What is the climate for graduate jobs like at the moment?
It is pretty positive at the moment, and as a juncture to that, Durham is the sixth most targeted university by major graduate recruiters in the UK according to a report that comes out twice a year from the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR). The AGR surveys employers to say which are the best universities for hires, and Durham is moving up the league tables consistently. Therefore a large number of employers are attracted to Durham, and some of them might be alumni, so they already know the quality of students. The most recent report is just about to be updated so some of the information might change slightly, but the biggest growth in vacancies for graduates is in the public sector, retail industry, engineering, and industrial companies. That is not to say that the banks, investment banks, legal firms or charities aren’t doing well though too.
How can the Careers Centre help people to find a job?
The Careers Centre does a number of different things. We produce a vacancy bulletin every Thursday which we send out to all students – I would advise everyone to please not spam the email – that sounds slightly flippant but it is not meant to be. There is perhaps an urban myth that all the careers centre advertise are jobs in management consultancy, banking, finance, and law – that is what I often hear from the student population. Actually it is quite the opposite, big organisations like Cancer Research, Marie Curie, the Civil Service, and local government have graduate schemes and we are attracting those employees to advertise vacancies with us. We also have an events bulletin every Tuesday which shows the range of events that we provide.
In what other ways can we help? By giving advice on CVs and interview techniques, and having fantastic careers resources that students can browse within Durham and Queen’s Campus. We have careers material that we write ourselves as well as nationally produced careers information. One of the things that we try to do is to assess the trends in what students are looking for in terms of graduate employment, and then provide information on this to students.
How can students book a meeting with a careers adviser?
We run a number of different appointments systems. We release our quick queries – 20 minute appointments – at 7pm every evening which means you can book online for a week in advance. We have responded to student demand by increasing the amount of appointments; 30 extra appointments per week in Michaelmas. We also run a late evening until seven o’clock this term.
If a student feels that they need a more in-depth discussion, then the information staff or careers advisers can make a referral for a 45 minute guidance appointment. These are designed to offer additional assistance in making career decisions appropriate to students interests and values. Also, on Wednesdays lunchtimes, we have an online ‘chat live’ so students can log on to our website and have a discussion with a careers adviser waiting for students to ask them questions. All of the careers advisers are working in colleges and in departments as well so we do a lot of outreach; one to one appointments, talks and workshops.
What would be your five top tips for students who want to maximise their employability?
1. Get involved in student activities
How does an employer distinguish between the academically elite, highly employable Durham graduates with those from Oxford, the Cambridge, UCL etc.? It is about transferrable, ‘soft’, skills which are gained from becoming involved in student activities.
2. Develop transferable skills
Through Student Community Action, positions of responsibility in JCRs, or getting part time work through the Student Employment Service (which is part of the Careers Centre).
3. Be focused on what you want to do, but also what you don’t want to do
Careers advisers are very good at teasing out what student’s would want out of a job and out of a sector, and what they would not want. So think idealistically and creatively; my ideal job would include this, my nightmare job would be this, and what compromises am I prepared to make.
4. Do quality applications
Yes have a good CV but a lot of major companies will also use competency based application forms. So think about the skills that you have gained from academic and student life and transpose those onto an application form. Have a careers adviser read over your applications to jobs (and postgraduate study).
5. Stay positive
The graduate employment market isn’t the same as what it was ten years ago, it is harder, but it is still very buoyant. To quote a major graduate recruiter from two to three years ago: “Durham students are great at getting job interviews with us and going to the assessment centres, but when they walk into the room they need to come in with their heads up rather than down.” Don’t worry about the competition but concentrate on being the best person for the roles that are being advertised; you will get jobs if you look sufficiently for them.
What is the Durham Award?
The Durham award is an initiative that we set up three years ago to help students reflect on the key skills that they are gaining from student activities, holiday work, voluntary work, and from their academic studies. It is about asking students to identify aspects of their life that they are proud of and encouraging them to articulate them on a Durham Award application form, which is very similar to a graduate application form. We then assess those abilities by asking the students to do a five minute presentation and have an interview with a panel which will always consist of an employer, a senior member of the university, and a member of the careers team. What we want to do is help the students to become more resilient so that when they make an application or are going to interview and assessment centres they already have had a dry run. We have got an award for both undergraduates and masters students.
Are they any upcoming events that might be of interest to students?
There is a law fair on the 26 and 27 November which is aimed both at law students but also non-law students of all years. In February we will have a science, engineering and information technology fair and a third sector event bringing in non-government organisations to talk to students about how to get jobs in that sector. The Society of Young Publishers will be coming in Epiphany along with the National Council for the Training of Journalists. These events are not just about getting employers in and saying these are the jobs out there; they are there to bring experts in to inform and inspire students to find jobs in the particular sectors they are interested in.