James Morrison asks why male graduates are twice as likely to be out of work as their female peers

Living on benefits and a diet of Trisha and Happy Shopper pasta may not sound like the most constructive use of a university education. But, according to new research, that's exactly what many young men may still be doing months after graduating.

A survey by the Higher Education Careers Services Unit (Hecsu) of more than 200,000 former students has revealed that eight per cent of male graduates remain jobless six months after leaving university - a level three per cent higher than the overall unemployment rate.

Their plight contrasts with that of their female counterparts, most of whom would rather be in temporary work, whether paid or voluntary, than on the dole. Only 4.7 per cent of women are unemployed six months after graduating.

Moreover, over the past four years just 39 per cent of the customers of C2, Britain's biggest careers advisory service for graduates, have been men.

So why exactly is it taking male graduates so much longer than their female counterparts to find, or seek, gainful employment?

Mike Hill, Hecsu's chief executive, puts it down to two perceived masculine traits - poor organisation and arrogance - and believes that parallels can be drawn with the difference between male and female performance throughout the education system.

"The trend that has emerged over the last 10 years is that women are outperforming men in terms of diligence and organisation," he says. "This is apparent at GCSE, A-level and increasingly at higher levels. Men should follow women's example, and be less arrogant, less bullish and more humble."

He says the survey suggests that most women appreciate the fact that even a temping job with no direct relationship to their degree or career aspirations can at least help to pay off student debt and give them transferable skills.

But Jane Artess, Hecsu's research manager, is wary of treating the disparity as "intrinsically gender-related". She says the fact that some graduates take longer to find jobs than others might simply mean that they weren't on the right courses in the first place.

Yet if more men than women are realising, after the event, they made a mistake in their choice of degree, doesn't this itself suggest a gender gap in terms of forward planning? And why should male graduates be so reticent about seeking career advice?

Andy Jackson, head of consultancy at C2, an offshoot of the University of London careers service, says that dismissing men as poorly organised is too glib. But, asked about the type of advice sought by male graduates, he concedes: "There's a tendency for men to be quite left-brained. They are more likely to come in and say: 'Could you sort my CV out?' They seem to have the attitude, 'I know what I'm doing.'" Jackson feels that an "alpha male" mentality might account for the unwillingness of some to accept a job that is "second-best".

To make the most out of their first few months in the job market, male graduates could be volunteering. Of the 200,000 volunteers currently working through the national charity TimeBank, only 37 per cent are men - despite the fact that many opportunities are specifically suited to them. These include Back to Life, a new initiative that recruits mentors for young men recovering from mental health problems.

As for longer-term options, openings are now emerging in traditionally female-dominated professions such as human resources and PR. Henry Rummins, 21, had no career plan when he graduated with a degree in geography from Oxford last year. During a spell of unemployment he began to think laterally about his abilities and applied for work experience with the London-based PR firm Twelve Consultancy. He is now an account executive.

"I only sought guidance after my exams, and I think that was my mistake," he confesses. "It was very easy to treat the summer after graduating as just another vacation, but you have to be proactive."

For tips on interviews and writing CVs, see www.workingcareers.com; www.doctorjob.co.uk offers sector by sector breakdown; www.gradunet.co.uk offers links to other resources