Martin Birchall: Look on the bright side... this year's graduates are at least applying for vacancies

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Today's lurid headlines from the Association of Graduate Recruiters paint the bleak picture that those leaving university this summer have little or no chance of landing an entry-level job.

But are things really that bad for the Class of 2011? It's certainly true that many of the best-known employers have seen a sharp rise in applications for their graduate schemes this year, but much of this actually stems from an increasingly optimistic mood on campus.

During the worst of the recession, many final-year students took the view that it wasn't worth applying for graduate jobs and instead opted for postgraduate study or went travelling instead, in the hope that things would improve later.

This year's graduates have taken a very different approach. An unprecedented number started researching their career options in their first or second year at university and tens of thousands organised work placements during their studies to give themselves the vital CV points that employers were looking for.

By being organised, motivated and focused, an unprecedented proportion of this year's finalists have been able to make early applications to employers and have approached more organisations.

Far from being cowed by a competitive job market, the Class of 2011 has really engaged with the job hunting process and by February had made a record number of applications to employers – an average of seven or eight applications per finalist. It is this surge in interest which has fuelled the increase in the number of applicants per vacancy, rather than a sudden shortage of graduate jobs.

Yes, the demand for some of the most popular roles, in areas such as investment banking, marketing and the media, is unmanageably high. But away from these recruitment hotspots, the odds of making a successful job application are considerably better.

The "Big Four" accounting and professional services firms, for example, are among the biggest recruiters of graduates and have almost completed hiring a total of 4,500 university leavers to start work this autumn. On average, these firms received between 10 and 15 applications for each of their 2011 traineeships and up to a third of applicants made it through to first-round interviews – rather more favourable odds of success than the average 80:1 candidates-to-vacancies ratio would suggest.

The reality is that the graduate job market as a whole is making a good recovery. Vacancies for graduates have now increased for two years running and although recruitment may not be quite back to pre-recession levels, all the signs are that this growth will continue.

Now is the time to provide university-leavers with as much encouragement and support as possible in their search for employment, rather than putting them off applying for work altogether.

The author is managing director of High Fliers Research

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