“It’s unpaid, but it’s the best option to gain work experience”
MAASTRICHT. Today’s job market is tough for university graduates. Around 10 percent of recent UM graduates are currently jobless, the UM’s Research Centre for Education and the Labour Market (ROA) thinks. “I was searching online, reading adverts, writing motivation letters and CVs on an everyday basis.”
ROA reports that unemployment numbers among UM alumni have been rising in recent years. During the economic crisis, graduates (not only of UM) have faced increasing difficulties when making the transition to the labour market. Interviews with alumni who graduated in 2006 show that 4 percent were still unemployed a year after graduating. Of UM graduates from 2010, almost 8 percent were not in work after one year. Now the rate has probably increased to nearly 10 percent.
Christoph Meng, project manager at ROA: “You can also see very clearly that the economic crisis has had an influence on almost all fields.” Topping the unemployment lists are graduates of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (24 percent of 2010 graduates were still jobless after one year). For the Faculty of Law, that figure was 9 percent; for Psychology and Neuroscience, 11 percent; and for Business and Economics, 5 percent. The only safe option is Medicine, with an unemployment rate of 0 percent.
Do foreign students who graduated in Maastricht have more luck on the labour market in their home countries? “I’m not sure, but there’s a crisis everywhere in Europe. In Greece, Italy and Spain it’s even worse. Germany is doing a little bit better than the Netherlands. The cutbacks there haven’t been as large; that’s why there’s less unemployment.”
Greek alum Vasiliki Panousi (age 25) graduated in February with a master’s in European Law School from Maastricht; before that, she had studied law at the University of Thessaloniki. If she wanted to, she could have her own law firm now in Greece – she passed the national qualifying Bar Examination which allows her to practice as a lawyer – but she wants to practice European law. Preferably in Brussels, “the place with the most jobs and internships on European Union issues”. She focused her job hunt in the Belgian city: “I eventually chose an internship. It’s unpaid, but it’s the best option to gain work experience. Most paid jobs require a two years of professional experience.” Panousi is spending six months working as a legal intern at the European Association IMA in Brussels.
Choosing an internship is one of the best things you can do as a graduate, concludes the managing director of High Fliers Research, a British research agency. High Fliers publishes the annual Graduate Market, a study of the latest graduate vacancies at one hundred of the UK’s best-known employers (including Google and PricewaterhouseCoopers). “The pressure is on students to gain work experience and choose their career path early on.” In the Graduate Market 2013, recruiters say that “a third of this year’s entry-level positions will be filled by graduates who have already worked for their organization (internships, industrial placements or vacation work).” And: “Over half the recruiters who took part in the research warn that graduates who have had no previous work experience at all are unlikely to be successful during the selection process and have little or no chance of receiving a job offer for their organizations’ graduate programs.”
It’s something Finnish alum Anu Lehtonen (age 26) knows very well: experience counts. Two months after graduating in June with a master’s in Politics and Society at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, she started looking for a job in Brussels. She focused on three websites (Eurobrussels.com, Brusseljobs.com, jobs.euractiv.com). “I found a lot of unpaid jobs, like internships, and many less than ideal jobs.” Luckily, though, she found an interesting vacancy quite quickly. Lehtonen will soon start as a personal assistant at Eurocontrol (air traffic) in Brussels. “It’s a traineeship. Eurocontrol was looking for someone with an educational background in administration, which I don’t have, but I since I’ve worked in an office before I have some practical experience.” The salary is low – €900 a month – but Lehtonen is satisfied with that. “I’m just happy to gain some experience, and it means I can start networking.” Some advice for other jobseekers: “Apply for any position you can imagine working in, even if you don’t completely match the profile they’re looking for. I think it’s unlikely they’ll find a person who fulfils all the criteria anyway, so it’s worth a try.”