“Students should try things out early on”
Off and running, or stuck in the starting blocks? Dirk Erfurth of LMU‘s Career Advisory Service Student und Arbeitsmarkt discusses job prospects for graduates and how to acquire the skills that make the difference.
How would you characterize the current job market for emerging graduates?
Dirk Erfurth: For years now, the average unemployment rate among university graduates has been around 3%, which is very low. At the same time, the number of openings available varies strongly depending on the field concerned. At present, graduates in natural sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics, medicine and business administration are in short supply. But lots of LMU students are in the humanities and social sciences, where there are large variations in demand.
Why is that?
It depends on the profile you have put together. In the humanities and social sciences, for instance, there is no clear-cut professional profile. That’s why it’s important that students should pick up additional knowledge and capabilities outside academia, over and above the specialist learning and methodology, and the social skills, they can acquire here at LMU. I know of many arts and social science graduates who have landed good jobs, and later risen to managerial positions, in unexpected settings – in the commercial sector, for instance.
What is the most important element in one’s profile?
That extra portion of specialized knowledge. It makes a big difference if I know the ins-and-outs of a certain kind of software, or understand basic concepts in Business Administration or can conduct negotiations in fluent Business English. And of course employers hope that students will have picked up practical experience relevant to their desired career – through freelance work, practical training, part-time jobs.
How much guidance do students actually need in this field?
Many of those who consult us are uneasy because they believe they can’t measure up to certain expectations. They ask questions like: What will the recruiter think if I decide this way or that? They assume that recruiters always have an “ideal candidate” in mind. So they try to conform to what they think this paragon must look like. For example, when we suggest an internship or a semester abroad, the response is often: “But I don’t have the time for that sort of thing.”
What’s wrong with that?
Employers don’t come along with the intention of picking out the applicant who has finished his university courses faster than the rest, as I know from my own contacts with them. A student who has to tack on another semester in order to do an internship may worry about the delay in entering the job market but, for an employer, who thinks in terms of working lifetimes, 6 months is of no account. What does count is personality, and practical experience. And if I have spent 6 months working abroad, while none of my rivals has, that can make all the difference.
So there is such a thing as the ideal graduate – one who has had hands-on experience abroad?
Such experiences and abilities can be very helpful for people starting out on a career, but they are not absolutely necessary. It is not a case of ticking the boxes on a list of skills one must have. Employers seek graduates who are enthusiastic about working for their companies, motivated by the challenges and willing to make a personal contribution. So students should work out for themselves – early on – what direction they want to take professionally and be ready to try things out. Even disappointing experiences are worthwhile. They enable one to discover what one is really good at and likes doing. It’s not a matter of collecting a whole batch of skills, but obtaining the right set. Concentrate primarily on skills that play to your strengths, not those that might compensate for supposed deficiencies.
How long does it take, on average, for a graduate to find a suitable job?
Students in some fields, like mathematics, informatics or natural sciences, are often assured of a job before they have completed their undergraduate courses. For graduates in the humanities and social sciences, it is realistic to expect to find one within 3 to 6 months. But not all positions are immediately available and selection procedures can take time. So students should familiarize themselves with the job market in their area of interest as soon as possible.
So one should start looking before doing one’s final exams?
Definitely. And there’s no harm in mentioning in your application that, say, “I’m just finishing my degree at LMU and will be available from such and such a date.”
You organize sector-specific Job Fairs with employers in attendance. The next one takes place at LMU from 10.-12. June. What will students find there?
These get-togethers provide students with a unique opportunity. More than 40 firms will be on hand this time, and students can meet with company representatives and recruiters, and learn more about their requirements and the career structures and promotion prospects on offer. We recommend that students should prepare for the event weeks beforehand, and we produce a comprehensive catalog containing lots of information and tips as to what one should focus on. The great thing is that these encounters are not formal job interviews. Of course, you should be appropriately dressed, well informed and have an attractively laid-out application dossier with you. But you are not going for the make-or-break interview that might go wrong. It is a matter of getting acquainted, making contacts that could lead to greater things. nh
Dirk Erfurth heads LMU‘s Career Service “Student und Arbeitsmarkt”.
The next Job Fairs at LMU take place on 10.-12. June 2013. For further information, visit the link below.