Current job prospects for students seeking careers in finance, business and management are encouraging. The summer 2007 survey of the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) revealed that accountancy and professional services offered the highest percentage of graduate vacancies last year (23 per cent), followed by banking and financial services (12 per cent). There were also many vacancies in general management development programmes.
The same survey reported the number of graduate vacancies in all sectors rising by nearly 13 per cent over 2006, while 49 per cent of recruiters expected graduate recruitment levels to stay the same, and 29 per cent expected to hire slightly more graduates, in 2008. Nor is it just the big players. The University of Manchester's Careers Service has seen a rising number of vacancies being advertised across organisations of various sizes.
Most finance, business and management employers accept applications from students from any degree discipline. Investment banks and some large accountancy firms, being international organisations, particularly welcome applications from international students and those with language skills for certain positions.
This doesn't mean, however, that securing a job in these areas is easy. The number of students graduating each year is continuing to increase. This year, AGR employers received an average of 29 applications per vacancy, with Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) companies receiving the highest number of applications, an average of 104 for each position. Many employers also have ever-increasing requirements, and report difficulties in finding applicants who demonstrate the necessary skills and standards for the job.
Comprehensive sifting processes with high standards are used to help employers find the right candidate for the job.
Spelling and grammar in application forms, as well as the substance of the answers, are monitored closely. One company I know will reject an application as soon as a spelling mistake is spotted, since it receives plenty of good applications with no errors.
Applicants are increasingly asked to complete ability tests. The AGR survey found that 92 per cent of employers considered psychometric testing to be a useful or very useful aid to the recruitment process. From my own experiences of running practice tests, and discussions with colleagues at other universities, tests on verbal comprehension and interpretation of numerical data do cause problems for some students. However, practice can improve performance in ability tests, and university careers services can provide practice test material.
When it comes to interviews, with countless books, leaflets, magazine articles and websites giving tips on technique, there should be no excuse for getting it wrong. There's plenty of help out there for students to use. At Manchester, for example, we conduct mock videoed interviews.
The final stage is usually an assessment day, or days, where a candidate's performance is assessed through exercises with other candidates and interactions with staff. The need to work with other people is vital and is one of the main competencies assessed by all employers.
The mantra for graduate job applicants should be "preparation, preparation, preparation." Finance and management employers tell me candidates consistently let themselves down with poor preparation; lack of research into the organisation and role applied for, and little commercial awareness. Students should attend as many career-related events as they can and start preparing as soon as possible by regular reading of the financial press, keeping abreast of current events and the general economy.
Finally, many finance and management employers use summer internship programmes for pre-final year students as a way of identifying potential employees. It's a great way for students to sample working in an organisation and possibly obtaining a job offer before that hectic final year. Use university careers services, attend careers events and visit online facilities such as Prospects (www.prospects.ac.uk) to find out who offers these opportunities, and apply as early as possible.
The Finance, Business and Management Fair takes place on 24 October at Manchester Central from 10.30am-4pm: www.manchester.ac.uk/careers/fairs
The author is careers consultant at the Manchester Leadership Programme, Careers & Employability Division, The University of ManchesterReuse content