Go Higher: Marketing mature students

Don't let ageism stand in your way, advises Tamsin Smith
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The number of mature students has increased dramatically over the last 10 years with over half finding employment after graduation and a quarter continuing onto further study.

However, many will face barriers when finding a suitable job because of discrimination over their age. And the discrimination increases with age.

The fact that most of them have taken positive steps to secure an education and gain relevant qualifications, often with significant personal sacrifices, makes them more likely to be well motivated and committed.

Many employers say mature students have skills and experience that can give them the edge over younger graduates. They are particularly valued for their commitment, realism and balanced approach, useful work experience, flexible attitudes, stability and ability to work under pressure.

"In our experience ageism is buried quite deep in the psyche of some graduate recruiters," says Lawrence Wilson of AGCAS. "Even if there are no formal age limits, some employers have a traditional image of who is suitable for graduate entry schemes. It has never been more important for mature graduates to be aware of the reality of a competitive labour market and learn how to market themselves, and their skills effectively."

University careers advisers admit that many of the companies who recruit graduates via milk rounds, graduate job fairs and fast track graduate schemes discriminated against students aged 25+, either by imposing age limitations, or through their selection methods.

A few prefer older graduates. According to the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services, social work and careers guidance and public sector jobs recruit from a very wide age range. Finance, commerce and manufacturing are less favourable.

The pressure group Employers Forum on Age and the AGACS are working towards establishing a voluntary code of practice on age discrimination, which will lead to legislation against ageism. Some companies, including Littlewoods, the Royal Bank of Scotland and Towers Perrin operate graduate schemes without age limits and have taken positive steps to encourage applicants of all ages.

With increasing pressure from the government to make people take responsibility for their employability and support from job centres, employers are realising that mature students have a lot to offer.

Lawrence Wilson says there are ten things mature students should do when job hunting.

1. Use positive language in tailored application form and at interviews.

2. Nurture contacts from previous jobs, friends and family.

3. Identify the skills you have developed during previous work and your degree course.

4. Stress you ability to hit the ground running - you already know what it is to work for a living and what an office environment will be like.

5. Remind employers that experience counts when making effective business decisions.

6. Highlight your time management and organisational skills - you have spent three years improving them.

7. Challenge and confront overt prejudice.

8. Emphasise your flexibility and ability to work in a mixed age environment.

9. Sell the fact that you have the experience of which younger graduates can only dream.

10. Convey your reliability, loyalty and maturity.

"I don't know why employers favour graduates in their early twenties compared to those in their thirties, other than they perhaps think they will get a better return on their investment, " says Mr Wilson.

"That may have been true 20 years ago when there was such a thing as a job for life, but it is not true nowadays. Research shows that most graduates only keep their first job for an average of three years before moving.

"It is arguable that mature students make better employees because (a) they know what it is like to work, and will therefore settle down quicker, and (b) they are used to office politics, and (c) they are perhaps more settled in life and more likely to remain with a firm for longer than a younger graduate."

He emphasises that the problems mature students face are not insurmountable with determination and preparedness.

"The first thing they should do is make good use of the university's support services. Nearly all colleges and universities run workshops on how to prepare and improve your CV, how to fill in application forms and present yourself in interviews."