Graduate attitude ‘more important than degree’, says survey

A good degree is not necessarily a guarantee of a job – a survey published today by Ernst & Young advises graduates to “build resilience and get out of their comfort zones”.

The survey of more than 1,000 UK university students was devised by the Centre of Applied Positive Psychology (Capp) and tested employability skills. It found that, while graduates have many core strengths, they “aren’t always willing to take risks and can struggle to recover from setbacks”.

Ernst & Young and Capp recommended these top 10 tips for graduate job seekers:

1. Take some risks and make mistakes – employers are happy to hear about when things go wrong, as long as you have learnt lessons.

2. Do something that makes a difference – don’t just focus on your studies. Employers want to see that you’ve used your drive and initiative to do more than the average.

3. Shout about your part-time jobs – if you work on a checkout you are delivering client service, in a business and working in a team

4. Develop your commercial awareness – if you want to work for a commercial organisation you need to show you are interested in business.

5. Study hard – your academic results demonstrate your intelligence, work ethic and ability to solve problems.

6. Find out what you are good at – different jobs require different strengths and you will be much more motivated and successful if you are playing to your strengths.

7. Learn to work to deadlines – we don’t live in a perfect world and you will have to deal with time, budget and resource constraints effectively.

8. Develop people skills – rarely does anyone work in a silo, you need to show you can work well with others and deliver results collaboratively.

9. Be positive – organisations want people who can deal with setbacks and overcome challenges.

10. Become self-aware – if you know what your strengths and weaknesses are, your likes and dislikes, you can grow and develop effectively.

The survey, which tested for 60 “strengths”, highlighted five top skills. They were: taking pride in their work; problem solving; being true to themselves; building relationships; and having a sense of humour.

The weaknesses highlighted by the survey included: resilience; time optimisation; showing courage at overcoming their fears; taking risks; and making themselves the centre of attention.

According to the survey, 83% of respondents were optimistic about achieving their career aspirations. However, Stephen Isherwood, head of graduate recruitment at Ernst & Young, warned graduates against becoming complacent.

He said: “Although it’s encouraging to see that students remain positive, in a climate of rising unemployment and fierce competition there’s absolutely no room for complacency. To get that first step on the career ladder, students need to be building their CVs with experiences that will help to develop their skills. This process needs to start at secondary school, rather than the last year of university.”

Alex Linley, director at Capp, said: “Students need to stay focused on what they are good at and develop their experience around these core areas, rather than trying to cover all bases. This, in turn, will help to build confidence in their abilities and improve their levels of resilience.”

Isherwood added: “A good degree from a respected university no longer guarantees students a job. We interview more than 3,000 bright graduates every year, but only about 25% have the all-round skill set that we recruit for.

“Relationship development and problem-solving are key attributes that we look for in our trainees. But the candidates who end up with job offers also demonstrate determination and resilience, and are able to work hard and thrive in difficult situations. We need to know that they are going to be able to cope if they are sent half way across the world to work on a client project.”

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