Research consistently shows that there appears to be a significant “gap” between how recent graduates rate their own capabilities in the job market and how employers rate graduates’ performance. Employers often feel that students aren’t equipped with basic skills, knowledge and mindset required in order to succeed in the tough job market.
We have interviewed a number Southampton graduates, asking them to reflect on their own post-graduation experience, and what they wish they knew when they were students.
- Your degree alone really isn’t that important
Getting a university degree is a huge achievement and something we should all be proud of. But with 300 students applying for one job at the more competitive companies, it’s becoming more obvious that what they teach you at university alone doesn’t cut it anymore.
“I think anything done whilst at uni unrelated to the degree, especially something that puts one out of their comfort zone gives an added advantage when it comes to getting a job. Getting involved in a variety of activities helps build a lot of skills that employers look for that grades don’t give. …. Interests are always good conversation starters or ice breakers in any situation no matter who the audience is. A well rounded person is more interesting than one with just great grades.”
Anvitha, PgDip Acturial science (2014), University of Southampton
If your grades were the only thing that mattered, there probably wouldn’t be any point in conducting interviews. Employers have already thoroughly examined your CV and have seen how hard you’ve worked and what awesome grades you’ve got (or not?). Alternatively, if you don’t think your grades have wowed the employers as much as you’d like, you can be sure there’s a lot more you can show face-to-face. Show who you are as a person and that you are more than a piece of paper with some numbers on it. This is why getting a job and building a career takes so much more than finishing essays and exams.
- Finding a graduate job is hard.
This was definitely the one common statement among graduates. And you should be prepared for this once you immerse yourself in the world of endless cover letters, job applications, online tests and interviews.
Julia is a scientist and she had to go through what seemed to her to be an endless stream of applications, interviews, essays, tests. Initially focused on a career in the food industry, it took more than 30 job applications and a slight change in career path before she was thrilled to be offered a job with GlaxoSmithKline.
“I shall say that getting a job is much more difficult than what they tell you in various websites and booklets. It is a real challenge, you have to be fully prepared and 100% motivated. But if you are stubborn enough you will get the job and you will be so proud of yourself when you get that phone call saying “We want to offer you the job”.
Julia, Chemistry graduate (2014), University of Southampton
Similarly to applying for internships, the graduate job market is also famous for its own vicious circle – you know, the one where you need experience to be hired for a job…. Only that no one will give you that experience in the first place… without any experience beforehand!
Laura had trouble finding an assistant psychologist job upon graduation due to her lack of experience, so she had to do voluntary work in London while working as a barista part-time to pay for the bills. Ultimately, she also decided to pursue a career in academia.
“Having this degree (Master’s) did help me to get onto subsequent degree courses, but it always seemed that I needed more qualifications to actually get a job in Psychology. It’s very difficult, as employers are looking for people with experience, and yet it is impossible to get experience without working for free, which is just impractical for most people.”
Laura, PhD in Psychology at University of Southampton
Graduates can underestimate how difficult it is to get a job. Having this in mind, you should use this to be much better prepared and motivated than you normally would be. It is not meant to be easy, because it’s meant to lead to something great.
Another lesson is to always keep your options open and be flexible in terms of your future. Things might not work out exactly the way you have planned them to, so be open to changes and be prepared to quickly change to a Plan B. Try to look at other possible options as a new life experience which, as it turns out, you may end up liking more than the original plan.
3. Don’t forget past applications
In between all the crazy application forms and interviews, it’s easy toput all your past applications aside and forget about them. Don’t be afraid to call up and see how your application is going. It shows that their company is not just the next one on your list of prospective employers and that you genuinely care about working there.
You need a lot of patience; not just in dealing with rejections and playing the numbers game with applications, but in being persistent in following them up. You need to be ensuring your name is in the minds of those who are sorting out your interview or assessment centre by keeping in touch with them, not just waiting for an eventual reply.
Richard, BSc Management Science graduate (2014), University of Southampton
- Network, Network, Network!
Networking after graduation has never been more important. You put lots of effort to get that first class degree, do all those extracurricular activities to boost your CV and bring some personality to your application – and it can seem frustrating if it turns out that even this isn’t enough. Because there are tens of thousands of graduates across the UK doing the exact same.
One regret which past graduates keep going back to is that they didn’t take the opportunities they had to network and get to know people.
“The advice I would give would be to always build bridges with people, as you never know if you paths may cross in the future and if they have a good opinion of you beforehand they are likely to offer you a position. Keep in touch with people you meet throughout your undergraduate and postgraduate journey, as if people have a good opinion of you then they might be able to help you in the future.”
Nick Alderman, PhD in Solar Energy (2012), University of Southampton
So don’t avoid the career evenings and graduate events your department organises, and never underestimate the power of a big smile and a friendly attitude. Often people prefer to hire students they have already met, have spoken to, who have shown eagerness to work hard or, even better, if they have already been recommended by somebody else. As long as you make a good professional impression, have a commitment to work hard, and have a desire to grow and learn, most people you will network with will be more than happy to recommend you to someone they know. This will most likely involve a dose of initiative on your part so don’t be afraid to go there and network.