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Can't find a graduate job? Try work experience instead

Published: Monday, 14 September 2009   Category: Recruitment Feature Articles

Many university leavers will by now have settled themselves into a graduate job if they are lucky. But the economic climate has meant that employers are closing off a lot of the opportunities that were available before the credit crunch. This means that while there are still positions to be had the competition has merely increased and graduates will have to work harder in order to find the job they want.

Firstly, a degree is a big help - university can nurture the academic side of your skills so you have a good idea what you are interested in and have proof of good aptitude in that area. But are you ready to step into the world of work?

Employers will not only be looking for academic achievements but also what are known as 'soft skills'. These include talents in fields such as teamwork, conflict management, self-organisation and innovation, which can all add to a graduate's ability to perform well on the job. Work experience can, unlike university, help develop these skills by offering real-world familiarity with employment, whether it is paid or not.

This experience will not only be impressive on your CV but it will also help you to find out if you like that particular line of work and test the water before you take the plunge into a career in that sector. And it is a two-way thing - employers can gain from a graduate's enthusiasm and fresh ideas. The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) called upon the government to create 5,000 graduate internships in July to counteract the negative effects of the recession on jobs for university leavers. But, John Wright, chairman of the FSB, also explained how employers benefit: "In a graduate internship scheme, graduates can offer key skills to help businesses move forward while at the same time ensuring they are learning new skills and not unemployed at a crucial time in their careers."

Working hard to gain experience when unemployed will also impress new employers, as well as open a whole new world of opportunities. Although work experience can be either formal or informal, depending on who you are employed by, all of it can count towards skills to show off to any potential graduate job providers later on. It can also help build up contacts - one internship could lead to more and often graduates can find themselves being offered paid employment at the end of the work experience.

While most internships and work experience placements will give you some skills that can be carried across almost any graduate job, it is important to apply for those that are relevant. Chris Morall, managing director of HR coaching firm Talent Transitions, said that many people assume graduate internships are simply a way of getting a foot in the door at the company, rather than gaining skills. He added: "You still have to keep looking for jobs."

The Association of Graduate Career Advisory Services also warned that, while internships can be helpful for gaining skills and experience in difficult industries such as the art, media and publishing markets, young people should be clear about what they entail before they sign up to them in order to save wasting time. Tom Hadley, director of external relations at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, countered this view, saying that even if a successful internship application is not in the exact sector desired, it will help get university leavers into the world of work and eventually lead on to that dream career.

If you're worried about the costs of living while doing an unpaid work experience placement, there are several schemes which can help. The government announced that those on internships can still claim Jobseeker's Allowance. Worcester University also launched a scheme in July which uses Higher Education Funding Council for England subsidies to offer £200 a month to graduates taking up work experience with local businesses.

So while there may not be many graduate jobs on offer, there are always routes to gain valuable skills which will make you more attractive to employers in such a competitive market.

Good luck!


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