Independent Graduate: Just the job - but, sadly, it's not for you

If those spanking new qualifications aren't tempting prospective employers, don't give up. It's time to take control.
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Those students who were offered a place on the recently axed Marks & Spencer's graduate training scheme won't be alone in leaving university this summer with no job to go to. More people going into full-time higher education means that every year witnesses an increase in those entering the big wide world with no firm offer of work. But if you're among them, insist employers, take note of two messages: first, don't panic; second, take control.

Sonia Denehy, personnel controller for Kingfisher-owned MVC and vice chair of the Association of Graduate Recruiters, explains: "Graduates must be mindful of the skills employers are looking for, and if they are weak in certain areas, then the time between graduating and starting work is a good opportunity to develop them."

By "skills" Denehy means both the technical type, such as IT, and softer skills, such as decision-making, self-awareness and self-reliance, all of which can be tested at what is, for many poverty-stricken graduates, a very stressful time.

"When you do get that first interview, you will certainly be asked about how you've spent your time," continues Denehy. "A `good' response is to demonstrate you have the qualities employers are looking for, even if you've not yet had the chance to prove them in a workplace. Whatever else you do, don't make out you've been wasting time."

If you've chosen to travel, do voluntary work for a local charity or unpaid work experience, think very carefully about how to explain their benefits to potential employers, she adds. It will certainly win points at interview.

For graduates who are unsure of what career to pursue, employers advise focusing on your strengths, weaknesses and what really motivates and inspires you. Team up with a friend to analyse each other and plan a campaign. Finally, ensure you know what you must do to get the job you want.

"Make use of your local careers advisory service. It may sound obvious, but many people just don't think to visit the one local to their home," says recruitment consultant Viv Richard. "Visit one of the growing numbers of summer job fairs for graduates too."

Even for graduates who know exactly what they want to do, careers officers provide invaluable information on opportunities, placements and training schemes. In addition, regular visits can assist in building self esteem. After all, if you find your friends already have a place on a blue chip company's graduate training scheme, your confidence and motivation can be easily knocked.

"Many graduates think that, if they've not got onto a company training scheme by the time they graduate, that's it," says Richard.

"However, the significant growth in small- and medium-sized businesses - who don't have such structured recruitment programmes - often offers greater opportunities to get hands-on experience, fast."

Indeed, many universities have departments specialising in matching graduates to local small- and medium-sized businesses. One such scheme is run by the University of Liverpool, where Dr Peter Hawkins, co-founder of its Graduates into Employment unit, offers a number of other pointers to graduates.

"Put yourself in the employer's shoes. Ask yourself, `Why should they employ me?' and come up with a convincing argument," he recommends. "Remember the importance of networking. Go through your address book and family contacts: who do you know in a line of work which could help your pursue what you want to do?"

Graduates, he adds, must build their own support network. "If you're a lazy person, find someone to give you a kick up the backside every now and then. If you lack confidence, ask a friend to talk your strong points through with you." And look for role models: "Identify people a few years ahead of you in the sort of work you want, and ask them for advice."

For the significant number of graduates who will take the first job they can find to pay off student loans, however, Dr Hawkins adds a note of caution. "A growing number take any job to get cash then find themselves trapped. They work long hours in a call centre and just don't have the time to develop a career plan to pursue the job they really want. Then they end up stuck in a rut," he says.

By all means, take this summer off. After all, employers who regard this as a sign of lack of career commitment are now in the minority. But keep reminding yourself that today's graduates must be more self-reliant than ever before. It takes bottle and patience to get a foot in the door of your chosen career and, above all, success will come down to attitude.