So how do you stay ahead now everyone's a graduate?

Employers have a new way to pick the high-fliers - an aptitude test from the US.

The country's largest ever computerised employment skills test for students was launched this week. It is the latest attempt to ease employers' concerns about the rapidly growing number of graduates entering the job market.

The Graduate Employability Test (GET) has been imported from the world- wide testing specialist Sylvan Prometric whose corporate clients include BT, IBM and Microsoft. UK experts have refined the US test format to measure and profile the skills most often specified by employers, offering an added insight into an applicant's employability.

GET will be available to students at 50 testing centres throughout the UK. It focuses on three areas: basic computer literacy, business acumen and awareness and a psychometric test. Each has been developed with a local expert: the National Computing Centre, BTech (Business & Technology Education Council) and industrial psychologists Saville & Holdsworth, respectively.

"There's a real issue that students are invisible when they emerge from university," GET's director, Jonathan Brill, explains. "Many institutions are unknown to those recruiting, so often they resort to dealing only with ones they know about."

While a degree proves a level of intellect, it does not adequately communicate a candidate's more practical skills, he adds. You can't pass or fail GET. Instead, performance can be rated according to an employer's particular needs. "It is not telling people whom to employ, it should actually encourage them to recruit from a wider pool."

Aptitude tests have been established for many years in the US. Their more recent evolution in the UK is become all the more topical in the light of Sir Ron Dearing's review of higher education due to be published this spring. One option is to scrap the honours degree system.

According to Professor John Stoddart, chairman of the Higher Education Quality Council, a quango advising on degree reform, the traditional concept of a degree as "a tradable currency" across the higher education sector is in decline. Employers are already starting to take things into their own hands, selecting according to less reliable criteria which can range from A-level grades to postcodes, even the slope of an applicant's handwriting.

GET's focus is final-year students. "In the first instance it should be used by those eager to get ahead," Brill says. "Should they use it to apply to, for example, Mercedes and not get in they can simply use the same result for an application to Ford." The test will cost them pounds 85+VAT.

Credibility amongst employers will be the key to GET's success. Already, better firms with good human-resource teams are assessing what it can show, Brill claims. "Obviously, support is something that will emerge through market forces. But we are confident it has significant potential."

Walter Greaves, managing director of Mercedes, agrees. "What we need from employees is ability to adapt and learn and keep on learning. If we can get an accurate indicator, then it's a very good start."

Others, however, are not so sure. Tom Lovell, manager of Reed Graduates, the graduate recruitment specialist, points out: "Employers want evidence of initiative, drive and communication skills, but these are always difficult to ascertain in tests like this." Then there's the issue of cost. "Whether cash-strapped graduates will want to spend nearly pounds 100 on the GET test is debatable"n

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