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18th November 2023

Applying for graduate schemes and jobs is the worst thing on my to-do list

The process of even attempting to apply for graduate opportunities is intense and unfair, and the government and potential employers need to change their attitudes towards graduates
Applying for graduate schemes and jobs is the worst thing on my to-do list
Credit: Alexandra Baynes @ The Mancunion

One day you’re lugging your blue IKEA bags up the stairs of your final year house. The next you’re getting lost in the Sam Alex which you thought you knew your way around by now. And the next, the majority of application windows for graduate schemes and jobs have closed.

There’s no denying that final year is the most intense. It’s a whirlwind of plotting, drinking, and scheming. Alongside the intensity of your actual degree, extracurricular, and much-savoured “me time”, the knowledge that the traditional next step is to apply for a grad scheme or job is omnipresent.

I have several qualms about grad schemes and jobs. Not in the bemoaning “poor me, I have to face the real world, I’m just a 21-year-old teenage girl” mentality which many Boomers believe is true of students. The application process for a grad job is unrepresentative and faceless. The timeframe – with the majority of opportunities closing as early as November – means that many final year students simply miss out. STEM graduates are having the spotlight shone on them, in an effort to plug a recognised gap in the market; which isn’t exactly great news to hear as a Humanities student.

The pressure piled on by peers, relatives, and academics can be overwhelming. The level of competition teeters from healthy to unhealthy. The cycle of unfulfilled hope chips away at the applicant’s aspirations and ambitions; the automated rejection email only furthers this. A graduate’s future depends on their own resilience.

All of these issues – systemic, vocational, emotional, and mental – combine to dispassion graduates, and play their part in making the labour market inaccessible and unappealing.

The application process

The first stage of the application process is usually the employer’s take on a values test, a situational judgement test, and/or a Maths test. So three separate components for 1 stage. It’s common for the majority of employers to have, at a minimum, four stages to the process. It’s time-consuming.

Yet the initial screening process doesn’t necessarily allow for a well-rounded picture of the graduate’s abilities, or what they’ve already achieved in a certain career path. Even if they were suitable for a position, the problem is, many graduates aren’t able to demonstrate this to employers because they don’t get past the highly selective first stage.

The process is also incredibly long. Not only do final-year students have to find the schemes – they unfortunately don’t just appear in front of you – but there are several stages to the application process. Take the Aldi grad scheme; there are five stages with multiple components to it. For other companies, this application process can take a matter of not weeks but months. Given that on average grads apply for 29 schemes, the total sum of applications takes up a considerable chunk of time.

The process is faceless, which is incompatible with the fact that it is the employees’ faces which shape the company. My own (hot?) take on this is that it would be preferable for a company to have a bunch of enthusiastic, willing, and determined graduates who may not have scored top marks in the tests, but want to learn on the job. Instead of having a bunch of graduates who did score top marks in the tests, knew the answer to that question and what to say in this interview, but don’t have the passion or enthusiasm which others possess. In my view, personality and potential are more important than what you can prove in the tests.

Humanities versus STEM

Perhaps these qualms are more strongly felt by Humanities graduates than STEM. Often, our career paths are significantly less clear. There’s a dichotomy between the two types of university pathways: Humanities students have more of an ‘open’ degree, while STEM have a more ‘closed’ degree.

Moreover, the government’s constant belittling and undervaluation of Humanities graduates acts as a blockade for our aspirations. This is only too keenly seen by the cuts made to arts courses. The government views the “value” of a student by the degree title, or more specifically the type of qualification (BA, BSc) on their £27k certificate. Of course, their value skyrockets if they attended a red brick university.

Even out of the 2,917 total vacancies listed on CareerConnect, 2,134 are STEM-related.

What the government – and employers – should be doing is taking a holistic view of the three (or more) years of learning, analysis, and discussion every student has endured, and the skills they have secured from this. It’s almost ironic that these key principles of higher education are literally embedded in the lives of Humanities students, yet the government wants to undermine and undervalue these transferable skills.

Pressure and hope

All of these issues have to be endured in tandem with the emotional and mental side of applying for schemes and jobs. On top of the fact that 7 in 10 students are diagnosed with a mental health condition, students already deal with more than enough, and the added pressures of final year exacerbate this.

This in itself could be a whole other discussion, and given its importance, should be. But I’ll keep it brief.

The sense that students somewhat float through the first few years of their degree comes crashing down in the final year. I think that the pressure, competition, and intensity of the process can be healthy. But the cycle of rejection, dejected hopes, and impersonality of the experience borders on unhealthy. This does little to encourage graduates to keep on applying; especially when figures from the High Fliers Research Institute demonstrate that the number of grab job applications increases by 8% year on year.

The statistics of the graduate labour market are reflective of those who were persistent, resilient and motivated enough to keep on applying. It doesn’t account for those who felt these emotions more strongly, or who were swayed in another direction along the way. The market needs to be more accessible.

At the time of writing, the number of grad schemes I’ve applied for is greater than the number of nights I’ve spent at DJ Billy this term. The majority of them swiftly said no, and my Outlook inbox has remained suspiciously silent about the others. This is a cycle which will no doubt repeat itself, either until I, like a knight in battle, lay down my arms or until someone, somewhere takes a chance on me.

Maybe I’m just having a moan, but I believe that there are multiple issues which need to be dealt with to make the grad job process more appealing.

Alexandra Baynes

Alexandra Baynes

Head Editor of Opinion Section. Radio Host on Fuse FM. Twitter: @lexiebayness

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