On 8th and 9th January, the University of Leeds held its annual student education conference. This included a question and answer session with employers on Friday afternoon. In this post, we’ve summarised some of the key messages that came out of this.
The panel was made up of Dan Crow (CTO, Songkick) Tom Riordan (CEO, Leeds City Council), Lieran Docherty (Regional Manager, Together Women Project), Jen Williams (Associate Director, TeachFirst), and Claire Adams (Relationship Manager, Association of Graduate Recruiters).
- The council are really keen to encourage graduates to stay in the region after graduation and emphasised that there are loads of great graduate opportunities in the region. Check out our website for more information on staying in Leeds or talk to us for further help.
- AGR members often end their recruitment season with unfilled vacancies. Last year, thousands of vacancies were not filled. If you are planning to apply to graduate schemes with these types of organisations, this post will be useful.
- Many AGR members are the organisations which traditionally ask for a minimum of a 2:1 classification. Claire Adams mentioned that an increasing number of their members are removing this as a cut-off, being more interested in candidates’ wider experiences.
What are the key things graduates need?
These were general things in addition to any job specific skills/ qualifications and general skills such as communication, team-working and so on.
- Coping with ambiguity – Claire Adams feels that many graduates struggle making the transition from degree, where what’s expected of you is very clear e.g. in terms of having clear assessment criteria etc., to the work environment where you are just expected to ‘get on with it’ without such specific instructions. Try to expose yourself to opportunities where you might have to be more pro-active; this could be through extra-curricular activities, volunteering, part-time work or work placements.
- Resilience – Lieran Docherty feels that this is essential and it sparked a lively discussion around the importance of experiencing and coping with failure. There was general consensus that most graduates have rarely experienced ‘failing’ at something by the time they finish university and that this means that it is often difficult to cope when things don’t go as expected. Try and push yourself outside of your comfort zone and challenge yourself. Failing is such a valuable learning experience and resilience is essential in all types of work.
- Adaptability – Dan Crow stressed how quickly the world is changing and that the pace of change is accelerating. Being able to adapt to, and indeed, pre-empt, changes and trends is essential for everyone, but particularly those interested in the startup sector. Check out this post for more on adaptability and how to develop and demonstrate this to employers.
- Passion – All panellists felt that passion and enthusiasm were fundamental things to be able to demonstrate. Dan Crow in particular was keen to stress that for him, this did not necessarily have to mean being passionate about something job-related, but that he always asks what people love and would be put off if there was nothing that really excited them.
- Digital skills – Tom Riordan feels that graduates having digital skills is ‘a given’. Claire Adams mentioned that some AGR members are actually getting graduate recruits to mentor senior managers on things like social media and Lieran Docherty agreed that this could definitely be a selling point for graduates entering the workforce. However, the panel agreed that it was essential that graduates did not neglect the basics (transferable skills)
- LinkedIn – A question was asked about whether LinkedIn has replaced the CV. The panel was in broad agreement that it hadn’t, and that the CV still was very useful. However, Dan Crow said he only uses a CV to find an applicants name and then immediately turns to Google to find out more about them as this gives him a much more holistic view of the person. TeachFirst have recently started to use LinkedIn to identify and approach suitable potential candidates. Claire Adams felt that AGR members were still very much reliant on their own application systems.
- Networking – Lieran Docherty stressed that the charity and voluntary sectors rarely have the budgets to advertise widely. They tend to use existing networks to advertise roles (either other third sector organisations or individuals they know already, e.g. volunteers). She also highlighted the need to get involved in the local community if you are interested in community work and to get to know Leeds beyond the student community.
- Ongoing learning and development – There was a lot of discussion around how much of the ‘finished article’ employers expect new graduates to be. This focused primarily on the fact that everyone should continue to learn and develop throughout their lives and embrace this. To quote one panellist “it’s actually very hard to recruit people who think they are the finished article”.
Were you at the conference? If you’ve any additional insights, or if there is anything you think we missed, please add it in the comments below.