There is a mistaken belief among graduates that those who recruit them once shared the same aspirations. Many graduate recruiters similarly err in thinking that those they recruit are younger versions of themselves.

Each year Mori surveys the attitudes of more than 1,000 final-year undergraduates. They ask, among other things, what factors are important in career choice. 'Sufficient intellectual challenge', mentioned this year by 55 per cent, consistently tops the list. The importance of other factors is less stable. Some changes in relative importance probably depend on the state of the graduate job market, but others appear to be more fundamental.

The 'opportunity to be creative and original' was important to 30-37 per cent in each of the 12 years from 1981 to 1992. This year it was important to 41 per cent.

'Long-term career opportunities' were important to 24-30 per cent until this year, when 35 per cent rated them as important.

'Long-term employment security' has also become more important. In 1982, when university graduate unemployment was even higher than it is now, it was important to 13 per cent. In 1989, when demand for graduates was at its peak, this had risen to 16 per cent, and this year it stands at 22 per cent.

Perhaps the most surprising change has been in making 'full and constructive use of your time'. Each year between 1981-89 this was mentioned by 30 per cent or more of finalists. This year it was mentioned as important by only 24 per cent.

There are obvious contradictions in graduate aspirations. A growing proportion want to be creative and original - to be explorers - and want the stability of long-term career opportunities and long-term employment security. But they do not want to make full and constructive use of their time.

Unfortunately, these changes run counter to what employers increasingly expect. Most have restructured, shedding whole tiers of management and decentralising their activities. The recent IMS Graduate Review 1993, from the Institute of Manpower Studies, notes that 'as organisations change their requirements and restructure, the entry experiences and early career patterns of graduates are changing too'.

The review reports that fewer graduates are entering formal management training programmes. 'More organisations are building in greater flexibility to their graduate entry and development schemes . . . . This is seen in the shorter length of some schemes, the introduction of hybrid schemes, more direct job entry linked to personal development programmes, and the offering to graduates of limited term rather than permanent employment contracts.

'There is a need for graduates to become more productive sooner . . . . There is more individualised and self-directed learning and fewer standardised programmes . . . . Graduates increasingly are expected to take more responsibility in managing their own careers.'

It is clear that fewer employers are offering long-term job security and that individuals are expected to make full and productive use of their time and create their own long-term career opportunities.

David Cannon, the research director of PRL, the Cambridge-based research and personnel communications company, has studied the changing aspirations of graduates for several years.

In 1990 he described his work in Britain and North America to the Association of Graduate Recruiters. He said that the graduates of the day, whom he called 'generation X', had different aspirations from the 'baby boomers' graduating in the Seventies and into the Eighties.

He said baby boomers love adventure, independence and risk, can work to general goals and tolerate ambiguity and multiple answers. They can write, speak and carry out self-directed research well. They are suspicious of corporate ideology and distrust authority, but can be forgiving if it errs. They loathe evaluation. They want to be 'artists' at what they do, value creativity and want to do things 'my way'. Many recruiters in their thirties and forties are baby boomers.

In contrast, generation X graduates fear boredom and prefer short-term projects. They love information and processes and feel powerful from knowing 'how'. They work best with concrete goals, expect clear standards and procedures, prefer guided practice supervised by organised people, and crave continuous feedback. They overestimate their communication and research skills. They demand corporate ideology and trust authority but are unforgiving when it errs. They love evaluation. They want to be 'experts' at what they do. Young recruiters are likely to be of this generation.

Today's graduates have moved on from generation X. Mr Cannon sees them as more self-preoccupied and cynical. 'The recession has sunk in and they don't believe we're now going into huge, beautiful times - it's going to be difficult from here on.

'The people I've been talking to are more calculating in their approach . . . more cynical. Certainly they're believing and trusting organisations a lot less. Their affiliation with organisations now is to say 'let's just take it a month at a time and see how it goes'. Prior to this, people did want to join a corporate family of some nature. There was a strong thirst for family in generation X, but that's waned.'

He believes there is a growing concern with such practical issues. They ask 'What kind of trade are you going to give me? What sort of software am I going to pick up at your firm? What type of car? What are your benefits packages? All these were important to generation X, but have moved up in importance. What's moved down is things like affiliation, joining some sort of corporate family and, to some degree, variety and challenge.'

He advises graduates: 'Do more research . . . . You've heard a lot of bad news, rumours are rife . . . there aren't many jobs, the jobs are all horrible, you get taken advantage of, problems in the United Kingdom economy, problems in Europe]

'Find out for yourself. Go beyond rumours in newspapers, rumours at your college. Make your own decisions. There are still some very good jobs and careers - but you need to go out there and be a wise shopper.'