Work experience 'essential' for landing grad job

A report says graduate recruitment numbers are improving, but there's fierce competition as 45 graduates fight for every job.

by Elizabeth Anderson
Last Updated: 25 Jan 2011
For many students the start of a new year brings with it the unwelcome realisation that in six months time they’ll be entering the world of work, early starts and comparatively little holiday.  And this year there’s a lot to be nervous about. Two years on from when Britain entered recession, and recruitment plummeted by 17.8%, students will be anxious about whether three years of racking up a hefty amount of debt was worth it in the end.

The good news is that Britain’s top companies are increasing the number of graduates they take on.  Graduate recruitment is expected to rise by 9.4% this year, figures from market research outfit High Fliers Research shows. This follows a rise of 12.6% in 2010 - suggesting that things won’t be as bleak as 2009, when job vacancies fell by 17.8%.

But it comes with a warning.  Competition is growing fiercely for places, meaning companies are turning away graduates – however bright they are – if they haven’t had any previous work experience.  Three out of five leading companies will not interview applicants who haven’t spent some time working at the company beforehand, according to the research.

The survey also warns that although graduate employment will increase this year, it’s still short of the number of jobs offered in 2007.  Last year there were 45 applicants chasing every place, and this year that number will rise again.  A record 320,000 students will graduate in 2011 - 50,000 more than four years ago.

Some sectors will also fare better than others in the recruitment drive.  Investment banking, the engineering, chemical and pharmaceuticals sectors all remain low in graduate vacancies compared to before the recession; while high street banking and teaching are beginning to recover.  

The survey looks at the 100 top graduate employers; which includes KPMG, the Civil Service, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Tesco and Lloyd’s.  It concludes that wages will remain stable, with an average starting salary of £29,000 for those lucky enough to get on a graduate scheme.  

But while this is good news for some, how representative is it of graduates as a whole? The top 100 firms took on a total of 15,563 graduates last year.  With around 320,000 graduating this year, this clearly accounts for a small number.  Most university leavers won’t be on starting salaries of this scale, and will also have to compete with last-year’s graduates who didn’t manage to find a job, which could lead to a fair number choosing to start their own business. So although there’s been some improvement in graduate recruitment levels, for many graduates days of late starts and watching daytime TV might not be such a distant memory after all.

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