18 Sep 2012

C4 Class of 2012 Q and A: How to get a graduate job

With at least 340,000 graduates entering the jobs market this year and fewer jobs available, how can graduates get their first step on the jobs ladder? Channel 4 News speaks to the experts.

 C4 Class of 2012 Q and A: How to get a graduate job (G)

There was a time when a degree guaranteed a job. But with increasing numbers of young people joining the graduate pool and fewer jobs available to them, getting that much-prized first job has become an uphill struggle. Employers can take their pick from the 1.02 million unemployed 16-24 year-olds, leaving school leavers and graduates feeling undervalued – and unpaid.

On Wednesday 19 September, Channel 4 is hosting a live event with government experts, think tanks, business leaders and young people to debate why the employment situation is so bad for the Class of 2012 – and what can be done about it. Hosted by Jon Snow and Economics Editor Faisal Islam, the discussion will include top panellists David Miliband MP and Justin King, Sainsbury’s CEO.

Ahead of the event, experts Tanya de Grunwald – Graduate Fog founder and author of How to Get a Graduate Job in a Recession – and Martin Birchall, director of High Fliers, answer your questions on getting that graduate job.

How do I get experience when all jobs seem to require experience?
Tanya de Grunwald: There are no easy answers to this one I’m afraid. The simple truth is that employers know they hold all the cards at the moment, so they are being increasingly demanding of their young applicants for junior jobs.

My advice is to go back and look and look at any experience you already have – even if it was in a different industry to the one you’re interested in now – and sell it harder on your CV. Any experience is good experience – whether it was temping, bar work or litter-picking at a festival. Think about all the responsibilities you had during that job and all the skills you learned. Then hammer home why these are relevant and useful to your potential employer.

Read more from Jon Snow: The ‘one million’ challenge for the C4 Class of 2012

Can I still apply for ‘graduate’ jobs even if I graduated last year?
Martin Birchall: The age discrimination legislation included in the 2010 Equality Act means that employers have to be very careful about any restrictions they put on applicants for their graduate programmes. So, as far as most employers are concerned, there is no time limit (or age limit) for recent graduates to apply for ‘graduate’ roles.

The vast majority of graduates who do apply to the major employers for graduate vacancies are either current undergraduates or those who’ve left university within the last three years. This can include those who attended university straight from school, as well as (older) mature graduates.

Should I take an unpaid internship?
Tanya de Grunwald:
There’s no “should” about it. Unfortunately unpaid internships have become a fact of life in many industries, and you won’t get anywhere without doing them. This is not only unfair – it’s also illegal. In the UK, if you qualify as a worker – with set hours and set responsibilities – your employer has to pay you at least the minimum wage. You don’t have the right to waive your wages, even if you say you’re happy to work for free as it’s such good experience.

‘The situation is crazy’
“I am 24 and feel many employers seem closed to offering entry positions or chances to gain experience, even to graduates,” says Dan McLellan from Wolverhampton.

“Of course some advertise “graduate” positions but ridiculously many still ask for 12 or 18 months experience. How? Unpaid internships? Who can afford 18 months unpaid? It’s Catch-22 – you need experience to get a job, need a job to get experience. I’ve even offered to work for free.

“Straight from school I earned a Bachelors and two master degrees tailored towards urban development and sustainability but despite this comprehensive (often pioneering) knowledge of the field amassed over six years, I cannot get a job in urban development nor sustainability in the UK.

“While I try to raise the money to fund the course myself I try to get ‘low-end’ jobs – however I have been told I’m over-qualified or have no previous experience of this or that. I’ve even considered taking a couple or all of my degrees off my CV – but then how do I explain the six-year gap? In the meantime I am applying to PhD positions in Sweden. When did it become easier for someone to get on a PhD programme over getting bar work? The situation is crazy.”

Do employers value unpaid work experience or volunteering?
Martin Birchall: As far as graduate employers are concerned, when they’re assessing candidates for a graduate role, they are likely to be just as impressed by volunteering, work experience or longer-term employment – all these experiences are likely to have given applicants a range or business and personal skills which will help them perform well during the selection process.

For employers at other levels, it is harder to say. If an organisation is recruiting a middle manager (or similar) it’s unlikely they’ll pay much attention to the work experience someone had five to ten years previously at university, it’ll be the most immediate roles they’ve had which will be of most relevance at this stage.

How can I ace an interview?
Tanya de Grunwald: Put yourself in your employer’s shoes. The most important thing is to show them you’re a good long-term bet. They want someone who can do the job – but they also want someone who will stay in the job. Recruiting and training people is expensive – so they don’t want to find themselves replacing you in six months’ time.

Investigate the company thoroughly before the interview too – taking a quick look at their website and doing a Wikipedia search for that industry is not enough. And have a few smart questions up your sleeve too. If nothing occurs to you during the interview, ask “If I got this job, where might I be in five years’ time?” It shows you’re thinking about this job as a long-term investment of your time, not just a way to make some money now.

What if I didn’t get a good mark in my degree?
Tanya de Grunwald: If you messed up your undergraduate degree, whatever you do don’t spend thousands of pounds on a postgraduate qualification to try and make up for it. And don’t do it to try and “buy time” or wait out the recession either – who’s to say the job market will be better in a year anyway? You’re much better off trying to find a job. That way you’re gaining experience – and you’re earning money, rather than spending it. Most employers prefer extra experience to extra qualifications anyway.