On a recent HR Review poll, 81% of people thought it was vital for graduates to have volunteer experience to successfully compete in today’s job market. Less than a fifth felt that such experience, while desirable, was no match for good qualifications and aptitude. With graduates increasingly finding that work they do outside their degree is seemingly worth as much as their three or four years of academic study, it is interesting to look from a recruitment perspective at what the benefits and drawbacks of hiring a fresh graduate for today’s ‘graduate schemes’ might be.

In the tough graduation years of 2008 and 2009, many graduates who may have had fairly set and defined ideas of where they would start their careers found themselves facing increased competition for a smaller number of entry-level roles. Some of these were also the first ones to come through with higher levels of debt from the introduction of tuition fees, forcing them to rethink their immediate career priorities. As such, 2010 began to see (and I believe 2011 will continue to see) more applications to graduate schemes from ‘second jobbers’ – young people with a couple of years’ transferable experience and skills, and the desire to move and join a competitive graduate scheme. With these candidates, graduate recruiters are offered junior staff with a proven ability to fit into the workplace – an attractive HR option.

Up against these candidates for places on graduate schemes are the fresh graduates from the summer. While more of these are coming through university with some experience gained from internships, work placements or even summer jobs, they are unable to compete on this front against these 2008 and 2009 graduates. However, they offer a freshness and willingness to learn from scratch, and to develop their skills and career through the company – something that may be lost on a second jobber who has, on some level, been there before.

From talking to recruiters across a variety of industries, it is interesting to see the different priorities given to experience versus potential, and what impact this will have on 2011’s graduate intake.