What really matters to employers

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There will always be competition for the best graduate jobs, and the most popular employers can afford to be selective. Employers still value high academic achievement – with some specifying minimum degree results – but they also put great store on personal qualities.

The gradireland Graduate Salary Survey 2008 invited companies to describe the competences they seek in particular and those mentioned most frequently included communication skills, team-working, problem-solving and attention to detail. Leadership potential is also valued. Personal qualities such as ‘drive’, ‘creativity’ and ‘work ethic’ were also mentioned.

Many recruiters will look for competences relevant to a particular role, such as commercial awareness, numeracy, customer focus or specific technical skills. Similarly, vocational courses such as accountancy, business, computing, engineering and construction are important where graduate roles require entrants to have existing job-specific skills. Some recruiters (28 per cent) also demand relevant work experience, while others state that any work experience is useful but not essential. However, you should note that work experience can help when you want to demonstrate the competences that you can offer.

69 per cent of the employers surveyed offer work experience to students so it is worth taking advantage of these opportunities, particularly as work experience is now a key part of graduate recruitment for many employers. Several companies operate co-operative schemes with universities such as the University of Limerick and Dublin City University, while others run their own programmes over the summer months, or offer more substantial 6–12 month contracts and placements.

Minimum criteria

Many recruiters set minimum entry criteria for their graduate roles. These can range from minimum degree results to detailed psychometric testing, and most are used to eliminate applicants before first interview. Companies will generally have a number of criteria that a student must fulfil in order to progress to first interview stage.

The most important of these are demonstrating certain competences (49 per cent of respondents) and studying a particular course (43 per cent). 25 per cent of employers expect candidates to pass psychometric or other in-house testing before they will take their application further. It is encouraging that selection appears to be largely on merit, as only 5 per cent of employers say that they expect candidates to have studied at a particular university.

Academic results

 The majority of companies still expect a good level of academic results, with 31 per cent favouring a 2.1 degree or above. However, that figure has dropped since last year, while the number of companies accepting 2.2 degrees (25 per cent) has increased. Only 8 per cent of respondents specify particular Leaving Certificate/UCAS points, with the average being 370 points (or equivalent). A postgraduate degree is particularly valued where the job requires special expertise, but will not necessarily command a higher salary.

From the point of view of an employer the postgraduate student has more specialist knowledge, making themselves stand out from primary degree graduates. Further study usually results in students gaining work-related, transferable skills, such as time management, research and presentation skills.

A common perception among students is that completing a postgraduate course will automatically increase their earning potential. Employers responding to the gradireland Graduate Salary Survey 2008 did not confirm these expectations, but their answers indicate that things may be moving in that direction. While only 40 per cent of respondents said they do not pay any more for PhD students, this shows an increase of 5 per cent on the previous year. There was also a 5 per cent increase in the number of companies who say they will offer salaries of more than 10 per cent extra to students with a postgraduate degree.

It is important to note that there are certain roles, for example in engineering and science, where a postgraduate qualification is a specific requirement. In these cases, completion of a PhD or masters course will have a bearing on pay scales.

Application processes

The internet continues to integrate itself further into the recruitment process and clearly affects the way companies are now expecting students to apply for jobs. There are now more companies asking for e-mailed CVs than accepting them through the post. However, it remains important to have a good CV as this still accounts for the majority of applications. At present, those companies who only accept online applications are still in a minority (19 per cent).

Personal qualities valued by employers 

  • ‘Motivated and willing to learn.’
  • ‘Professional, hard-working, ambitious, pleasant.’
  • ‘Drive and determination.’
  • ‘Attention to detail, organisation skills, communication skills.’
  • ‘Working under pressure and the ability to think outside the box.’
  • ‘Teamwork and leadership potential.’
  • ‘Common sense, quick learner.’
  • ‘Thinking things through and identifying solutions.’
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