Career plans after university: how the priorities of Ireland’s graduates have changed

departure board

Is travel still an ambition for new graduates?

The students who took part in the recent gradireland National Student Challenge were asked their opinions on a couple of career-related subject areas, and some interesting data came out of this survey.

1,379 students from 26 universities and ITs across Ireland answered our survey. When asked ‘What is most important to you in your first graduate job after leaving university?’ the results were as follows:

Progression: 49%
Work/life balance: 25%
Money: 13%
Travel: 6%
Prestige: 3%
Other: 4%

The overwhelming preference for progression and work/life balance over money and prestige is maybe not wholly unanticipated in the current era of recession, unemployment and career instability. Yet it shows how far the priorities of Ireland’s graduates have switched since the Celtic Tiger days. A similar survey taken in 2006 and published in 2007 in The Irish Times ran under the headline ‘Final-year students looking forward to life of milk and honey’  – which could hardly be more different!

Another question asked ‘What will you do after university?’ Responses to this were:

Find a graduate job: 44%
Further study: 30%
Find a temp job: 8%
Travel/time out: 6%
Don’t know: 6%
Start up business: 4%
Other: 2%

One of the interesting elements to come from our respondents’ answers to the two questions posed above is that only 6% have pre-determined to travel. As we all know, a large proportion of Irish students do travel on graduation, but this response again highlights the pragmatic approach Ireland’s students now have towards both debt and careers. The first priority seems either to get a graduate job, to increase employability or career prospects through further study, or simply to secure some income and work experience in a tough jobs market. Travel is always an option, but seemingly not the key priority for the current generation of Irish students.

Postgraduate study: how will you pay your way?

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Recruiters told to spend less money going on about their brand

In a recent survey of over 5,000 undergraduates, the international recruitment consultancy Work Group discovered that most students started their search for a career by first looking at the sectors of work they were interested in, then the actual jobs and then (but only then) at the employers that might employ them. Only just over 10 per cent of students in the survey  looked first at the attractions of specific recruiters.

Like most research, it looks like stating the obvious but, in this case, there is an extremely serious and important lesson to be learned – not by students who will do what they do anyway but for recruiters who currently spend a fortune trying to persuade you that they are special, unique and so much better than the competition.

Work Group suggests that employers should take some of the money they currently spend on their brand and, together with other similar recruiters, spend it on promoting the sector of work that they inhabit.

So rather than, for example, every law or accountancy firm spending all their attraction budget pointing out how different they are, they would have greater success in the long term by spending a proportion  on attracting a pool of talented graduates into the law or accountancy sector where they may very well spend their entire working life.

Their argument, supported by students’ responses, is that it’s far more important for the whole sector to promote itself as a great place to work and inspire the really talented students to commit to working there. They also point out that many graduates move company within a few years and therefore if they love the sector, they will join another similar organisation anyway.

I think that students are pretty sceptical that there are significant or game-changing differences between similar-sized and similar-sounding employers and, as the research says, they will spend more time anyway looking at the merits of a range of work sectors first. This is pretty sound advice – if you make the right choice of sector and job, then exactly where you start your career is not as relevant as you might think.