First the degree, maybe a career

Lesley Gerard talks to two graduates with widely different experiences of job-hunting are in marked contrast

Sue Scoins, 22, with a 2:1 in accounting and management science from the University of Kent, waited until she had her degree before starting to look for a job. The risk paid off: she was snapped up by the City company Touche Ross, with a starting salary of £17,000.

Aaron Fright, 23, who graduated with a 2:2 Business Administration degree from Luton University last summer, took the opposite course. He applied for between 15 and 20 jobs before completing his course but has been unable to find a permanent job. Over the Christmas period he is working as a sales assistant in the china and glassware department of a store.

Describing her successful foray into the job market, Ms Scoins said: "I decided during my third year to concentrate on getting a good degree and tried not to worry about searching for work."

After her finals she went home to Barnstaple in Devon, worked in a hardware store and filled in application forms.

"I applied to the six biggest accountancy firms, was invited to first interviews with all of them and received job offers from two,'' she said. "I chose Touche Ross out of a gut reaction: I liked the people.''

She went on: "During the interviews it was clear that the recruiters were looking beyond my degree. They were interested in my A-levels, hobbies and extra-curricular achievements. I'd done quite a lot of sport, played the cello and went through a business enterprise scheme at university; that probably helped.

"I think firms are looking for single-minded people. But they want it both ways. They want to know you are sociable, with many outside interests; then they stress that the job is hard, the accountancy exams are tough and what are you prepared to give up?I said: `Whatever it takes to pass'."

Mr Fright said: "I started job hunting before completing my course. I must have applied for between 15 and 20 jobs and received four replies in return saying we'll keep you on file."

After leaving university he moved to Kingston-upon-Thames in Surrey and continued his quest for work. He has spent nearly £100 just on stamps and has written hundreds of letters to prospective employers.

"The reply rate was probably between 15 and 20 per cent. It is so demoralising. Most simply say thanks for taking an interest," Mr Fright said.

"I've written to 80 consultants; some gave me advice on my curriculum vitae. I've revamped my CV and cover letters so many times that I've lost count.

"I've got a goal that I'm trying to achieve. I would like a job in finance or brokering or marketing. As part of my degree I worked part-time in a marketing job so it was not as though I have not got some relevant experience.

"When I went to my graduation ceremony I was really quite low. I was worried I would be the only one who had not managed to get their career started. But when I got there I met friends and fellow graduates who said they couldn't find work either. There were quite a lot of them. I was so surprised.''

He went on: "I tell myself that as long as I keep trying I will get a good job in the end. I'm really willing to work hard and give the job my all.

"There is a joke about students: `What do you say to a student?' Answer: `I'll have a Big Mac and fries please.' I used to think that was funny. It's not very amusing any more."

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