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What puts graduates off applying for a job?

July 2021

Prospects research reveals the top reasons that students and graduates are put off applying for jobs, with employers' unrealistic expectations and a lack of detail about salary the key factors

We know that there are certain things that encourage graduates to apply for certain roles, for example location, training opportunities and salary are all important. However, it is also vital that employers are aware of the red flags - those factors that discourage graduates from applying for certain roles. 

Last month, Prospects asked 94 students and graduates what puts them off from applying for a particular role or working for a company. Through an analysis of the open text responses, we were able to capture seven themes that graduates identified as 'turn offs' when looking for a job to apply to.   

What is the one thing that puts you off applying for a particular role/working for a company?
Unrealistic expectations from employer about work experience/skills 22
No clear salary information (e.g. competitive salary listed) 21
Undesirable parts of the job e.g. no work from home option, low pay, location, lack of autonomy 19
Poor quality job advert (not concise, not enough information, jargon, not inclusive etc.)  14
Complex/unappealing application/recruitment process 14
A company's reputation (poor reviews about working for the company/poor ethics) 12
No information about diversity/disability confident/inclusive workforce 3

Unrealistic expectations 

The most common complaint that we found among respondents was what they described as the unrealistic work experience/skills expectations held by employers. They said they feel as though such high expectations are unfair to require from a first-degree graduate who is looking to get a foot on the ladder in a field they are likely to be new to.  

One respondent suggested that such expectations give jobseekers the impression that a company isn't prepared to spend time on training and allow new hires the time to develop new skills that accompany the role:  

'It's when they list a specific set of requirements. A bit like a shopping list. It shows that they are not prepared to teach…it's when the employer asks for skills that you would think the role is meant to develop.'

Male respondents appeared to be slightly more concerned about this, with 24% of male respondents indicating this in comparison to 21% of female respondents. Moreover, those with a disability (29%) were markedly more concerned about this than those without one (19%). 

However, despite these concerns, recent ISE research suggests that graduate employers do invest heavily in building skills once new hires join the organisation. Additionally, a sizeable proportion do not expect graduates to come fully equipped with all of the job-specific technical skills associated with the role.    

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh found that although employers clearly valued a wide range of experiences, they were keen to stress that a lack of directly relevant work experience would not put students at a disadvantage

No clear salary information 

We found that respondents are almost equally put off from applying for a role when no clear salary information is provided within the job ad, with many suggesting that it is particularly frustrating when a job advert has the salary listed as a 'competitive' one. A student expressed this frustration saying that instead of information about 'how great' a company is, information which they said they could read on a company's website, it is more important that an advert includes salary information.  

With this in mind, it may be useful for employers to include some more information in regard to salary, as it appears that a fair amount of graduate jobseekers may choose not to apply at all if this isn't readily available. This may be an effective way for employers to weed out applicants who are focused on salary alone, but it can also deter good candidates from applying as many graduates have been through entire application processes just to find that the pay is less than what they are looking for. 

Complex application and recruitment process 

Respondents also indicated that they are put off by complex and unappealing application and recruitment processes. Men (18%) were more likely than women (13%) to indicate this. Moreover, those with a disability (14%) were also more likely than those without (10%) one to say this. 

One respondent suggested that they are wary of long application processes because they have had bad experiences in the past where they have taken part and received no response or feedback. Another made the point that a long application process can be particularly stressful for those with disabilities, saying that 'despite having a MSc and being highly qualified', they are still put off by them. 

Students with disabilities (24%) were also more likely to say that they are put off by a poor-quality job advert. Some said that job adverts should be more concise with less jargon, or what they may see as unnecessary information, and instead include more pertinent information such as salary information or information. 

A company's reputation 

12% of respondents indicated that a company's reputation is important. This was mainly in regard to how they treat their employees, but they were also concerned with a company's commitment to both sustainability and diversity/inclusion.  

This lends support to recent research which suggests that companies who do not have a clear societal or environmental mission are becoming less and less attractive to graduates. Further, Dan Hawes, co-founder of Graduate Recruitment Bureau, stresses that hardwiring diversity, equality and inclusion into your business will be key to staying ahead in the graduate recruitment race

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