isherwood, says young people might have to look further afield than the City of London this year.

"Not all of the jobs available to graduates are located in the UK's major cities. Graduates need to get on their bikes for work this year, look around for opportunities and be prepared to be flexible.

"There are some fantastic opportunities to work for major global organisations like Ernst & Young, based in towns up and down the country such as Reading and Southampton, which provide the same career development opportunities as being based in a major UK city."


Image caption This year's graduates are up against those still job-hunting from last year

"I just want to get a foot in the door, something that will give me the extra confidence," says Essie Johnson-Evering, who graduated last year with a 2:1 in psychology from the University of Liverpool.

The increase in applications this year reflects the number of last year's graduates who are still looking for jobs - with last year's graduates now competing with this year's.

The class of 2009 faced a jobs market that was rocked by the recession - and Essie describes a year of applications and disappointment.

She is unsure what career she wants to pursue, but she says she has now sent off hundreds of applications for a jobs ranging from market research to banking.

The lack of feedback becomes frustrating, she says, particularly if all that comes back is an automated e-mail reply.

"You've no idea where you went wrong," she says.

When she gets an interview, she says her hopes are raised. But then there is disappointment as she misses out on getting the job.

And there are questions about how fair the jobs market is for new graduates - how many jobs are not openly advertised and how many are really open to all applicants.

She has now moved back with her parents - and she says some of her friends have gone on to study postgraduate courses in a bid to improve their qualifications and job chances.

"It's definitely hard at the moment," she says.

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