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6 reasons graduates accept job offers

June 2020

Graduates are attracted to employers that offer opportunities to progress and the chance to achieve their career goals above purely financial benefits - while mental health and wellbeing appear to be increasingly important

HESA's Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education survey asks graduates who are in employment six months after leaving university what their main reason was for accepting their job.1 This is an interesting set of data, allowing employers to understand graduate job-seeking behaviour, and the issues that are important to potential hires.   

It is important to note that respondents were asked to select an answer from a set of options, with no free text response available.

1. The job fits into their career plan

Just over two-fifths of university leavers (43%) in the latest data reported that the main reason they accepted their job was because it fitted into their career plan, or was exactly the type of work they wanted. The majority of these graduates were in professional-level employment (91.5%).

Education, health, and engineering and building professionals all had the greatest percentage of graduates accepting an offer for this reason.

The six-months after graduation survey date, combined with the competitive nature of the jobs market, means that not all graduates will have landed their desired job by the time they completed the DLHE questionnaire. Although the proportion of these graduates may increase over time, these stats highlight the importance of helping graduates manage their expectations of early careers and the time taken to find their ideal job. 

2. To earn a living and pay off debts

Earning a living and paying off debts was the second most popular motive for accepting an offer, and 71% of these graduates were in non-professional-level employment.

We can't determine from the data whether these individuals are happy with their outcomes, but as Stuart Johnson has argued on Wonkhe, we would expect those who were satisfied to have selected a more positive response - such as that it fitted into their career plan/was exactly the type of work they wanted, or it was an opportunity to progress in the organisation.2

Taking a job because it is well paid was the least common motivator, with only 3.6% stating this as the main reason for taking their job.

3. Opportunities to progress

It's unlikely that first-degree graduates will secure a senior position straight after graduation, with most having to get their foot in the door and gradually progress as they gain experience. Almost a fifth (17.2%) of graduates accepted a position six months after graduation because it gave them an opportunity to progress in an organisation.

A larger proportion of graduates in business, HR and finance roles, as well as marketing, PR and sales entered their profession for this reason. Graduates in art, design and media roles, and retail, catering, waiting and bar jobs were less likely to say this.   

4. Gain and broaden experience

Students appear to recognise the importance of work experience by taking up internships, placements, and jobs while completing their studies. However, some jobs will require more specific and relevant experience that graduates may not have acquired straight after leaving university.

Graduates most likely to accept a job to gain experience worked in:

  • legal, social and welfare positions
  • numerical, clerical, secretarial occupations
  • non-professional level jobs in childcare, health and education.

5. Mental health and wellbeing support

The rising awareness of mental health and the transparency in discussing issues means graduates today are likely to expect organisations to offer adjustments and support to help employees manage their health and wellbeing.3 Research by Sanctuary Graduates shows that three out of four graduates consider flexible working hours, lenient dress code, location, social events and friendly colleagues to be key factors when considering a job offer.4

Employers are starting to recognise the importance of employee mental health, with companies offering access to employee assistance programmes (EAPs) and enabling staff to work flexibly and from their home to accommodate for this. 42% of ISE employers offer on-the-job perks such as gym membership, subsidised travel, etc, while 19% offer a sign-up bonus and pre-arrival support post offer, and 8% offer a relocation allowance.5

Unfortunately, the DLHE data doesn't provide any insight into the influence of employer mental health support on a graduate's decision to accept an offer. The statistics available suggest that more evidence is needed to understand the value of mental health and wellbeing support among graduates looking for employment. 

6. A high salary isn't so important

Taking a job because it is well paid was the least common motivator, with only 3.6% stating this as the main reason for taking their job. We can't discern from the DLHE data whether this was due to a lack of interest in a high salary, or if it was because the salary offered was low/below graduates' expectations.

Of those who took their job because it was well paid, 26% lived in London, 12.8% lived in the South East and 10.8% lived in the North West. As expected, the majority of these individuals were in professional-level employment.


  1. Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) 2016/17, HESA, 2018.
  2. What about graduate job satisfaction?, Wonkhe, 2019.
  3. Candidate Compass Report, Milkround, 2019.
  4. It's not all about the money: 5 things graduates are looking for in their first job, Sanctuary Graduates, 2016.
  5. Annual Student Recruitment Survey 2018, ISE.

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