A good degree won’t guarantee you a job, it’s a question of attitude, says EY

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London, Saturday 11 February 2012: UK graduates take pride in what they do and excel at problem solving and building relationships. But with over 22% of 16-24 year olds out of work, graduates will need to build resilience and get out of their comfort zones if they are going to fully realise their potential, according to the findings of a survey released today by one of the country’s leading recruiters, EY.

The survey of over 1,000 UK university students was devised by the Centre of Applied Positive Psychology (Capp) and tested for employability skills. It showed that whilst graduates have many core strengths, they aren't always willing to take risks and can struggle to recover from setbacks.

Out of the 60 strengths tested for by the survey, students’ top five skills were: taking pride in their work, problem solving, being true to themselves, building relationships and having a sense of humour. They were weakest in: resilience, time optimisation, showing courage at overcoming their fears, taking risks, and making themselves the centre of attention.

Stand out from the competition

Commenting on the findings, Stephen Isherwood, head of graduate recruitment at EY said: “A good degree from a respected university no longer guarantees students’ a job. We interview over 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.”

Top tips for graduates: focus on your strengths

So how can students develop their skills to ensure that they are attractive to potential employers? EY and Capp have compiled a list of top ten practical tips, but say that the key is to stay focused on building existing strengths.

Alex Linley, Director at Capp explains: “Students need to stay focussed 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: “You don’t need to have thrown yourself out of a plane to demonstrate to an employer that you have a sense of adventure or are resilient. Think about examples from your work experience placements or even your part time job. It could even be an occasion where you dealt with a difficult customer in a busy restaurant, whilst working as a waiter.”

No room for complacency

According to the survey, 83% of respondents were optimistic about achieving their career aspirations. However, Isherwood warns graduates against becoming complacent.

“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.”

EY is recruiting over 800 graduate trainees, 60 school leavers, and also offers 700 undergraduate work experience and internship placements. The professional services firm receives around 18,000 every year, but says that there are still places on offer for the right candidates.

EY and Capp’s top ten tips:

  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.