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Deciding whether to accept a job

Graduate job decision time: what to do if you’re not sure whether to accept

What if you've got a graduate job offer, but you're not sure whether to accept it? We've put together a guide to what to ask yourself before you decide.

What do you need to take into account when deciding whether to take a job? It might not be quite what you imagined yourself doing, or you might be worried about some aspects of the position. Once you've accepted an offer, you shouldn't retract the acceptance, so you need to seriously think about the role before you agree to sign on the dotted line.

However, as long as you have thought things through and know what you're signing up to, there are good reasons to take a graduate job even if you have some doubts, or if you ultimately want to do something else.

Before you decide... do your research

Doing your research on the job and the company should help you clarify any worries. For instance, investigate the career routes that the job can lead into. Could it be a stepping stone to what you really want to be doing? If you're not enthusiastic about some aspects of the job, will they be temporary or permanent? They may be counterbalanced by elements of the job that you enjoy, or they may help you grow in your career and develop your skills (even if you're not fond of them).

It's easy to jump at the chance of a starting salary and a graduate job title, particularly after a gruelling application process. If you don't fully think through the decision, however, you could end up leaving your job early and having to start your job hunt all over again.

Key points to consider

Think ahead about potential problems as you weigh up your options:

  • Travelling to work. If the hours are long and/or the commute is long, think carefully about how you would adapt to that change in lifestyle.
  • Hidden costs. A seemingly well-paid position may have hidden costs in the form of increased travel expenses, a new wardrobe, childcare costs and ready-made food costs (you might not be able to resist the temptation to pick up a takeaway if you're working long hours, for instance).
  • Relationship with your manager. You probably met your prospective boss during the application process; do you anticipate any problems with working for them?
  • Clarity about the role. How much do you know about what your job involves? Are you in the dark about a substantial part of your duties?
  • Company values. Are you comfortable with the company's aims and values?
  • Future with the company. Is the company financially precarious? Have there been recent job losses there? Is the job on offer in an area that faces an uncertain future?
  • Training. Is enough training and support on offer to enable you to do the job? How quickly will you be expected to put your training into action and work independently?

No job is perfect and it's easy to adapt to a few inconveniences in a new role, but anticipating problems can help flag up anything that would stop you from taking a job.

Reasons why graduates leave their jobs early

The 2019 Development Report from the Institute of Student Employers (ISE), which represents many large graduate recruiters, revealed that 74% of graduate hires were still working for their first employer three years later. Five years after joining, retention rates for graduate hires were down to 60%. The findings were based on a survey of ISE members, and show that while a majority of their graduate recruits stayed with their first employer for several years, a significant minority moved on.

The ISE survey also revealed that these were the most common reasons for entry-level staff (including graduate hires, apprentices and school leavers) leaving their jobs, in order of how frequently they came up:

  1. Changing career
  2. Being poached by another company
  3. Dissatisfaction with progression
  4. Inability to secure the right role within the company
  5. Dissatisfaction with pay
  6. Issues with performance
  7. The job/company wasn't what they expected
  8. Work/life balance
  9. Returning to education
  10. Family issues
  11. Dissatisfaction with company culture
  12. Mental health issues

It's fine to grow out of a job or change plans, but some of these issues – such as pay dissatisfaction and the job/company not meeting expectations – can be pre-empted through research. Employer review services like TARGETjobs Inside Buzz can help you to understand what to expect and avoid any surprise disappointments.

How flexible are graduate schemes?

Graduate schemes are typically structured and incorporate an element of training that may include a recognised professional qualification. They can be the ideal launchpad for your graduate career and are often highly competitive to get onto. However, the structure of your scheme may offer limited flexibility for you to pursue particular interests, at least in the short term.

Some graduate scheme contracts may include 'lock-in' clauses, which might require you to pay back training costs of as much as £10,000 if you leave the job less than two or three years in, so it's important to check whether your scheme has a clause of this type.

However, graduate schemes can also be rotational, which means that you can move between several placements and roles during the scheme. Rotational graduate schemes give you the opportunity to try out working in different specialisms, departments or teams and see what you enjoy.

Entry-level jobs may be less structured than formal graduate schemes, depending on the employer and the role. Changing hours, moving between departments or switching location may all be more feasible in a graduate job than in a graduate scheme. Employers vary in how much flexibility they offer, so it's a good idea to use your networks and do your employer research to gauge whether adjusting your role down the line might be possible. Your careers service may be able to help through their alumni network.

You can find out more about the difference between graduate jobs and schemes from our advice article exploring this.

Read the fine print

Before you accept a job, make sure you thoroughly read through your employment contract. If there's anything in the contract that doesn't seem right, or which isn't what was agreed during the application process, make sure you contact your employer and ask for clarification.

Don't panic

Even if you do accept and then realise that your job isn't right for you, you can still learn from the experience. Plenty of people have been in the same situation and bounced back afterwards, switching careers or roles; career switches are now more common than ever. The best you can do is put yourself in the most informed position possible before you decide.

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