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Graduate recruits reckon they have fewer job opportunites than in 2007, reports Hay Group

Graduates believe they have fewer job opportunities than five years ago, despite most companies continuing to offer graduate schemes, according to research by global management consultancy, Hay Group.

Just under two thirds (64%) of graduates believe significantly fewer schemes are on offer than in 2007 and three out of five (61%) say the majority of their classmates have been unable to secure a graduate job at all.

But 85% of companies say that they have not cut back their graduate schemes in the last five years, and almost all (98%) report that their scheme is important to their organisation's future.

Christopher Smith, industrial brands sector leader at Hay Group said: "There is clearly a gap between graduates' perceptions of the job market and the reality.

"Although the latest labour market statistics showed that unemployment has started to drop and pay has increased slightly*, there is still a very gloomy perception of the UK job market. Our research suggests that this is starting to filter down and is affecting graduates' confidence."

Hay Group's Class of 2012 study is based on the views of 600 graduates and interviews with senior managers at 40 of the UK's largest graduate employers, including Coca-Cola, Marks & Spencer, Jaguar Land Rover, Royal Mail and Caterpillar.

Many graduates underestimate how much they can expect to earn. But average entry-level wages have risen over the last year in most sectors.

In starting a graduate position, two thirds (67%) of graduates expect a salary of £15-20,000 but Hay Group's data shows that in key business functions such as finance, legal, engineering, IT, HR and sales and marketing, graduates can expect to earn between £25-30,000.

Christopher Smith, added: "Perhaps unsurprisingly, confronted by a continuingly uncertain economic outlook, graduates have lowered their pay expectations.

"It is important that individuals are aware of what they can realistically expect to earn with the UK's largest graduate employers or graduates risk selling themselves short and holding back their future earning potential."

Surprisingly, Hay Group's research shows that graduates are placing less importance on their overall earnings and benefits than last year, with less than one in ten (8%) stating that base salary is one of their top three considerations when applying for a job. This is in contrast to almost half (45%) in 2011.

In addition, just a year ago, more than a third (37%) of graduates considered bonus potential to be important, however this year the figure has fallen to just 7%.

Similarly, only 5% are now considering their pensions and healthcare options to be important, compared to half (51%) in 2011.

Instead, graduates now appear to be more interested in the ability to make a difference, with (51%) considering this to be a key factor in their job choice, compared to just 4% last year.

The majority of companies (93%) reported that the best way for graduates to ensure they are ready for the work place is to carry out work experience in a relevant sector. Almost three quarters (73%) also recommended that graduates make sure that they know all about the company before applying for a scheme.

Helen Alkin, recruitment manager at Marks & Spencer, said: "Whilst the temptation might be to apply to 20 or more companies, this will only dilute the quality of their application and demonstrate that they have not really done their homework."