Skip to content

Gradvantage Scheme- Employers favour Networking Skills from Graduates

November 17, 2011

Networking is a valuable skill for anyone in Business, but recent graduates, struggling to find work are finding that the skills used to network could just land them that dream job.  It is not based around small talk but it is about building those valuable relationships in business that take you places. As many graduates are finding now, it is not just having a degree that will take you places but all about what else you can bring to the table.  As the old saying goes; it’s not what you know but who you know.

This article printed on The Guardian‘s website this week shows how graduates are being taught the value of networking. The Gradvantage scheme, as discussed here by Rachel Williams gives graduates a step forward in the competitive job market today.

Graduates learn some networking skills

Universities are giving students networking lessons to help them succeed in the competitive jobs market

If you turn up at a networking event to find yourself surrounded by groups of people already chatting intently, how do you break into a conversation? “Avoid groups of four,” says David Radcliffe, a 22-year-old graduate in criminology and sociology from Liverpool University.

“Look for people standing in a V shape,” Ayesha Salahuddin, also 22, who studied law, adds. “Their body language is implying they’re being welcoming.”

And how do you get away when the conversation has died? You can conveniently spot someone across the room and excuse yourself saying you need to speak to them, he says. Failing that, there’s always the old fallback of saying you need to nip to the gents or ladies.

Radcliffe and Salahuddin learned their new networking skills at a “graduate bootcamp” run by Liverpool University’s careers service, in partnership with the city’s chamber of commerce.

With the latest figures showing graduate unemployment at a 15-year high, Liverpool, along with other universities, believes these “soft skills” are more important than ever. Recent Higher Education Statistics Agency figures revealed that more than a quarter of graduates are still without full-time work more than three years after leaving university.

Once, your degree alone would get you a job, says Paul Redmond, head of the careers and employability service. Today employers can afford to demand much more of prospective staff. “The competition for jobs is so intense, and often the differentiators are those so-called soft skills ,” he says. “Small talk isn’t small talk in a business setting.”

So far, 185 graduates have been trained on the 10-day Gradvantage programme. Of those who have been through the course, only 32 had graduated this year. “Once the credit crunch happened we thought ‘we’ve got to start doing different things for graduates’,” Redmond says.

Research by the Sutton Trust in 2009 found that while only 7% of children in the UK are privately educated, the majority of those at the top of the leading professions went to independent fee-paying schools. Among the leading judges and barristers, seven in 10 benefited from a private education, as well as 55% of partners at top law firms and 54% of leading journalists and medics.

And as unpaid internships – often obtained through family contacts – become increasingly ubiquitous, experts on social mobility believe young people from less privileged backgrounds are being put at an even greater disadvantage.

Gradvantage is not specifically aimed at graduates from less well-off families – anyone based in Merseyside, with a degree from any university, can participate (another of its aims is to encourage graduates to stay in the area).

But Redmond hopes it will help to create a more level playing field for young people who don’t necessarily have the ready-built networks of their more middle-class peers.

Paul Cullinan, who works for the service liaising with employers and also teaches the networking skills section, gets the groups to map the people they know as a diagram to get them thinking where fruitful links might be.

“You get some people saying they don’t know anyone,” says project co-ordinator Sharon Nicholson. “It’s not always someone in your network who can help, but they might be able to put you in touch with someone else who can. Some people do struggle with that to begin with.”

Graduates are taught the harsh reality that while they might be looking for jobs on websites and in newspapers, many employers only advertise vacancies once they’ve looked internally for candidates and then asked contacts if they know anyone suitable. This means that making themselves known to those potential employers is imperative.

“We encourage them to go to the sorts of places where the people they want to speak to hang out – going to recruitment fairs and not just picking up the leaflets, but talking to people and getting business cards,” says Nicholson.

The course aims to be as hands-on as possible: Cullinan demonstrates his tips on getting the most out of networking events by telling half the group to start chatting amongst themselves, while the others observe their body language.

“If people are standing face to face, they’re saying they don’t want anyone else to join in, but slowly but surely they’ll open out,” he says. “That’s when to introduce yourself.”

Other elements include mock interviews and putting together group presentations to test public speaking skills. Graduates may also be able to secure a 14-hour-a-week (unpaid) work experience placement through the chamber of commerce, lasting 13 or 26 weeks.

Martin Pennington, the interim chief executive of the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services, says universities have been focusing increasingly on skills like networking since the recession. “It’s not just about helping with their CV or job application, which careers services have always done, but help with selling yourself, getting out there and pushing yourself in front of employers.

It’s possible the advice on how to work a room would sound obvious to a seasoned professional, but for recent students it has been an eye-opener.

Chris Kennedy, 22, who studied psychology at Liverpool, says he didn’t realise the value of networking. “I honestly didn’t even know what it really meant before the session. Now I’ve found out about all sorts of events and I feel a lot more confident I can get something out of them.”

“While you’re at university, you’ve been taught to do online applications, and everything is very computer-based,” Salahuddin says.

“Paul’s point was ‘what’s wrong with face-to-face interaction?’. That’s something I’ve lost at university, just going out there and speaking to people.”

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: