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Getting a graduate job: myths and realities

Finding a job and establishing yourself in a good career after your degree is no picnic, especially with the misconceptions out there. So what’s the truth about graduate employment?

We're taking a closer look at some of the myths of the grad jobs market, asking the graduate employment experts at HECSU what the reality is really like in the wider world of work. Plus, don't miss our tips on boosting your job prospects while you're at university.

Myth #1: everyone has a degree nowadays

This is about the commonest myth out there, usually followed with the idea that as a result, graduates can’t get jobs. In reality, if you look at official statistics from the government’s Annual Population survey (2014), only one in three of the UK adult population has a degree. Fewer than half of students currently aged 14-18 will ever go to university. Most of the population doesn't have a degree and never will.

Myth #2: there are no jobs for graduates

The whole of Which? University is full of employment data that proves this one wrong, but here are some simple facts: in 2013, 193,890 graduates were working six months after graduation and 124,700 of those were in 'professional-level' roles. The unemployment rate for graduates from 2012/13 was 7.3%. Most graduates get jobs, quickly, after graduation.

You can find out about the typical types of jobs grads go into by taking a look at the employment summaries on our course pages

Myth #3: if you don't go to a Russell Group uni, you won't get a good job

It's certainly true that some employers prefer to recruit their graduates from a specific group of universities and that these will often – but not always – be Russell Group institutions. But this isn't the full story. Other factors are often at work, too - including local ties to nearby universities, or institutions with strong reputations in certain professional fields. 

Myth #4: you only get graduate jobs via blue chip company training schemes

A good guide to how many jobs are available on these schemes is to examine the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) surveys, which generally have the figure at a little over 20,000 vacancies a year. Now, these tend to be some of the most prestigious and best-paid roles for graduates, but they certainly aren’t all the good jobs available.

Given that more than 124,000 grads report starting their career in professional-level jobs, that leaves us with over 100,000 jobs every year for graduates who don’t go on to big training schemes. To push the point further, 50% of graduates go to work for companies with less than 200 employees and 41% for organisations with less than 100 employees. There’s a lot more out there than the big firms.

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    Myth #5: you'll need to do an unpaid internship

    Unpaid interns are a big political talking point in graduate employment. What hasn’t been so clear is quite how many graduates actually end up in them. But in 2013, the annual graduate destinations survey asked graduates – directly – if they were employed as interns and whether they were paid. 4,520 first degree graduates said they were working as interns and of those, 1,560 (0.6% of all graduates) reported that they were working as unpaid interns, with a majority in London.

    Industries where unpaid interns were most common included design, publishing and media and advertising and PR. The survey captures what people are doing on a particular date, and can’t cover everyone who has, at some point, worked unpaid, but it’s a pretty good start. Some graduates who want to work in competitive industries like the media, publishing and PR may find themselves under pressure to accept an unpaid position, but in most cases you won't have to work for nothing.

    Myth #6: doing a degree guarantees you a good job

    Doing a degree never has, and never will, guarantee you a job. Certainly, if you pass a medicine degree, you’ll almost certainly get a job in medicine. But in general, there’s never been a guarantee of a job. Some commentators hark back to a golden age when graduates all got jobs, but we have data going back several decades, and this never happened.

    You’ll need to work hard, apply yourself – and have a little bit of luck – to get a good job after graduation. There are no guarantees, but the large majority of graduates ultimately make a good career, and there’s no reason you can’t be one of them.

    Which? University provides guest spots to external contributors. This is from the Higher Education Careers Services Unit (HECSU), an independent research charity specialising in higher education and graduate employment. 


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