Widening your job search

crystalballWho expects the graduate job market to bounce back this year? Dr Charlie Ball at HECSU (the closest thing to a Graduate Labour Market Statistics Guru that I know) predicts … well, more of the same, at least in the first half of the year in his latest blog post – modest growth in some areas but little change in others, and no return to the heady days of 2007.

Given this tight job market, you’d think that any graduate jobs would get snapped up as soon as they were advertised. However, we’re still seeing evidence of jobs going unfilled due to lack of applications.

We’ve got over 500 ads for full-time jobs on CareersLink currently active, but yet again, we’ve been contacted by an employer looking for more applications and even extending their deadline to try and find some. I thought it would be useful to deconstruct the ad to understand why they might not be getting the applications they want and how you can use that info to widen your job search.

Job title – “SEO Executive”
Any the wiser? How about if they called it “an entry level marketing position in one of the few areas of the economy which is growing – digital media”? If you’re not sure what SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is, have a look here and at our Digital Media sector pages on the Careers Service website. Yes, there can be a dark side to SEO (some companies scatter spam links across the web to increase a website’s search rankings) but a reputable company wouldn’t last long using those tactics.

So, look beyond the job title and investigate jobs which sound like gobbledegook. Others won’t know what they are either, so there will be fewer applicants to compete with!

Salary – “£14,000 – £17,000”
OK, I’ll admit this doesn’t look too attractive.

You’ve probably heard “average graduate salaries” being bandied about as £26,000 (Association of Graduate Recruiters) or even £29,000 (High Fliers survey). On the other hand, you’ll hear stories claiming that you can only get a graduate job after you’ve done an unpaid internship. Which should you believe?

The graduate salary surveys you normally hear about only cover a limited number of big name graduate employers, with their “fast track into management graduate training programmes”. A much more representative dataset is the HESA (Higher Education Statistics Agency) survey of what happens to all the UK graduates, 6 months after graduating. This now includes a question on salary, and around 70% of those in full-time work answer this – much more representative of real graduate salaries.

And their “average”? £19,000.

To be more specific, this is the median salary, to the nearest £500, of first degree graduates who studied full-time, who graduated in 2010/11, and who were in full-time paid employment 6 months after graduating.

The equivalent lower and upper quartile salaries were £15,000 and £23,000 respectively.

This means that half of all graduates in full-time paid employment were earning between £15,000 and £23,000.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the equivalent data for Masters and PhDs, but I suspect that would be skewed by the different levels of work experience postgraduates have before taking their postgraduate degree.

Given this information, £14-17K isn’t unrealistic for an entry level graduate position which doesn’t require specific experience. In fact, if you’re a postgraduate without relevant experience, why would they pay you any more than this as a starting salary?

It’s also a lot better than an unpaid internship.

Do I need to do an internship?
Don’t be fooled by the media hype. Unpaid internships have always been the norm to get into publishing, journalism, creative industries and politics – which is what newspapers know and write about. They are also common entry points for any charity or not for profit work. However, it’s never been the norm to have to do unpaid work to get into manufacturing, science, finance, the public sector, IT and many more types of work.

I suggest you broaden your job search beyond “internships”, which for some employers has become shorthand for “unpaid”. Just apply for jobs, even if they’re low paid and not advertised as graduate or postgraduate schemes. As long as they give you the chance to learn about a type of work and add some valuable experience and achievements to your CV, and to expand your contacts, you can think of a low paid job as your own self-generated internship (and move onward and upward once you’ve got some experience).

Back to this particular vacancy – although it’s advertised as a permanent job, if you read the job description, it sounds very much like the type of work you might get to do as an intern.

So, if you think of this as an internship on £14-17K, automatically leading to a permanent job (where your salary expectations once you’ve got some experience would be much higher), does that sound any more attractive?

Location – “Wilmslow
No, this isn’t the centre of Manchester – but it’s only a short journey away. If you haven’t been there before, Wilmslow is real “footballers wives” territory, and not the sort of area with lots of student houses!

We know that jobs which are based in easy commuting distance from the centre of Manchester get fewer applications than those which are based in the centre. Therefore, if you want to stay in Manchester but haven’t investigated the outlying towns and suburbs, broaden your net and have a look at our World of Manchester site (including leafy Cheshire).

Qualifications – “Educated to degree level in Marketing, Journalism, English, or a related discipline”
What if you haven’t done marketing, journalism or English? I’d try and understand why they’ve picked these degrees. They’re unlikely to use your in-depth knowledge of the Victorian novel in a job like this. It’s more likely to be shorthand for “ideally, we want someone who can write, can think of customers’ needs, and if you’ve also got an understanding of digital communications, we’ll be very happy”.

Pin your hopes on the catch-all of “a related discipline” and show them how your degree, or even your other skills or work experience, would help you succeed in the role. If you read the skills required, you can see that they have another specific shopping list of what they would ideally like, but they start out with the key bullet point:

  • “No prior knowledge is required, however a basic understanding of digital marketing would enable you to progress quicker through a fast growing business”

In other words, do some basic research to understand what the job would involve, show us you’re interested in the job (this is critical – you’ve got to make them feel that you would love to do the job and would learn fast), convince us you’ve already got the other generic skills we require (time management, logical problem solving, numeracy, communication skills) and it’s worth a try, whichever degree you’ve done.

From discussions with the employer, we know they’d be interested in those with writing experience, including bloggers or social media buffs. If that’s you, whether you’re a geologist or a philosopher, it’s worth a look.

If you’re interested in this particular job, log into CareersLink and look at Vacancy ID 17350, and ignore the closing date (they’re going to extend it to the end of January) and apply – or have a closer look at some of the other 500+ ads which are currently active.

2 responses to “Widening your job search”

  1. Thanks for the endorsement Elizabeth – just as a supplement, the average salary for a graduate working in the NW 6 months after graduation last year was £18,440.

    It won’t have changed much in the last 12 months. So 14-17k is below that figure, but not much.

    1. Elizabeth (Postgrad blog) Avatar
      Elizabeth (Postgrad blog)

      Thanks Charlie – I knew you’d be on the case. Interesting that the NW average wasn’t that much below the national average, given the large number of graduates and the much higher cost of living in the South East. Maybe we’re better off up here (think we already knew that!).


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