It’s not all about the money: 5 things graduates are looking for in their first job

A recent article by Glassdoor listed the 9 highest paid jobs in the UK 2016 but Glassdoor Careers and Workplace expert John Ingham was keen to stress that while money was important, it was not the only thing graduates should worry about when looking for a job. “While it’s not just about the money, knowledge really is power when you are job hunting. Graduate job seekers should endeavour to think wider than just the monthly pay cheque”. [1] In an effort to find out what graduates really look for when starting their careers, we (Sanctuary Graduates, the specialist graduate recruitment agency based in London, have placed 100s of graduates this year using our network of on-campus student headhunters) interviewed those candidates who were successfully hired by our clients, to find out their top 5 criteria for accepting a job offer. It turns out money isn’t their biggest motivator…


1. Stimulation & challenge

“The role really stood out to me as something very interesting; exactly what I was looking for”.

Dan, Computer Science, Swansea University

Among some of the students interviewed, Dan, a 2016 Computer Science graduate from the University of Swansea who accepted his offer onto the technology grad-scheme at a defence communications firm, listed ‘interesting work’ as his top choice.

Having often spent more hours in the last few months of their degrees in libraries than anywhere else, graduates want nothing more than to be stimulated and challenged. According to a recent survey by Sanctuary Graduates on candidates who accepted their job offers, 70% listed interesting work as the most important factor when making their decision.


2. Responsibility & feeling valued

“Securing a position in such a niche field means I know I’ll be using my degree, which was really important to me”.

Charlotte, Physics with Astrophysics, University of York

A further find from our research revealed that many graduates favoured roles in smaller teams in order to be given more responsibility and important work, recognition for their input and have a greater overall impact.

More candidates also favoured roles related to their degrees in order to increase the value of their contribution. Of the graduates we interviewed, many candidates, particularly science graduates, accepted roles in niche fields in order to guarantee use of their degrees and feel a valued member of the team. Charlotte, who studied Physics with Astrophysics at the University of York, accepted her offer for this reason. However, according to Paul Teulon, head of admissions at King’s College London, “half of the graduate jobs available do not demand a particular degree”. [2]

Hobsons recently released a new report on its findings of an international student survey. It found that students’ decision-making is long-term in orientation. They are pursuing a degree not only for the sake of an education, but also for the sake of the rest of their lives. [3]


3. Pleasant working environment

‘Firms that foster a workplace culture of creativity, are more likely to have happy, motivated and productive employees’. [4]

It might sound basic, but for many candidates enjoying where they work was heavily influenced by feeling comfortable in the office, with 3 in 4 stating working hours, dress code and location as key factors when considering job offers.

Some recurring factors include:

Famously, Google’s staff perks, include free food and gym memberships, gaming rooms and chill-out zones, all aimed at increasing creativity and productivity.


4. Personal development opportunities

Knowing your employer wants to invest in you as an individual and offer you training courses and career progression opportunities is extremely inviting. As Liz Bingham, People leader at Ernst & Young, said “graduates recognise the importance of the longer term benefits that ultimately come from pursuing an employer that offers training and development opportunities”. [5]

Some employers, particularly in technology, finance and engineering also offer tailored progression programmes, depending on the individual. One American bank for example, offers different progression routes depending on the individual; either a bespoke management course or field specific training are encouraged to qualifying graduates, depending on their career preferences.

Aaron, a computer science graduate from the University of Bristol, cited this as the main reason for choosing his institution over offers from competitors.


5. Acclaimed brands with a good reputation

“For me personally, the salary was not the deciding factor as the opportunity to such fantastic exposure so early on in my career was priceless”.

Dexter, Industrial Economics, The University of Nottingham

As part of our research, when given the option for the same role at two different firms: one being a generous salary at a lesser-known firm or an offer from an acclaimed employer, but for slightly less money; 80% answered in favour of the employer, not the salary. Dexter, a trainee Fund Manager at Standard Life Investments rated the reputation of the firm as more important.

The importance of working for an acclaimed Times Top 100 organisation is particularly true for positions in finance and technology. According to the The Graduate Market in 2016 the most frequent graduate requirement is for IT and finance vacancies – over half of all employers offer roles in these areas, irrespective of their organisation’s main purpose. [6] Some students surveyed even suggested they would accept an offer with a lower salary in these sectors, in order to secure a position at a prestigious organisation, which they believed would help boost their CVs and make them stand out from the competition.


Want to find out more? Get in touch, and we would be happy to provide further information on our research and services.





[1] Recruiting Times. 2016. Glassdoor reveals the highest paying graduate job in the UK [Online]. Available at:

[2] The Telegraph. 2012. Graduate jobs: Getting on the right degree [Online]. Available at:

[3] Hobsons. 2016. Beyond the data: Influencing international student decision making. London: Hobsons.

[4] The Guardian. 2016. Is Google’s model of the creative workplace the future of the office? [Online]. Available at:

[5] Inside Careers. 2013. Salary and benefits most important to graduates [Online]. Available at:

[6] High Fliers Research Ltd. 2016. The Graduate Market in 2016: Annual Review of Graduate Vacancies & Starting Salaries at Britain’s Leading Employers. London: High Fliers. pp. 14.