How to land your dream job

Opportunities in banking and IT are scarce, but the doors are wide open in construction and the public sector. So this year's graduates need not be too gloomy, reports Lucy Hodges
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The Independent Online

Graduates leaving university this summer are faced with less than rosy job prospects. Opportunities are worse than they were 12 months ago, according to a survey of university careers services.

Vacancies in the City, in investment banking and in management consultancy, as well as in IT and telecommunications, are thin on the ground, according to the preliminary results of a survey carried out by the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (AGCAS). "Jobs have dried up in financial services, advertising and marketing," says Richard Pethen, the head of Sheffield University's careers service.

That reflects what has been going on in the economy generally: the stock market has been in the doldrums and the boom is over. But the good news is that there are plenty of jobs in the public sector because this part of the economy has been expanding graduate-level positions. So, young people who are open-minded about what they might do should be able to find work in teaching, where salaries have improved, and in nursing, midwifery and social services - in fact anywhere in local authorities and the Civil Service.

And, remember, the advantage of working in local or central government is that jobs are secure and you get a proper pension at the end of it. In addition there are vacancies in construction and civil engineering, which is good news for budding architects, surveyors and estate agents.

These trends are not new. Since September 11 2001, job opportunities in the traditional graduate employment market have been lacklustre, says Bob Gilworth, the director of the careers centre at Leeds University. "A number of us have been expecting an upturn for sometime and it doesn't seem to have happened, especially among the more traditional players, the big companies that used to recruit in the past. They cut their numbers a few years ago and have not come back."

The job market for graduates seems to be changing. The big blue-chip companies, such as ICI, Shell and the big four accountancy firms, are becoming far less important. Their place is being taken by a host of newcomers, small and medium-sized companies that are often regionally based and are not household names. They may be retail companies or be specialising in technology or healthcare. The important thing is that they are looking to recruit graduates for administrative and management jobs. And the newcomers don't have the same pattern of recruitment as the big firms, says Mr Gilworth. They have a short lead time because they want to hire people immediately for vacancies they have on their books now.

Summer graduate fairs suit such companies as well as young people who want to start work as soon as they graduate. In the past few years, Mr Gilworth has noticed another trend at the Leeds University graduate recruitment fair - the arrival of NHS trusts. In the past the National Health Service would recruit graduates through central and regional training schemes. Now their need is so great that they set up stalls at the fairs to find people to fill holes in their establishments.

It is not only the employers who are changing. Graduates are also behaving differently. Students are doing less and less about searching for jobs while at university, says Chris James, head of careers at Liverpool John Moores University. After they have left they often start off in non-graduate jobs and either transform those jobs into better jobs or move into better jobs.

"Young people are taking more time to look for jobs," says Richard Pearson, director of the Institute for Employment Studies. "And they seem fairly relaxed about it." University careers offices confirm that. Young people take a much longer-term view nowadays of their careers, says Anne-marie Martin, head of the University of London careers service. "They say 'This is the job I want to do and this is how I am going to go about getting it. I am going to hang on until I get the thing that suits me best.'"

That has happened, according to Ms Martin, because students are used to working through their degree in dull part-time jobs and are prepared to carry on with them until they find the job that they passionately care about. A number of commentators take heart from the fact that graduates are behaving in a realistic fashion and going after the available jobs, for example, in teaching and the Civil Service (see The Independent, 19 June "Class of 2003 shuns the City for careers in the classroom").

"Students are very well informed, much better informed than they were in the Eighties and Nineties," says Mike Hill, the chief executive of the Careers Services Unit. John Gough, who runs the careers service at De Montfort University and is president of AGCAS, is cautiously optimistic that the fall-off in jobs has bottomed out and that things will start to look up. Carl Gilleard, chief executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters, believes there is nothing to be alarmed about.

"Graduates are getting jobs but not necessarily the jobs they want, at least not on graduation," he says. His message is that it's still worth going to university and incurring debt because you will be better placed than if you hadn't.

The London Graduate Recruitment Fair is being held today at the Business Design Centre in Upper Street, N1. For information, see Next year 'The Independent' will be sponsoring the fair