A poor degree should not stop you from achieving your dreams


Illness, indolence, inability or inebriation might have stymied your chances. Whatever the cause, your degree result was a disaster and you’ve spent the summer mourning what might have been. Now it’s time to stop panicking and work out how to launch your career on the back of a third. It will seem daunting: a survey by the Association of Graduate Recruiters found 78% of leading employers filter out the third of graduates who achieve less than a 2:1 and that 69 applicants are, on average, chasing each graduate job.

The good news is that statistics are misleading. Big companies can afford to be fastidious, but smaller ones are more likely to look beyond a grade and, even if your degree result is an embarrassment, experience, adaptability and personal charm can be effective currency. “Most students hear of graduate trainee schemes and a good degree is often required for these, but they make up only about 15% of the graduate job market,” says Saiyada Smith, careers adviser for The Careers Group, which counsels graduates and recruiters.

Lateral thinking could ease you into your preferred profession via a sideways route so long as you are realistic about status and salary. “In the financial sector a 2:1 or more is needed for front of office jobs, but you could get a lowlier position and work your way up,” says Smith. “Once you’ve got your foot through the door you can build up your skills and contacts and if you do well you’ll be favourably placed when jobs are advertised internally. Your degree result only really matters for your first job; after that it’s your professional achievements that count.”

Experience, be it voluntary work, hobbies or holiday jobs, will help mask your academic blip on your CV, so make sure you highlight any extracurricular activities and what you have learned from them, then set to work on a succinct but engaging covering letter that will reveal you as an enthusiastic team player. Send this to smaller companies and not only those who have advertised posts in the national press. Scour relevant trade magazines and company websites for openings or find a suitable contact within the company and send in your CV speculatively.

Flexibility is essential, according to Tanya de Grunwald, founder of independent careers website “It’s a myth that graduates must choose their career for the next 40 years the second they leave university. Now it’s all about navigating things as you go along, so consider fixed contracts or temp work as well as permanent jobs. If your grades aren’t great, your personality and work ethic will have to convince your employer – and it’s much easier to demonstrate these when you’re already in the building.”

If time goes by without result, you might consider taking on voluntary work or work experience in between sending applications, because employers distrust long gaps on a CV. It might also be time to reassess the situation. “If you’re getting nowhere chasing your ‘dream job’, ask yourself: ‘Is the universe trying to tell me something?'” says de Grunwald, “For example, if you were destined to be a high-flying management consultant, why didn’t you get the grades? Would you have continued to struggle with the hours of detailed study required of new starters? Is it possible that your ‘dream job’ might have made you miserable? Consider the idea that you might actually have dodged a bullet and start looking for something you might enjoy for the next 18 months. Suddenly, everything will feel much more doable.”

Online networking sites mean you can advertise yourself to potential employers. Many firms approach appealing-sounding personalities via cyberspace so compile a compelling Twitter profile, link it to your LinkedIn page, add hash tags to attract new followers and start tweeting knowledgably and entertainingly about your chosen industry. You can glean fodder from trade magazines and while you’re at it note down any useful names mentioned in articles and approach them by letter or email. If you discover that a society or association relevant to your line of interest is holding a public event, turn up and get chatting. Eventually you’re bound to meet someone who might help your cause.

However hard the struggle, don’t lose confidence in yourself because it will show. “Every applicant has an Achilles heel so don’t assume your rivals tick every box,” says de Grunwald. “Someone with a first from Cambridge might be really shy. Someone with lots of experience might have an abrasive personality. Play up everything else that you do have going for you, in order to make up for your less-than-amazing degree.”

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