Rob Spurgeon: Graduates should make full use of recruitment schemes and exhibitions

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With top-up fees soaring and the average student debt now rising well above £10,000, students face a daunting financial future when leaving university.

With top-up fees soaring and the average student debt now rising well above £10,000, students face a daunting financial future when leaving university. In a survey of visitors to The National Graduate Recruitment Exhibition in February 2004, 58 per cent of students said they would have reconsidered going to university if they had known the outlook was so bleak. The question is, how can this mountain be returned to a more manageable mole hill?

Graduate recruitment schemes are often the answer to a student's prayers, offering financial stability and a short cut to success. Some welcome news for the graduates of 2005 is that the IRS (Industrial Relations Services) Employment Review found that the demand for graduates is set to increase in 2004-05.

So why are graduate schemes so popular to both the recruiter and the graduate? Asda Wal-Mart recruit approximately 60 graduates a year to their three-year structured development programme. Judith Thomas, Graduate Resourcing Manager says: "Graduates bring in fresh minds and new approaches to the organisation. The programme offers immediate responsibility, hands-on training and development opportunities, and we aim to offer Year Five recruits a senior management role. It is therefore essential that we take on candidates who show a flair for innovation and the ability to strive for excellence both in developing the business in the future, and the colleagues within it."

However, graduate recruitment schemes are not the only option and graduates can be reassured by the IBS Employment Review which also found that half of all employers offer graduate starting salaries of £18,000-£21,700.

There are a whole host of places where you can find graduate recruitment schemes and other graduate jobs, from university careers offices, online vacancies, to reading The Independent's Education and Careers section. One of the most effective ways is to attend an exhibition, where you can meet face to face with the potential employer, ask relevant questions and leave a good impression.

Alison James sums up the effectiveness of exhibitions to get that foot in the door: "I had sent application forms and CVs off to nearly 100 companies, all to no avail. It is hard to compete on paper, without having ever met the person you are trying to impress. The exhibition gave me a chance to meet the recruiters face to face and know whom I was addressing. One of those people I met noted down the name of every person who made the effort to visit their stand, and the next thing I knew, I had an interview - which eventually lead to a place on their graduate management scheme. The exhibition effectively gave me a first interview with roughly 60 potential employers."

The National Graduate Recruitment Exhibition, supported by The Independent, is the perfect opportunity to make a lasting impression. Taking place on 8-9 February at the G-Mex Centre in Manchester, the exhibition brings together a whole host of companies looking to recruit graduates on schemes such as these, as well as within specialised jobs. The range of companies exhibiting is extensive, from public sector organisations such as the police, the Royal Navy and the National Audit Office, to financial institutions including Bloomberg; from charitable organisations such as Cancer Research, to the construction and engineering industry, with exhibitors including Smiths Aerospace and Nissan.

Carl Gilleard, chief executive of the Association for Graduate Recruiters, says: "Most of the indicators point towards 2005 being a fairly buoyant year for graduates, with a growing number of graduate level vacancies. The sting in the tail however is that employers will not lower standards, so applicants will have to work hard to secure the job of their choice."

Graduates should therefore take full advantage of the National Graduate Recruitment Exhibition to ensure they approach the employers with the best tools and knowledge. Throughout the two days, graduates can attend free careers seminars on a wide range of subjects including how to prepare for job interviews, job search techniques, and how to write a job-winning curriculum vitae.

Preparation is the key to success: thorough research should be undertaken before attending the exhibition to find out who will be exhibiting and to work out the relevant questions to ask. Graduates can also bring their CV to the CV Clinic to receive free one-on-one advice from trained advisers. By attending the mock assessment centre, graduates can find out what to expect from - and how to prepare for - these frequently used selection procedures.

Rob Spurgeon is Project Manager of The National Graduate Recruitment Exhibition. For further information visit www.gradjobs.co.uk

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