As the Olympics draw to a close and the rest of the country basks in a golden hue of British sporting glory, the attention of many graduates will be turning to how to make that first step onto the career ladder. Front and back pages may have been filled up with Team GB excitement but it won’t be long until the gloomy economic news that has been buried in the middle returns to the fore.
A jittery Eurozone, decidedly mixed messages from UK plc and fingers pointed from bankers to politicians with few convincing solutions being offered. It seems scaremongering is designed to dishearten job hunters before they even start looking. However, before you plan that last minute gap year, take a closer look. At Dartmouth Partners, conversations with our graduate clients reveal a more positive mood.
With many larger institutions are getting their houses in order, boutique firms are hiring additional staff at all levels – it’s actually an opportunity to gain market share through strategic hiring. And contrary to many people’s expectations, vacancies for 2012 increased by 6% in comparison to last year according to High Fliers Research, who keep tabs on the state of the market.
This remains below the pre-recession levels but it’s a substantial leap in the right direction, and is a consistent picture across many industry sectors. Naturally, some areas have had to take a hit. The Armed Forces have been in the news for months after deep cuts were announced across the services, and unsurprisingly the knock-on effect has been substantial on its graduate intake.
The media sector’s struggles have also caused its main players to take a cautious view on their graduate schemes, with a drop of around a fifth on 2011 levels. But elsewhere the statistics are far more positive. Even the public sector, which is undergoing radical changes to its structure, has upped its graduate numbers by around 500 people for this year – and more broadly the largest employers are still soaking up plenty of ex-students within the milkround.
The ‘Big 4′ accountancy firms – Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG and PwC – will collectively recruit nearly 4000 graduates to their schemes this year. Whilst it may be true that there are fewer jobs available, investment banks and many other firms have learned the lessons of the past. Having cut their graduate intake in 2009, there is a chronic lack of third year analysts across the City. Many now recognise the benefits of investing in a relatively inexpensive resource and want to be able to capitalise on an upward cycle when it does come. The so called “War for Talent” still exists, with firms competing for the best new recruits.
As some businesses reduce their hiring, there is an opportunity for others to step in and hire brilliant potential they might not otherwise have been able to recruit. So why is there still widespread concern about the graduate market? In part because many of the good news stories have been drowned out by concerns about the Class of 2010 and 2011 who have ended up taking low-skilled jobs. But as any successful Olympian will testify, it’s important to focus on the long-term. There are no shortcuts to getting into the right role: instead it takes perseverance and endurance. Here’s how Mo Farah describes what it took to achieve his gold medals in the Olympics:
“It’s all hard work and grafting. It’s been a long journey grafting and grafting, but anything is possible.”
The same mindset should apply to job-hunters. Whilst the debate rages about whether internships exploit young people who are prepared to work for minimal remuneration, more and more organisations are relying on them to act as a feeder to fast-track candidates into full-time paid jobs after an internship or industrial placement. The result is that more short-term opportunities are available to graduates (plus students in their final year), which is good news not just from the perspective of gaining experience – but also as a chance to identify whether it’s going to be the right fit for both employer and employee in the long-term.
In the current context of a double dip recession, that can only be a positive thing for graduates if it serves to increase commitment from both sides and to identify any mismatches before permanent contracts are signed. Many boutique firms are growing quickly, and are able to offer juniors a high level of client exposure and real responsibility, something of an opportunity for any prospective graduate starting their career.
With organisations operating at their leanest levels for years, there’s far less scope for graduates to be tasked with photocopying and tea-making duties. Most downsized teams still have the same amount of work to deliver, so managers need to delegate more of it to the juniors. That’s exactly what graduates have been crying out for.
Competition remains intense; with university applications rocketing over the past few years there are ever more graduates entering the job market each summer (although that looks set to change following the rise in tuition fees). As such, whilst demand for graduate roles will always exceed supply, there are plenty of opportunities for ambitious graduates who are willing to be flexible – and now is a great time to join a firm as a genuinely valued employee with the chance to contribute to its success in a tough climate.
Years of hard work go into preparing for each gold medal win and those athletes’ example of dedication should be the true legacy of the games. Just as medals are won or lost long before the athletes parade in front of the world’s TV cameras, so graduates should make sure they’re thoroughly equipped for the job market. It’s important to think beyond the first job too.
An entire career will potentially span 50 years – so rather than just taking the best paid role or biggest brand name that comes along, graduates should be considering where they want their career to lead in the long term. Success is forged over a lifetime of working and not overnight. And that’s the best piece of advice we can give anyone looking for their first step onto the career ladder.