Ireland’s graduates suffer a crisis of confidence about their career prospects

gradireland has been given exclusive access to the trendence European Graduate Barometer, a pan-European survey of over 343,000 students and graduates across 950 universities throughout Europe. This survey measures third-level students’ attitudes towards their career prospects on graduation, and this year’s survey highlights an alarming collapse in confidence amongst Ireland’s third-level students in comparison to their European counterparts.

Although Ireland was one of the earliest and hardest-hit countries to experience the effects of the financial crisis in Europe, career confidence amongst Ireland’s students remained on par with students across Europe during 2009, 2010 and 2011 (as tracked by the trendence ‘Optimism Index’). This can be seen in the graph below.

However the survey clearly shows the collapse in confidence in 2012, with Irish optimism sinking to its lowest recorded value while career confidence levels in the rest of Europe show a slight increase.

Further analysis of the Optimism Index reveals that students in Ireland expect to find it much harder to find a graduate job than other students in Europe, even in well-publicised growth sectors such as IT. Analysis of Irish students who want to work in IT and engineering-related sectors shows that they expect to have to make more than 35 applications, and spend 5.4 months on their job search, before finding a job. This compares to a European expectation of just 21 applications over a period of 4.2 months before successfully landing a graduate role.

Students looking to pursue a career in business, finance or the professions, traditionally the largest and most important sectors for graduate employment in Ireland, are even less confident. They expect to have to make 34 unsuccessful applications before they find a job, and expect to spend even longer on their job search (5.5 months). In this sector, comparison with student attitudes in the UK is important, as the UK is the largest emigration destination for Irish graduates – and the picture does not get any brighter. While prospects in mainland Europe look rosier, the outlook in the UK is gloomy: UK students looking for work in business, finance or the professions also expect to make 34 applications over 5.5 months before securing employment. UK pessimism in the largest sector for graduate jobs reinforces the collapse in confidence of Irish students, making the most popular career ‘Plan B’ less attractive and exacerbating feelings of pessimism.

gradireland will be embarking on a nationwide series of campus events during September and October to ensure that Ireland’s students are provided with the best possible career support, along with access to information about available graduate jobs and schemes. The gradireland Graduate Careers Fair on 10 October is also designed to help students find out more about how to boost their employability and maximise their chances of securing a graduate role.

How I began a career in media and publishing

Hi, I’m Josie the new editorial intern, who will be working with gradireland for the next three months. My love for writing began at the tender age of four when I wrote my first story about a rabbit. Since then I have relished the freedom that comes with being creative.

Going down the creative ‘road’ isn’t easy. It isn’t like nipping to your local supermarket; more like a six-hour drive along winding country lanes. There isn’t a direct route and it takes a long time to develop skills and get experience. 

I kick-started my career by going on a one-day journalism course aged 16. There was a speaker from BBC radio’s Woman’s Hour who gave us an insight into working in radio. As luck would have it I was writing a Woman’s Hour script for an English project. I emailed her and was invited for work experience. I got to meet the presenters and sit in the studio while they recorded live shows. I had been in the right place at the right time and I made the most of the opportunity.

Following this I did a stint at Waitrose Kitchen magazine, having sent them a few letters. I sat next to the editor, wrote captions for the beauty pages and drank cocktails during a tasting session. Applying for a less obvious publication paid off, as I got another set of work experience under my belt. 

I went to the University of Leeds, did a four-year English Language degree and chose to study for a year in the US. While I was in America, I went to a promotional event at my students’ union and met a lady working at Teen Vogue. I pestered her with questions, got her email address and emailed her the moment I got home. The result: marketing work experience in New York that summer. Working at Teen Vogue was exciting: I chose competition winners, sorted out goodie bags for events, scouted a band and made deliveries to fancy New York offices. However, I was thrown in at the deep end and had to figure out everything for myself.

Now I am at gradireland, where, for the first time, I am getting trained to proofread, copy-edit, commission and so on. Over the past five years I have realised that to succeed you need to build up experience as early as possible, be determined and apply for the less obvious jobs. These three things will ultimately help you to get the job that you want. I have received plenty of rejection letters in the past and typically no response at all. But I stuck with it. Writing applications when you are young is great practice: you have nothing to lose, just everything to gain.

How I got my job at gradireland

My name is Conor Hogan and I’m now a few weeks into my new position as an editor at gradireland. Reading this blog, you are probably looking for a job, so it might be useful for me to tell you how I got mine.

I’ll begin, however, many years ago in Tipperary, as I was drinking Red Bull and coffee – trying to cram as much information as possible into my head for my first Leaving Certificate examination the following morning. This I would repeat seven times (the coffee drinking, not the Leaving Cert).

This led to me getting accepted in a four-year Humanities degree, before progressing to a postgraduate diploma in Communications – which was mostly centred on Media and TV Production. It is important to note that I do not have formal journalism training. Many people in the industry don’t.

My first job following graduation, if you do not include the years I spent behind the counter in Xtravision, was as a staff writer for an online magazine. I managed to get the interview after applying to an online advertisement, despite making some classic mistakes in my CV.

For instance, I went into far too much detail about my duties at Xtravision, which were absolutely irrelevant. Reading back over it now is kind of hilarious: ‘Duties include serving customers, opening and closing the shop, merchandising the store, hoovering.’ In every subsequent CV, I’ve just written that ‘I worked as part of the store team while I pursued my education’.

In the interview, I was as enthusiastic and amiable as I could have been under the circumstances. You’ll have only been called up to an interview if they established you were qualified. One of the main things that they want to learn is whether they like or can work with you.

When it was between me and another person, I was given a writing task: ‘Ten things to improve Ireland’. I’d finished and emailed it to them in a couple of hours. While it wasn’t the greatest thing I’ve ever written, it determined I could write quickly with some degree of humour – speed was one of the main things they were looking for.

After my contract expired, I was unemployed for a period. Journalism jobs were few and far between so I decided to apply for a JobBridge internship. I have serious reservations about that scheme, but it is important for a journalist not to have CV gaps. The internship was as a journalist in a quarterly magazine and considering the absolute churning-machine I had become at my previous job, it was nice to get the opportunity to spend more time working at stories. The magazine was also a two-person team, so I got plenty of opportunity to edit.

While there, I got other job interviews. It was frustrating at times, frequently getting down to the last couple or so. I had to keep reminding myself that getting really close is a positive thing and that eventually the more I did, the likelier I’d get something (statistically speaking).

I then saw the position at gradireland advertised on an Irish jobsite. They (it’s we now) had decided to advertise the job in Ireland, even though GTI Media’s editorial department is based in the UK. I firstly had a phone interview. These can be awkward because it is difficult to gauge how you are doing without seeing the other person’s reaction.

I must have done okay, as I got a second interview – this time face-to-face. I was also given an example article to write and an editing exercise to complete. When they established I was their preferred candidate, I was asked to come over to see the office. It was a long day, involving buses, airplanes, taxis and other John Candy movie related transport but obviously worth it in the end.

And right now, I am writing this blog. It isn’t ‘right now’ for you obviously, it was sometime in the past. But hopefully not only will it tell you a bit about ‘who I am’ but somehow help you a bit in your job search.

You should never lie in an interview… but think twice before you tell the truth.

a desk light

Are you showing yourself in the best light?

A colleague of mine recently  asked a recruiter what was the most memorable answer she’d been given in an interview. Her reply: ‘I asked a candidate why they had got involved with a charity. They said that they didn’t particularly care about the charity in question but that it looked good on their CV and would help them to secure a job.’

I know everyone tells you to be yourself in a job interview, but is that taking the advice too literally?

The interviewee’s answer was honest, but it doesn’t present them in the best light.  And often in life, it’s not what you say but how you say it that counts: how, in fact, you choose to package the truth.

The reason why, as a recruiter, I would not appoint this candidate isn’t that I would particularly care about their true feelings towards the charity. I would care about their communications skills and their lack of awareness of what is and isn’t appropriate (and tactful) to say in a business context such as a job interview. I’d also feel that they were somewhat naïve about how the job-hunting process really works.

Doing something because it looks good on your CV is not in itself a bad thing. But you need to know why it looks good on a CV.  Working for a charity (or in a shop or a pub, for example) makes you more employable because it gives you experience of the working world, develops your work ethic and gives you transferable skills that will be useful in a graduate job. And it improves your CV because it allows you to demonstrate those achievements.

So, when asked, a better answer would be: ‘I wanted to develop my skills and make myself more employable’.  You are actually saying the same thing about your underlying motives, but using different words to explain it.

That’s not lying, it’s still the truth – just presented in a more thoughtful way. Then, of course, you have to provide evidence that it worked, and be able to discuss the skills that you developed from the experience.

As a recruiter, I wouldn’t mind how the applicant felt about the particular charity (if they felt too strongly, I might worry about their motivation for working for me!). But knowing that they had been proactive about getting useful experience – and are able to communicate this well – would impress me, regardless of their level of altruism.