Can I apply for a graduate job even if I didn’t go to university? That’s an increasingly common question being asked by our delegates. Particularly those whose career choices led them to leave full time education after GCSEs, O levels or A levels.
Every month our career experts answer a range of queries from job seekers. Keep coming back regularly to see our latest career advice.
“I’ve seen a job advertised that I think would be perfect for me. However, the employer has said they want a graduate. I didn’t go to University but I have lots of relevant experience – will they consider me?”
This will very much depend on the employer. With legislation now addressing the question of whether language like ‘graduate’ also implies ‘young’ in advertising a role, organisations have to be very careful of their use of language and it can be considered discriminatory to seek a graduate without having a very good explanation as to why only someone who has a degree would be suitable for the role. If challenged, this would be the test. So if you believe you can do the role despite the advertisement asking for graduates, then I think you should apply and make this clear in the cover note to your CV, highlighting the relevance of your experience.
Often the term ‘graduate’ is used as a way of explaining that the role requires a certain level of education or certain skills such as research or a high standard of written communication, and shouldn’t be taken literally. There are many people who have never graduated from University in top jobs which suggests non-graduates who can prove they are capable of undertaking roles promoted as suited only to graduates are considered, but this may not always apply. However, some Universities, for example, will not allow staff to progress to Manager level without a degree, and some major organisations have similar views. This is worse in a buoyant market, where employers are struggling to eliminate candidates and narrow their shortlist down in some way.
Be careful too when you read the advertisement. It is easy for words like Graduate to jump out at you when actually it perhaps says ‘graduate level’ implying a skill set rather than a qualification. And it can be an easy excuse to say ‘I’m not a graduate so I can’t apply’ when actually you fit all the other criteria. As a rule you should meet at least 50% of the criteria on an advertisement before deciding to apply and from your question, it sounds like you can comfortably do that, so I would say ‘go for it’!
“I’ve been offered a new job but the employer seems very reluctant to put anything in writing. We’ve discussed a lot of things verbally but nowhere has it been officially confirmed. I’d like to trust them but I am worried I’ll turn up on day one and the goalposts will be moved. What should I do?”
Assuming the job offer itself has been put in writing, then in the absence of a clear job description I suggest you reply listing out yourself what you understand to be the key elements of the job and the key expectations that they have of you in the role. This shows initiative and enthusiasm, and it also gives you a point of reference if on your start day you find the goalposts are moved. Of course moved goalposts can be positive as much as negative – it could be they have a better role in mind but haven’t yet defined it!
The world is very fast-moving and some employers are reluctant to commit themselves to defining their jobs in detail because of the likelihood that they will want to add to or subtract from the description in the future. Very few job descriptions are a precise and accurate description of what someone actually does on a day-to-day basis, but it is important to understand the key elements of the role and the behaviours that are expected in delivering those key elements, and if these are not clear then it is fair for you to put forward what you understand them to be.
Official confirmation is helpful as everyone knows where they stand. But not all employers – and particularly smaller ones – often don’t feel the need for this and it would be wrong to then conclude that they are up to something. Moreover they worry about ‘jobsworthy’ employees not being prepared to step outside the parameters of their job description and simply help out when needed. This may be the explanation as to why you have not had clarification, or it may be that they are disorganised, with the possibility that they are tricking you in some way probably the least likely explanation. However, you must consider, if you are an organised and precise person, whether that kind of loose approach to contractual arrangements may cause you frustration if you accept the job, or whether you would be more comfortable in a more structured environment.