‘Picky’ university graduates turn down record number of top jobs

There were 1,074 places left unfilled in 2015

High-flying “choosy” graduates from elite universities turned down a record number of top jobs last year and left more than 1,000 posts unfilled, a major new report has revealed.

Some of the best-paid graduate jobs were left vacant last year after unprecedented numbers of final-year university students rejected employers’ offers or reneged on offers they had accepted before graduation, according to the analysis by High Fliers Research.

There were 1,074 places left unfilled in 2015 – the highest number since the market research firm started its annual analysis in 1994. In 2014 there were just 700 unfilled positions, while in 2010 there were fewer than 100 places unfilled.

While there are always a few specialist roles that employers struggle to fill because of a shortage of graduates with the relevant degrees, this year the main reason given by the employers who didn’t fill all their vacancies was graduates turning down offers or reneging on offers they had already accepted earlier in the recruitment round.

Martin Birchall, managing director of High Fliers Research, said graduates were becoming “increasingly choosy” about the employers they joined. “Last year record numbers turned down employers’ job offers or changed their mind about an offer they had accepted during their final months at university,” said Mr Birchall. “As a result, more than 1,000 graduate positions at some of the country’s most popular and sought-after employers were left unfilled.”

He said that this year employers had introduced a range of measures, such as mentoring and open days to try to ensure that graduates who accepted job offers would not change their minds before they started work. 

He added: “There are two distinct portion of the market. At the top end, employers have told us that the most sought-after graduates are holding four or five offers. Overall we probably have twice as many graduates as there are jobs, but at the top end graduates are becoming increasingly choosy.”

This year Britain’s top employers are preparing to recruit their biggest-ever intake of university graduates, with 7.5 per cent more jobs on offer than in 2015, the fourth consecutive year that the number of vacancies for university-leavers has risen.

The report, The Graduate Market in 2016, is a study of graduate vacancies, starting salaries and undergraduate work experience programmes at the country’s 100 leading employers, conducted by High Fliers Research in December 2015.

The median graduate starting salary at the country’s leading employers in 2016 is expected to be £30,000 for the second year running, but graduate pay at the top law firms, investment banks and accounting & professional services firms has increased this year.

The most generous salaries in 2016 are those offered by investment banks (median of £47,000), law firms (£41,000), banking and finance companies (£36,000) and oil and energy companies (£32,500).

The highest published graduate starting salaries for 2016 include Aldi (£42,000), law firms Allen & Overy, Baker & McKenzie, Herbert Smith Freehills and Linklaters (all £42,000) and the European Commission (£41,500).

The research also shows that graduate employers are continuing to expand their paid work-experience programmes for university undergraduates and are offering a record number of paid internships, vacation work experience and course placements in 2016.

Recruiters say they expect a third of this year’s full-time graduate positions to be filled by graduates who have already worked for their organisations, either through paid internships, industrial placements or vacation work.

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