Are AUSTRALIAN and EUROPEAN employers just as likely to hire you, once you’ve graduated from university?
Australia is one of the top study abroad locations, including by Europeans. Many domestic and international graduates from Australian universities aspire to careers in Europe. So, how can students from Australian universities keep the doors open to European careers upon graduation? There are 6 main differences between what it means to be employable in Australia and Europe.
High Distinctions matter more to European employers.
Quality internships are a must for European employment.
Study abroad is optional for Australians, but required for those seeking employment in Europe.
European university graduates are expected to be fluent in their country’s official language, plus English and should be fluent in a third, whereas for Australian employees, English is usually enough.
Degree inflation is very real in Europe, with Masters degrees becoming mostly essential for employment.
Being employable means ready for European employers overall. i.e. Beyond strictly Italian, German or Nordic employers. Multi-National Corporations are therefore favored for practical work experience (i.e. internships).
High Distinctions (HDs)
My team’s research with Australian employers (http://GraduateEmployability.com) provides evidence that overall and across industries, Australian employers prefer that students achieve respectable grades but do not necessarily expect High Distinctions. In fact, many employers shared an impression that university students with straight HDs spent too much time with their noses in their books and did not graduate as well-rounded people with developed hard and soft skills. Australian employers tend to recruit graduates who pursued many and varied activities during university, such as sport, music, student societies and volunteer work.
Research conducted by my European colleagues such as at LUISS University in Rome, Italy, provides evidence that European employers DO expect High Distinctions. European employers tend to shortlist only those applicants with the highest grades. However, students are wise not to limit themselves experientially. What makes applicants for European jobs stand out from the pile (of HDs) is well-rounded extracurricular experiences.
Again, employers want to know that applicants have interests, passions and achievements. In job applications and interviews, graduates need to clearly communicate and provide evidence that they have pursued activities such as sport, music, clubs, societies and hobbies. In addition, graduates need to be able to clearly express what they gained from these experiences.
NOT – I played sport FULL STOP
YES – Through playing a team sport, I know what it means to be resilient, how to prioritize and how to balance my time. As the team captain, I developed skills in motivating others, which I will bring into this job.
In Australian and European research, internships were the clear front-runners in employer-preferred employability strategies. 87% of employers who responded to our survey said that work experience and internships are the most effective solution towards improving graduate outcomes. The difference is that Australian employers tend to believe that internships are a bonus for applicants whereas European employers tend to expect to see an internship on a job application.
This difference appears to be born out of availability. Whereas Australian employers would like to require that applicants have successfully completed a relevant internship, the slower evolution of internship provision of these experiences means that Australian employers cannot yet set this requirement. In Europe, on the other hand, internships are well-enough established the employers can demand them.
Furthermore, because in both countries, it tends to be that the students with the highest grades get the best internships, employers can assume that completion of a quality internship pretty well guarantees that the student has a strong basis in relevant knowledge and, on the flip-side, that students with high grades will have complemented their studies with an internship.
European employers expect that university students have gone beyond their comfort zone and pursued an experience beyond their own national base. If a country’s first language is not English, then study in an English-speaking country is preferred so that students develop fluency in this number one language of business and trade. The converse is also true. Study abroad gives English speaking students an opportunity to develop fluency in another language.
In addition to considering the language of the host country, students should also consider the skills-based experiential opportunities. Employers from both Australia and Europe prefer that time has been spent beyond the host campus in study abroads. Students should spend time working in the relevant industry while abroad to expand networks, develop hard and soft skills and raise personal awareness of international differences.
It would be remiss of me not to mention at this point that my home institution, Bond University is externally rated the Number 1 Study Abroad University both in Australia and internationally.
European students are very well supported to participate in study abroad opportunities through Erasmus+. Last week I was at the Future of Education Conference in Florence, Italy. A presenting PhD student said that her Erasmus+ experience was “life changing” and the “best part” of her degree.
Particularly at the long tail-end of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) unemployment rates are at a twenty year high. International reports, such as those through the OECD, show that university graduates are somewhat safeguarded.
As compared to those without degrees, overall, university graduates find work faster, have more satisfying careers and make more money. However, times are tough, including for university graduates. In Australia, for example, the latest statistics from Graduate Careers Australia show that after four-months, 32% of those graduating with Bachelor degrees have not commenced full-time jobs.
With higher competition in the job market, Bachelor degrees may no longer be enough. Degree inflation means that whereas having a Bachelor degree once gave graduates a distinct advantage over high school graduates, with more and more university graduates entering the workforce, job seekers may now need Masters or PhDs to have a job seeking advantage.
European research indicates that in many industries, Masters degrees are now a requirement, or in other words eligibility criterion.
Modern transportation, the internet and trade relationships mean that it is now truly a small world. This also means that students have to think big. It is not enough for graduates to be aware of how their industry works in the country where they completed their degrees. Graduates who are able to demonstrate that they can contribute to their employers’ global positioning are highly valued. Case studies are key learning strategies that universities use to support their students’ global understanding. Students are well-placed to carefully read, consider and apply these case studies.
Specifically, employers in Europe do not talk about Italian, German or French industry, but European careers. Furthermore, European careers extend globally, and employable graduates are those who can fit into, and contribute to, world citizenship.
In conclusion, here are 6 pieces of advice for university students to keep the door open to employment in Europe. In other words, this is what university graduates who are job hunting in Europe wish someone would have told them BEFORE they started their university degrees.
Study hard. European employers want to see High Distinctions.
Sign-up for an internship (preferably in Europe) and make the most of it.
Spend part of your degree studying abroad in a country whose main language is not English (or conversely, in English, if this is not your ‘first’ language).
Enroll in language units and work hard at them to achieve fluency in written, conversational and business English as well as one and preferably two other languages.
Do not stop at a Bachelor degree. Plan to pursue a Masters and in some cases a Doctoral degree.
Think beyond a single country. Learn how industry compares and differs between nations. Take assigned case studies seriously.
A good summary … and good advice. I think the ‘well-rounded person’ goal is a good one – within the context of the person’s age, and experience. You can’t do anything about age … but encouraging students to expand their experience is something that can be improved in Australia. This needs nurturing by unis and employers. I think the climate for this is improving a great deal. As a career consultant at the Graduate Careers Centre (some time ago) I was happy to see the emphasis on internships and exchanges. I was always energised to see the gawky semi-grad returning from an internship as a more mature and deeper person. We’ve got a long way to go to ensure that every student has these great opportunities … but you can only keep moving forward.