Which universities do employers like?

Photo of Imperial College London, a top UK university
TARGETcareers explores employers’ top universities. Will the university you attend affect your chances of getting a job after you graduate? And which universities do employers target?

Quick links for this article

How employers target University rankings Know the career you want? Why your uni isn't everything

For a few careers it really helps to attend a leading university. For most others it can give an advantage but isn’t vital. Factors that are important to graduate employers include your work experience, activities outside the classroom, motivation and how well informed you are about the job you are applying for – in most cases these matter more than where you studied.

However, your university can sometimes help swing the balance in your favour if your graduate job application is of a similar standard to those of other candidates. And going to a university that’s popular with employers is likely to provide more opportunities to meet and network with them while you’re still a student.

How employers target university students

It’s standard practice for employers accept applications from graduates of any university. However, recruiting graduates takes time and money, so most recruiters focus their efforts to promote their vacancies on those universities they believe will deliver them the best candidates – and candidates who’ll actually accept a job at their organisation.

A lot of big employers run ‘graduate schemes’ – these combine a job with training and run every year. They always need plenty of applications and have decent budgets to help them achieve this. So they’ll visit university campuses to attend careers fairs, give talks, attend networking sessions, offer job-hunting advice (eg by running a CV clinic) or hold informal events where students can meet them (eg a pizza night). They might even get involved with a project in a relevant academic department or take part in activities with a relevant student society. The aims are to attract students, talk to them in person about the opportunities at their organisation, give them the chance to ask questions and encourage promising candidates to apply. However, it’s not practical for employers to do this at every university, so they need to be selective.

Small organisations might only hire a graduate occasionally, as and when they need a new member of staff. But some still develop relationships with particular universities, albeit in a more low-key way. For example, they might advertise any jobs they do have, offer work placements or attend the occasional event to meet students.

If you attend a university that is targeted by employers who interest you, it will be much easier to find out about job opportunities, explore whether they interest you and become a well informed, candidate who can submit a strong application.

Look at overall university rankings – especially if you’re unsure what career you want

Employers who don’t require specific degree subjects tend to target the universities with the best overall reputations, and those which have provided them with the best candidates in the past. Large employers don’t usually mind where in the country their target universities are, whereas small employers often focus on local universities.

Preferences will vary from employer to employer but you can form a reasonable view of where is well respected by looking at university rankings and being aware of the Russell Group of universities. Keep in mind that different league tables are compiled in different ways, so it’s wise to look at more than one and see how the ranks compare for unis that interest you.

The Times Good University Guide – overall institution rankings

The Times newspaper is one of several organisations that produce league tables of universities. As well as rankings for individual subjects, it also produces an overall ranking. For 2017, its top 20 UK universities are as follows:

  1. University of Cambridge
  2. University of Oxford
  3. University of St Andrews
  4. Durham University
  5. Imperial College London
  6. University College London
  7. University of Warwick
  8. London School of Economics and Political Science
  9. University of Exeter
  10. Lancaster University
  11. Loughborough University
  12. University of Bath
  13. University of Leeds
  14. University of Surrey
  15. University of East Anglia
  16. University of Birmingham
  17. University of York
  18. University of Sussex
  19. University of Bristol
  20. University of Nottingham.

The Guardian university league tables – overall institution rankings

The Guardian’s top 20 UK universities for 2017 are:

  1. University of Cambridge
  2. University of Oxford
  3. University of St Andrews
  4. University of Surrey
  5. Loughborough University
  6. Durham University
  7. Imperial College London
  8. Lancaster University
  9. University of Warwick
  10. University of Bath
  11. University of Exeter
  12. London School of Economics and Political Science
  13. University of Birmingham
  14. University College London
  15. Coventry University
  16. University of Leeds
  17. University of Southampton
  18. City, University of London
  19. University of York
  20. University of Sussex.

The Russell Group of universities

The Russell Group is essentially a club of 24 UK universities that are very well respected for their research. Employers are typically keen to take on graduates from these universities. They are:

Universities that are more popular with employers than their rankings suggest

Employers will pay attention to the above lists, but their own wish-lists may look a little different. For example, at TARGETcareers we’ve found that the University of Manchester and the University of Edinburgh tend to be very popular with employers, even though they don’t feature in the top 20 for either The Times or The Guardian. Similarly, the University of Bristol is popular, which you couldn’t necessarily tell from its position in the rankings.

Discovering employers’ top universities if you know what career you want

Got a rough idea of what type of job you might want after university? Use this to your advantage to find out which universities are targeted by employers in your fields of interest. These can be quite different from the universities that top the overall university league tables. For example, universities such as Sheffield Hallam and Nottingham Trent University are popular with recruiters in civil engineering and quantity surveying, while Reading and Oxford Brookes are particularly liked by property industry employers.

There are a variety of tactics you can use, from online research to talking to those in the know. Find out the actions you can take to uncover which universities are popular in your chosen industry. We’ve also done part of the work for you for three popular careers.

The university you attend is the start, not the end

Getting into a university that’s popular with employers is great, but it’s not a guarantee of a job. How you spend your time while you’re at university is much more important. You’ll need to work hard to get good grades and take part in activities outside of your studies that will help to build skills such as teamwork and problem solving, and explore your career interests. Good options include work experience, part-time jobs, volunteering and involvement in student societies.

If you attend a university that’s heavily targeted by employers you need to make use of the opportunities to meet them, otherwise you will lose your main advantage. That means organising your time and motivating yourself so you do actually attend all those careers fairs, talks and networking events – and that you do some prep beforehand so as to make a good impression.

Wherever you end up studying for your degree, you can still become a very appealing job candidate if you make good use of your spare time and are proactive about finding ways to meet and research employers. For most careers, you can end up as a much more employable graduate than someone who attends a top university but does little outside their studies.

Teacher or parent?

Join our mailing list to receive monthly newsletters from our TARGETcareers and Inspiring Futures teams to help you support your school leavers in their career and university decision making.

Join

Take the careers quiz

Want career ideas in a hurry? Got stuck thinking about what to study at university?
The Spartan careers quiz is a quick way to come up with ideas that might suit you.

Take the careers quiz


Teachers and parents

Planning to discuss careers or university with teenagers? Get up to speed on their options and employability prospects with our help.

Explore options

Register today

Sign up to access to use your dashboard and receive extra advice in your inbox

Sign up