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Beyond Unmet Expectations: A Detailed Analysis of Graduate Experiences at Work during the First Three Years of Their Careers

John Arnold (Manchester School of Management, UMIST, Manchester, UK)
Kate Mackenzie Davey (Manchester School of Management, UMIST, Manchester, UK)

Personnel Review

ISSN: 0048-3486

Article publication date: 1 February 1992


Existing research on the early careers of graduates has provided some useful information but has also suffered from several limitations. It has not examined the full range of graduate experiences, nor has it investigated differences between organizations or stages in early career. Reports a study designed to overcome these and other limitations. Presents data concerning the reported experiences of 797 graduates in the first three years of their careers with eight substantial UK‐based recruiters of graduates. The most pervasive finding is that graduates’ experiences varied a great deal between organizations. Thus it is important for managers and researchers to evaluate individual organizations rather than using aggregated data. Nevertheless, some general statements can be made. Graduates felt their social relationships at work were harmonious, but this co‐existed with less than adequate performance feedback from bosses, and some negative opinions about colleagues. They tended to feel that career prospects in the organization were fairly attractive, but were unsure about exactly what paths were available, or how to get onto them. Graduates generally did not feel their work taxed their skills, but it nevertheless developed them, and offered considerable autonomy. Training courses were rated quite positively, but some doubt was expressed about the overall planning of training and development. Organizational systems were seen as neither helpful nor obstructive. Perceptions of the adequacy of pay and benefits varied greatly between companies. With increasing tenure, graduates’ work involved more decision making and supervision of others, but not more autonomy or visibility within the company. Training was perceived more positively in the first year than subsequently. Graduates did not become clearer about career paths with increasing tenure. Overall these results paint a complex and differentiated view of graduate experiences at work. Some trends identified in other work are confirmed, but others are not. Specific areas of concern are identified. The data provide a benchmark against which other organizations can be compared.



Arnold, J. and Mackenzie Davey, K. (1992), "Beyond Unmet Expectations: A Detailed Analysis of Graduate Experiences at Work during the First Three Years of Their Careers", Personnel Review, Vol. 21 No. 2, pp. 45-68.




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