Surviving the graduate jobs drought

Feb 16 2009 by Nic Paton Print This Article

For final-year college students on both sides of the Atlantic it's little more than four to five months until final exams. But then what?

With jobs becoming increasingly scarce, more and more university leavers and those who have barely got their feet on the career ladder are heading back to college or packing their bags and jetting off around the world in the hope that things will be less bleak by the time they return.

This week the UK's Association of Graduate Recruiters portrayed an increasingly grim picture for graduate jobs.

The number of vacancies will fall for the first time since 2003 this year, with a projected decrease of 5.4 per cent, it said.

The biggest decline, and it's no surprise, will be in the banking sector, which is expecting a massive 28 per cent cut in vacancies, although engineering surprisingly looks likely to buck the trend, with an expected 8.3 per cent rise in jobs.

What's more, graduate salaries will be frozen for the first time for many years, and will be stuck at the 2008 figure of £25,000, while some employers, notably in banking and financial services, even sharply cutting back salaries, by up to 8 per cent in some cases, said the AGR.

Another jobs' snapshot from Monster this week provided barely more cheery news. It pointed to the lowest availability in jobs since May 2006

It highlighted sharply reduced opportunities in environment, architecture, construction, engineering (despite the AGR's finding), HR and administrative jobs.

And the UK HR body the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has said that, if anything, it is younger workers and graduates who are suffering most so far in this recession as firms where possible simply freeze recruitment rather the cut roles.

Unlike in previous recessions, where older workers and those nearing retirement age were often axed first, this time around more employers appear to be recognising the value of retaining the knowledge and experience of their older workers – not least because they are sometimes the only ones in an organisation who can actually remember what it was like last time round.

Against this backdrop, it is perhaps little surprise that many graduates, whether already out in the jobs' market or watching it with trepidation are casting about desperately for alternatives and ways to delay the inevitable.

Universities and business schools, for example, are reporting a sharp increase in applications for postgraduate courses, with some pointing to a rise by a fifth.

Durham University in the north of England has even made available a hundred £2,000 scholarships to encourage home and overseas graduates to stay on and do postgraduate courses instead of chance their luck in the jobs' market.

Professor Anthony Forster, pro-vice-chancellor for teaching and learning at the university, said: "We've launched this scholarship because we recognise that, even for the most academically able and talented graduates, it's a tough economic environment in which to seek employment."

Others are looking for more exotic ways to escape. Resort workers' website, for example, has reported a huge increase in graduates applying for holiday rep jobs to get away from it all.

And UK firms such as and Gap Year for Grown Ups have seen a surge in enquiries from people interested in jetting off overseas.

Some are even using redundancy cash to fund round-the-world tickets, in the hope that they can get some sun, adventure and possibly even valuable work experience and then return home just in time for a pick-up in the jobs' market.

Tom Griffiths, founder of, said that, for workers with few ties and no mortgage, getting off the career ladder for a few months was unlikely to make a huge difference to their long-term career path, and could even prove beneficial when it came to helping them stand out from the crowd.

For graduates still prepared to risk it this summer, the key, said AGR chief executive Carl Gilleard, is to research jobs and prepare for interviews even more thoroughly than ever.

"The message coming through loud and clear for this year's graduates is research, research and more research – know your potential employer and know your sector," he said.

"For those who do not secure that dream job first time round, the key is to take some form of paid employment if you can," he added.


Older Comments

If a graduate is really trying to give themselves a competitive advantage in the job market after travelling they need to make sure they put themselves through the sort of challenges that help build their competencies and skills. Backpacking and haunting the bars may not be enough to convince a prospective employer and answer the 'when have you shown leadership in a team situation?', 'give an example of a situation where you needed to bring ingenuity and creativity to solve a problem' questions that will come your way in any graduate interview process nowadays. If this is the sort of experience you want as opposed to just a holiday then think hard about your gap year options and what you will get out of them.

Raleigh International

Grad programs are a great way to start your career, but there is so much they dont tell you. I wish i found this site when i started my career: it would have saved me from making so many mistakes....I hope you find it useful

joffy London