Work experience and a good work ethic are more important than a relevant degree, and certainly more so than the class of degree, when it comes to graduates getting ahead in the jobs' market, according to a new UK survey.
A study of employers by the University of Hertfordshire found almost half (46 per cent) of employers ranked relevant work experience as one of the top three things they looked for from potential new recruits.
Almost the same percentage (43 per cent) looked for evidence of a good "work ethic", while two-fifths (41 per cent) cited a degree subject relevant to the job as one of the most important factors.
Just a quarter of employers claimed to be interested in the class of degree, while even fewer (14 per cent) were worried about the reputation of the university.
And on both counts, it was male recruiters who were far more concerned with grades and reputation than the women.
Equally telling was that fewer than one in ten employers said they would be actively put off a graduate because of their grades, preferring to make their decisions based on other aspects of the university experience.
Yet one thing that clearly does put recruiters off a candidate is poor spelling and grammar. More than three quarters said that spelling mistakes would reflect badly on a candidate – more than twice the proportion who were annoyed by exaggerations in a CV.
If graduates want to impress potential employers, the overwhelming message from the research is that putting time in at university to gain real-life work experience will reap dividends later – so much so that one in five recruiters would decline even to interview someone with no relevant work experience.
Three quarters of employers believed graduates who had work experience would adjust more easily into the world of work and settle in more quickly.
Conversely, employers were wary about the transition process for those who had no experience, with half believing they would enter the workplace with unrealistic expectations and struggle with professional behaviour, time management and pressure.
On a more positive note, graduates brought a fresh outlook into a company, employers generally felt, and they also preferred graduates because they had a proven level of intelligence.
Small and medium sized companies valued graduate recruitment because they could rely on their proven ability to learn quickly, while larger companies preferred to mould graduates into the managers of the future.
Anusha Everson, director for graduate employment at Hertfordshire University, said: "It's clear that gaining real-life work experience as part of your course, or on your own initiative, is an absolutely key requirement for students getting ready to go to university this September.
"Those students yet to decide which university to go to, or who find themselves in clearing would be well advised to look for courses which combine relevant subjects with opportunity to gain first hand, practical experience," she added.