Ignore the recession, financial organisations are still the top career choice for students

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The Independent Online

With the job market as fragile as it is, it is not exactly the most comfortable time to be leaving university and starting a career. Most observers agree that prospects for graduates are worse than they have been for decades. But that does not mean current students have lost all sense of ambition, nor that employers have abandoned the need to recruit new talent.

The recession does, though, give added interest to the results of this year's survey of British undergraduates' job aspirations by the Swedish research firm Universum.

Universum describes itself as an employer branding organisation, and every year for the last decade, it has questioned a large sample of students on their perceptions, preferences and expectations in the world of work. It also asks each respondent to select, from a list of 130 organisations, his or her top five "ideal employers," giving reasons for that choice.

It is this type of detailed, employer-specific information that, according to Christopher Van Mossevelde, Universum's global communications coordinator, that makes the survey's results of such interest to the human resources departments of the companies buying the information.

"It's important to them because they need to understand their target group, they need to know how to communicate with them and how to explain the characteristics of jobs they need to fill," he says.

So what are the stand-out themes of this year's survey? Perhaps the most striking is that the public mauling experienced by banks and financial institutions does not seem to have affected their popularity on campus.

In fact, among students on business degrees, Barclays, Lloyds TSB and Deutsche Bank, for example, all rose up the rankings of desirable employers. And the Financial Services Authority, blamed by many for missing early Credit Crunch symptoms, shot up 55 places among the same students.

"I was a bit surprised that these results weren't significantly different from the year before," says Van Mossevelde. "Maybe students just think they'll be studying for longer, until things improve. Or maybe they're just a bit aloof."

The most popular employer among business students was the bank and financial management firm J.P. Morgan, rising eight places from last year, and knocking PricewaterhouseCoopers off the top spot it'd occupied for several years.

"They must be doing something right," says Van Mossevelde. "Maybe they have more presence on campuses, or they are managing the economic downturn better."

Another reason for the rise may be that JP Morgan has recently established a presence on the social networking site, Facebook, as a means of communicating with students based in Britain, as Facebook now seems to have swept all other similar sites aside in establishing overwhelming dominance in this field.

When all 11,000 students were asked to name the social sites they regularly visited, 94 per cent named Facebook, and not a single other competitor site attracted a double figure percentage.

According to Emma Sice, account manager at Universum, this form of communication is vying with physical, word of mouth contact, in its power to influence opinions.

"You'll find blogging sites, forums and Facebook are very important," she says, "but graduates till like to see employers on campus, and friends and family contacts are also hugely influential."

In fact the results for students in all five subject categories (business, engineering/IT, natural sciences, humanities, and law) reflect the pre-eminence among the iPod generation of everything related to the Internet and modern media. Apple and the BBC alone feature in the top 30 places of all five tables. And Google is in the top 10 in four of the lists, only law students giving it a relatively cold shoulder.

As far as overall career goals are concerned, any recession-linked fears of job-insecurity seem to take second place to more fundamental, long term objectives.

"Having a work-life balance" was the top choice in this area, followed by "being competitively or intellectually challenged."

"Being secure and stable in my job" came only third in this section: a refreshing sign perhaps that today's students are not letting the worst recession since the Second World War affect their equilibrium?

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