Stephen Isherwood thinks students should be optimistic about their career prospects, despite the fact that the UK's economy is still not growing significantly: "This recession is longer than everyone expected but it will end, and many employers want talented people in their business for when that upswing comes. We're recruiting more graduates than before the credit crunch started - almost 700 this year."
Stephen heads up graduate recruitment in the UK and Ireland for Ernst & Young: one of the world's largest and most respected professional services firms with plenty of opportunities for UK students every year. On top of his role here, Stephen is also a board member of the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR), and points to research by this body showing that graduate vacancies in general are up in 2013. "There are plenty of opportunities for students," he says, "if they apply themselves, think about what they want to do, and throw themselves into their job search."
So the roles are out there, but you'll need more than a good degree to win one. We asked Stephen to tell us what else Ernst & Young look for.
At Ernst & Young we deal with complex problems for clients, and need people with the intellectual horsepower to solve them. It's also about mental flexibility and creativity - the environment we work in is always changing, and we constantly need to look at things in new ways. And we're not just looking for intellectual ability in the abstract - we need people who can apply their intelligence in real commercial situations.
Our clients are people, and we sell the skills and abilities of our people. So here you need to be able to communicate effectively with others and get things done through collaboration.
The activities you get involved in at university outside your academic studies, such as volunteering and student societies, can help you develop in this area. They give you the understanding that solving a problem or delivering a solution means working with other people and getting to grips with their ideas, ways of working, thoughts, and agendas, which may be different to yours.
We work in a demanding environment. We don't always do regular 9am-5pm working days, as clients sometimes need a solution to a problem urgently. And if you're studying for professional qualifications when you start with us as a graduate, you're going to have to go home after a full day's work and do a couple of hours of study. You can't do any of these things if you're not motivated. It's also important that you're not just driven to do exciting work, but that you can get stuck in when we're facing a tight deadline and there's a mundane task that needs to be done. We look for a willingness to do whatever it takes to get a job completed for the client to the highest standard
You can show your drive by doiong well academically alongside taking part in extracurricular activities, demonstrating you've got the resourcefulness to work practically to overcome hurdles and deliver the exceptional client service that's really important to our business.
The most successful people at Ernst & Young are those who self-analyse. They know what they're good at and what they need to work on. They reflect on their experiences and then do something differently as a result. Ernst & Young is the kind of place that rewards people who are motivated and ambitious in this way, who like challenging themselves and the status quo, and who like doing things in new ways.
To gain more self-awareness, you could try talking to your university careers service, or people who know you well. But becoming more self-aware is also simply about getting experience and then reflecting on it, which is almost more important than the experience itself, so it doesn't necessarily matter if you've failed in some way in something you've taken on. I often ask students in interviews to talk to me about something they've done that didn't go completely right and if they can't think of anything, they're either not telling the truth or have never put themselves in a situation where they've tested themselves, neither of which is ideal. Instead, we like to see that you can challenge yourself, develop, improve and move forward.
Commercial awareness doesn't necessarily mean being able to rattle off the latest share prices and the level the FTSE 100 is trading at. It's more about a real interest in how businesses work and the current big issues in the commercial world. You should be picking up a quality newspaper regularly and going to the business section. You shouldn't be doing so just to impress potential employers, but because of an innate interest in the topics covered. You've got to be genuinely interested in business to not only enjoy working at a firm like ours, but to be successful too.
Getting experience in a business is also good way to gain commercial awareness, but it doesn't have to be a "gold-plated" internship. For instance, somebody who's worked on a checkout in a supermarket can form interesting views on how that retailer organises itself, how it makes its money, how it markets itself, the pressures it's under, the challenges it's facing, and what it could do differently.
Improve your employability with Ernst & Young
At this event with a difference, students got to experience Ernst & Young first-hand. Alongside an introduction to the firm, three interactive skills sessions helped explain what makes students attractive to employers. There were also plenty of opportunities to chat to graduates already working at the firm about the nitty-gritty of their jobs and to get some application tips from Ernst & Young recruiters too. Look out for something similar at your university in 2013!
This new website from Ernst & Young is packed full of information, advice and case studies, all related to the skills you need for the world of work. It's designed to dispel some myths about what it takes to get a graduate job, and to help you bridge the gap between life at university and starting a professional career. You'll also be able to find out more about Ernst & Young, what the firm offers students and graduates, and whether a role here would be right for you.
EY Games Room
Visit Ernst & Young UK Careers on Facebook
Visit Facebook to enter Ernst & Young's Games Room. Put your sharp mind and fast thinking to the test with five fun brain-teasing challenges. See if you can beat the clock to be in with a chance of winning one of the many great prizes up for grabs. And if your university tops the leaderboard with the most correct plays, its volunteering society will win £5,000!