Tammy Goldfeld: 'Career services such as ours have had to change their approach radically'

Click to follow
The Independent Online

October is an exciting time in the calendar of a university careers service. After welcoming new students at the Freshers' Fair, the recruitment season begins in earnest.

UK and overseas recruiters descend on campus and compete with each other in the hope of attracting the best students and graduates to their organisations, in an ongoing war for talent. Hundreds of employers' recruitment campaigns are launched at fairs, campus presentations and skills workshops, even now, thankfully, during an economic downturn.

Careers staff go into overdrive mode. Careers advisers deal with the keen students who are eager for expert advice on part-time jobs, applications, or simply how to get started. They also offer help to students in person and virtually – by email, on blogs and websites. They teach accredited careers management skills modules, and lead talks and workshops on a variety of topics.

During October, we are also organising five major fairs (all supported by The Independent), including the Engineering, Science and Technology Fair, and the Finance, Business and Management Fair. Students and graduates from all universities are very welcome to attend. On each day, more than 70 leading recruiters will be promoting their graduate training schemes, vacation placements and work experience opportunities. While some exhibitors will have immediate vacancies, most opportunities will be for 2010.

We closely track student attendance at events, and, so far this term, it is pretty good. Inspiring some students to start their career-planning early, however, is not an easy task. One would think that the risk of leaving university with hefty debts to enter a competitive and difficult labour market with no job would drive most students into action. In reality, we find this is not always the case.

Despite all our efforts, a proportion of students choose to bury their heads in the sand and avoid thinking about their employability. When asked why, such students explain that their graduate career seems a long way off; that thinking about the future can be daunting, especially if they are undecided about which path to follow. Others are under the (misguided) impression that a good degree will be enough to secure a good job.

As recruiters receive nearly 50 applications on average for every job vacancy (Association of Graduate Recruiters, 2009), graduates need much more than a degree to stand out from the crowd. They need to take part in a variety of activities such as volunteering, work experience or be involved in student societies. These experiences will help them to develop the skills employers seek, such as communication, problem-solving and teamworking.

And so, in order to reach students with our employability message, careers services such as ours have had to change their approach radically. Rather than wait for students to visit us, we now hit the road and go out to them. We set up stalls in halls of residence, the students' union and in academic buildings on campus.

As already mentioned, we also provide a lot of services online, so that students can access us 24/7. We also recruit students to act as marketing interns to advise us how best to reach students, produce promotional videos and to help us with our marketing campaigns.

Some students assume that careers services are there to help only those who wish to enter global businesses or traditional professions such as accountancy and law. Nothing could be further from the truth. While we work closely with these sectors and many multinationals, equally we offer events and expertise about a whole range of career areas such as the media, education, arts administration and public sector jobs.

We promote opportunities with small businesses and encourage students to consider setting up their own businesses. We have just run a successful community fete highlighting volunteering and employment opportunities in the not-for-profit sector.

We are currently conducting a survey to learn how the recession is affecting students' job searches. Early findings reveal that students are indeed very concerned about their future prospects, and many feel that they do need to gain extra skills to make them more employable. Some are considering further study to ride out the recession. Whatever your plans, remember that your university careers service can help.

Comments