I’m often asked by graduates why they are not capable of getting either any job or a graduate job after university. Unfortunately, there are a few mis-matches along the way, which hopefully this post will clarify.
Firstly, there's a mis-match between what graduates think they can achieve and the skills they've got and what employers want in terms of skills. There's also a mis-match in terms of subject choices, and students often make the mistake of choosing a subject not positively held by employers. Thirdly, there's also a mis-match in the labour market between what jobs students think are out there and what is actually out there. It’s often tricky telling people that they’ve made a few bad choices, and there's always the possibility of fixing this, however, if you are thinking about applying to UCAS this year, here are a few pointers that might help you in the long run.
1. Unless you go to a very good university (namely the LSE), don’t study law, management, accounting, marketing or anything similar - there are lots of people out there with law and accounting degrees for the number of jobs available and it’s tough to get on the first wrung of the ladder. After university, if you are looking to apply for a general graduate job or a graduate scheme, both law and accounting are useful degrees however if you’ve three years at university why not learn about something less taxing and more interesting! Furthermore, if you do want to go to university, companies often like those that have done a postgraduate conversion course in law or accounting as it means that you’re a more well-rounded individual with other skills and other interests. These skills and interests may come in useful, for example, a degree in Chemistry will give you an advantage if you want to become a patent lawyer. If you really do want to be a lawyer or accountant, what about an apprenticeship route!
2. Don’t study business. Lots of students choose to study business as they think that it’s going to get them a good job and it’s what employers want, when in fact arts or humanities would help their career more in the long run. Plenty of companies look for humanities and art graduates when they are recruiting for their marketing, PR, HR and sales etc. departments and the skills you learn, such as creating an argument, logical thinking, getting a point across, critical thinking, oral and written communication will get you far. If you still like the idea of business you can always take an MBA when you have a few years’ experiences under your belt.
3. If you study arts, humanity or social science such as History, International Relations, Geography, Languages, English, Psychology, Sociology, Economics, or Anthropology try to attend a good university as you possibly can, based on their reputation. Unfortunately, reputation counts for a lot because employers have to sift through so many applications. and attending a well-known university is an easy way to stand out from the crowd. There’s no league table for reputation, but entry standards are a good indicator as the top students will go to the top universities.
4. Think twice about league tables. Be aware that universities often do well in UK league tables because student satisfaction counts for a lot, therefore the most well-known universities and those most targeted by employers are necessarily those that the top of the table. The World University Rankings have a Global Employability Survey and HighFliers both ask UK companies which universities they prefer to recruit from if you want more information.
5. If you want to study social science, Economics and Psychology give you statistics skills that the others (Anthropology, Sociology, Politics etc.) don’t offer, and these skills are becoming more and more useful in the workplace.
6. If you are looking to take a vocational course, such as Ophthalmology, Physiology or Graphic Design it matters less about the reputation of the university (indeed many of the universities at the top of the tables listed don’t offer these vocational courses and many less well-known universities are brilliant). What matters is the experience you can gain on your course, what employers you can build connections with and how you develop your portfolio so that when you leave you’ve got something positive to show employers.
7. Universities at the top of the table do tend to offer Chemistry, Maths, Physics, and any form of Engineering, and it’s obviously in your interest to choose a university where you can gain the best degree. However, many universities have great programmes with local companies to give you the skills and experience you need when you graduate and this can count for a lot. Furthermore, there are currently not enough students in the UK studying the material sciences and Engineering in studying this you’ve more chance of employment afterwards.
8. If in doubt and you’ve no vocation in mind, but want to go to university, stick to traditional humanities, social sciences, arts or science degrees. If you realise that there’s something you’d love to do while at university, such as events management you can still market your skills to be transferable to the job, and along with a few industry insights and some work experience, and even short courses, your determination will stand you in good stead for a fulfilling career.
9. If you don’t quite have the grades to get into a top university for a well-known science, social science, arts or humanities programme, and are not sure what you want to do when you leave, look at your other options in the university which might have lower grades, for example instead of Economics you might like the idea of a joint degree of Social Policy and Economics or instead of Biology you might want to look at Human Biology or Zoology. A top university will enhance your CV when you graduate while you’ll also gain the skills needed by employers along the way.