The latest edition of the annual High Fliers survey of the intentions of a select group of popular graduate employers gave rise to a flurry of gloomy headlines this week. Setting aside the rather encouraging finding that the 100 most popular graduate recruiters actually expect to offer more jobs this year, or the equally optimistic news that, between them, they expect to offer more than 11,000 paid work placements or internships to students and graduates in 2012, we hear that "More than half of recruiters warn that graduates who have had no previous work experience at all are unlikely to be successful during the selection process". Is this a harbinger of graduate job doom?
Firstly, if you check the text, 48% of the Times Top 100 employers say it is 'quite' or 'very' likely that a graduate with no work experience would get a job offer at interview. Yes, you read that right. 48 of the employers in the Times Top 100 think that graduates with absolutely no work experience at all stand a decent chance of getting a job with them - better than I thought as well.
Secondly, they don't say what that work experience needs to be. Work experience is almost always valuable. Obviously, there's a difference between a year's work placement at a busy business, and a holiday job pulling pints. Because in the latter, you're dealing with customers directly, often having to use good negotiation and interpersonal skills, and direct experience of managing company cash. And that's just off the top of my head. I'm sure the year's work placement will also be useful. In short, working gives you useful skills and it's a question of learning to translate those skills into the language spoken by business HR departments.
Thirdly, this is not new, and it is quite a long way from being new. If you are about to leave university and are unaware that work experience is not the single most useful thing you can have on your CV, then the best I can say is that I am rather surprised and that you ought to get down to your local university careers service. Run!
Work experience is immensely valuable to job seekers. Without it, your CV looks rather thin and you'll need something impressive to replace it. Great voluntary experience, for example, or a real track record of organising activities and events at university.
And don't let's forget that although this research is interesting and relevant to the large number of graduates chasing these very sought after positions, most graduates don't work for these companies. Small and medium businesses make up 40% of graduate recruitment, and the proportion is rising. It's always worth considering them as an option.
But the real message to take from this new research is that, whilst work experience is vitally important, and the jobs market is tight, no matter what other news you might be reading, the outlook for new and upcoming graduates is far from hopeless. Things may even be improving. Most graduates this year will get jobs. Most who do will get graduate level jobs. And, there's no avoiding it, work experience will help.