Alternative career options for graduates, and how SMEs can benefit
The pandemic has restricted student and graduate employment across some career types, meaning that many graduates who have studied aligned degrees have had to adjust their career plans, resulting in other industries gaining the benefit of their skills. You may hear this referred to as a non-linear career: essentially, careers that are not directly related to a degree type.
It’s not a new concept. Historically, many graduates have not continued with a career path related to their degree; often by choice, after all what is planned at 17 is not always what is wanted at 21. Others have had to look at alternative career choices due to necessity: a lack of options in some specialised areas, or not wishing to continue with the additional studies required in others. And many have stumbled into their ideal career unexpectedly.
Some may feel uncomfortable with this, as they have studied an area for so long, but it’s important to bear in mind that completing a degree still shows a lot of qualities including the ability to learn and absorb knowledge, together with transferable skills that can be used in a range of careers. So what has been learned has not been wasted. To these graduates I would say: if your degree helps you to get a job that you enjoy, and gives you what you are looking for long-term, then why worry about anything else? Be proud of what you have achieved.
Certain degree types have traditionally lent themselves to a range of careers: Law for example where transferable skills include negotiation, research, presentation, analysis, communication, and problem solving.
For some employers it will be about soft skills rather than what was specifically learned. Or perhaps a graduate may have completed a relevant module as part of their course. For some degree types there can be often a crossover; for example I have worked with employers who ideally wanted Computer Science graduates. The best ones are always in demand, so they opened their recruitment up to include Physics and Mathematics graduates for certain positions as they felt they had pieces of knowledge to build on, and a similar mindset to help them develop and learn. Of course this won’t be suitable in all cases, but is worth taking some time to consider.
In some cases it can be about ‘doing’. Marketing is one area I am often asked about – it’s a popular area and one where there is a lot of competition, and it’s not easy to get into. If a full range of knowledge is required, it will be more difficult without a related degree. But there may be a particular area that you can focus on, by showing genuine interest extending to plenty of related activity. Marketing is ultimately about getting results, and I know of a history graduate who beat off competition from several marketing graduates at interview stage for a social-media focused role due to work she had done promoting a university society. She knew all the different forms of social media, their strengths and weaknesses and relevance to specific markets, and was able to show examples of content she had written, and how she increased engagement and measured it. It was an area she was very interested and knowledgeable in, and she was able to demonstrate this- but without that piece of work she had done she wouldn’t have even got to interview stage.
Many employers will look at any degree type (or certainly a range) for their roles- the soft skills are what they are most interested in. Sales or commercial roles can be a good option for a graduate with the right attributes. On occasion I have had feedback from within some universities that this is not a proper career for a graduate, but I would strongly disagree. For many, the reason they went to university is with the aim of getting a career they enjoy and where they can earn good money, with the degree being a means to an end to some extent. And if an employer is looking for a degree, then those studies have helped the graduate to secure the job.
Employers often ask me which graduates can best succeed in sales or commercial roles. While in theory a business degree may have most relevance, or perhaps something like tourism / hospitality, it doesn’t always work out that way. Of course if technical knowledge is required then a specialist degree may be needed. But it’s mainly about soft skills. There can be a misconception that if someone has the ‘gift of the gab’ that they will automatically make a good salesperson, but while a degree of confidence is essential I would say that the ability to listen is equally important, and I know of more reserved types who have had excellent careers in sales. In terms of a graduate some previous sales experience gained whilst studying would be an obvious pointer, but there are other signs to look out for. For example playing sport to a decent standard, which requires determination and resilience; as does promoting a club night, or organising a fundraising activity, which also shows a business mind. All are assets in a commercial / sales role.
The concept can be used for many different types of positions -assuming that some specialist knowledge that can only be gained from a degree is not essential, and that the employer has some flexibility on degree types. The job advert will generally have a list of attributes that are required, and these can often be aligned to specific degrees. For example, research skills could be key, which would bring in a variety of degrees. There are many more examples, too many to list here, but it’s something I discuss in more depth in specific cases when I speak with employers,
For students or graduates who do not have a specific career in mind it can be worth thinking about alternative career options, and your university careers advisors will be able to help with advice.
For employers it can often pay to consider a range of skills that a graduate has developed, rather than focus on a specific degree type, particularly for positions where candidates fitting the ideal background are less readily available.
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SME Graduate Employment is a specialist student and graduate recruitment agency covering permanent jobs, placements, and internships across the UK. Most job types and business sectors are covered.