Closing dates are drawing to a close, meaning many final year students will be expecting a graduate placement shortly but, as Corinne Owens explains, there are many opportunities outside the milk round

“Why would you like to work for [Insert Employer Name Here]?” Queues of final year students face this question as they wait for a chance to glean coveted business cards, free pens, and buzzword filled advice from ‘the ones who made it.’ In a process commonly referred to as the milk rounds, hundreds of employers visit campuses across Ireland and the UK every year to promote their graduate-training schemes.

During these tours, employers such as Morgan Stanley, ALDI, and Deloitte seek graduates who possess spotless academic records, in-house internships, and well-rounded lists of extra-curricular activities.

According to the UCD Career Development Centre, recruiters may additionally rely on verbal, numerical, and spatial reasoning tests as well as personality profiles to distinguish potential candidates. Ranging in fields from finance to technology, new graduates view these programmes as the promised land for solid foundational skills and an easy ladder to climb in their career.

Furthermore, in the wake of an unstable economy, the stress to achieve success during milk rounds leaves many new graduates feeling as if it will be their only alternative to the dole.

As Patrick Fitzgerald, a Law student in UCD and former chairperson for the UCD Legal Service describes, “In the climate we’re in, there is fierce competition to get a contract as part of the milk rounds, and that takes its toll. I can see that people in my class are naturally nervous. I think everyone is nervous about the situation we’re in at the moment, and that [the state of the economy] is feeding into the pressure of the milk rounds.”

That being said, does failure in milk rounds actually warrant such apprehension? Former recruiter and current master’s candidate at Trinity College, Nicolas Switalski, seems to think otherwise. Of his similar experience as an undergraduate in Paris, he says, “Some of [my classmates] got interviews, and afterwards got internships. Some never got called back, but did not despair, and even got placements in the very same companies who did not call them back.”

Switalski received a placement at his graduate-training school in Paris and eventually spent some time as a recruiter. He recognizes that the candidates he met put in tremendous amounts of work in the name of success. Many applicants, like Brian Batemen, a final year Commerce student in UCD, send out as many as five applications at one time. Furthermore, applicants participate in endless testing and interviews to increase their placement chances.

In spite of this, Switalski immediately recalls first impressions as lasting ones. “Candidates who would stand out would be chatty, have opinions different from yours and defend them with good arguments. Or they would already think in the shoes of the recruiter by trying to understand what their prerogatives should be.”

As the UCD Career Development Centre points out, employers seek candidates who are going to “make a difference,” rather than carbon copies of the employees they already have.

Due to the hubbub, new graduates feel tremendous amounts of pressure to be the stand-out recruit. When asked to respond, however, to the question of why they want to work for the large, well-recognised companies, many offer up desires ranging from security, to having a roof over their head and a few euro in their pockets.

While these are all legitimate claims, more passionate replies could exist. More and more graduates avoid the simple truth that a secure job by September 2014 is not a guarantee for a lifetime of financial, or more importantly, personal bliss. Similarly, failure in a milk round is not condemnation to an eternity of defeat either.

In fact, numerous studies report that the average person changes careers between five and seven times as they seek fulfilling work. This research proves that new graduates entering the professional world will wander and struggle regardless of their initial experiences.

Milk round failure, then, transforms into an alluring opportunity. New graduates without milk round offers are free to travel abroad, explore positions in smaller companies, and further their education.

A quick glance at the UCD Career Centre website demonstrates the availability of such alternatives to the milk rounds. Examples like the JET programme, where young professionals teach English in Japan, are easily discovered with a bit of research. Moreover, those without milk round prospects have time to consider a more salient question than their recruiters may pose, how do I want to make a difference?

While graduate programmes in the well-known companies provide glorified safety nets, they are worthless when they serve any other purpose than the pursuit of answering this question. Therefore, final-year students should not limit themselves to performing in hyperbolized milk rounds purely in the name of financial security, as they will quickly recognize the missing component of passion come September.

For students like Fitzgerald, exploring other avenues before entering the milk rounds allowed him to make a difference on his own terms. He believes, “While there might not be many opportunities in Ireland at the moment, there will always be work for people who are dedicated to their profession and willing to work hard.”

Milk round competitors would agree that life-ahead seems to be a grave and daunting task. Although, with or without a job offer come December, they can find solace in the fact that the failing to secure employment during the milk round does not lead straight to the local unemployment office. The opportunities will always be there for those who look further than right on their doorstep.