Jane Ratchford: Graduates from ethnic minorities need to be proactive in their job search

Higher education is seen as a positive move by many, not only to develop intellectually and socially but in order to secure a professional job and career. Minority ethnic students are well represented in Higher Education, with approximately 16 per cent taking a first degree, compared to 9 per cent of the working population. This provides some evidence that minority ethnic students and graduates are keen to enter a professional career.

However, research indicates that minority ethnic students face real difficulties in the job market and are at least twice as likely to be unemployed as their white counterparts. There are important and worrying disparities in the labour market performance between minority ethnic and white graduates, that are not attributable to different levels of education and skills. The persistence of workplace discrimination is an important reason for this. Limited access to job and social networks also has a negative impact. A lack of role models within certain professions make it difficult to get a "foot in the door" and a lack of relevant work experience can sometimes lead to a lack of confidence when it comes to applying for jobs.

However, things are changing. Firstly, many organisations are now actively looking to recruit black and Asian staff. In the past this approach often reflected a need for companies to demonstrate that they were meeting the demands of anti-discriminatory legislation. Now it is being driven by recognition that recruiting a diverse workforce is a business imperative if companies are to reflect the communities they serve both in the UK and in the global market. Businesses know that they need to recruit more minority ethnic graduates into management if they are to maintain their competitive edge.

The competition to recruit the best possible graduate talent has also intensified and many organisations now realise that they will miss out on recruiting the best if they fail to target candidates from minority ethnic backgrounds.

Secondly, many universities and graduate recruiters have developed innovative provision designed to enhance the employability of black and Asian students and to place them in jobs. These include mentoring programmes where you can be linked to an employer from your career area, diversity job fairs, work experience projects and websites such as www.blackandasiangrad.ac.uk

Minority ethnic students and graduates need to be proactive in their job search. Visiting their university careers service is a good first step to take. Here they can source excellent advice from a careers adviser as well as begin to research jobs and companies. The careers service will also be able to advise you on any specific programmes or initiatives targeted at minority ethnic students.

Networks play an important part in promoting the vast number of job vacancies that are never advertised. The majority of black and Asian graduates do not have access to the same network of contacts enjoyed by some white students. Minority ethnic students and graduates should be prepared to develop their own networks and aim to make contact with graduate recruiters through employer presentations on campus, at graduate recruitment fairs, through mentoring programmes and by approaching named contacts given in printed and online material.

There are many publications, websites and initiatives available for minority ethnic students where you will find employers keen to target you as well as offering good support and advice for job hunters.

Obviously, employers are not just going to offer you a job because you are a minority ethnic graduate and they want to recruit more to their organisation. Employers are looking for graduates who have additional competencies such as team-working, leadership, planning and organisational skills, initiative, motivation, career focus and business awareness. Having good academic qualifications is not the only prerequisite for a career in the graduate marketplace.

Be aware of the range of evidence that potential employers want from graduates and make sure you develop it. You may not have the time or the inclination to become president of a society, but there are other ways that you can develop the same skills either inside or outside of university.

Get an objective view of your strengths and weaknesses. You may be underselling yourself, and most weaknesses can be rectified to some extent.

Employers are keen to increase applications from minority ethnic students and are happy to offer advice. Capitalising on these personal contacts can give minority ethnic students and graduates a competitive edge in an increasingly tough recruitment market.

Jane Ratchford is director, University of Manchester and UMIST Careers Service

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