New Survey Reveals Student Wishlist for Potential Employers

Salary, job security, and career development opportunities rank top of the list when Northern Irish students are considering their future career options with potential employers.

Salary expectations have increased by 8.3% in the last year, from an average starting salary of £25,148 to £27,256. Male students also expect a higher remuneration package than their female counterparts. There is a pay gap of around 6% between the genders regarding salary expectations, with females sitting at £26,599 and males at £28,279.

This is according to the ‘Most Attractive Employers’ survey, which sought views from over 600 Queens University and Ulster University students in Northern Ireland.

The survey was carried out by global employer branding experts Universum, part of the leading hiring platform of NIJobs, and examined a range of themes such as employer reputation, people and culture, remuneration and advancement opportunities and job characteristics.

Participants were asked to rank, in order of importance, which attributes and motivators were the most important to them when considering employment.

Key takeaways from the research also reveal that job security, career development and salary rank in the top three attributes for all participants, but, interestingly, 53% of females placed a friendly work environment in the top spot. For male students, high future earnings were their primary focus, with 61% placing it as most important, showing that remuneration is a key motivator as opposed to workplace culture.

Hybrid work models have become a very popular fixture of office life since the pandemic. However, in this survey, flexible working conditions were ranked least important for females and fail to make the top 10 attributes for males. These results do reflect that flexible work environments are likely to remain in place for some time to come.

Global brands with a focus in IT, tech and innovation are the most desirable employers for students in NI. Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Netflix all feature heavily in the top 10, but companies with a local presence, such as Deloitte, PwC, BBC, and the Civil Service, also make an appearance.

Steve Ward, UK and Ireland business director at Universum, comments on the survey findings;

 This survey gives us a strong insight into the attributes and the type of desirable companies that students seek once they enter the workplace. It provides a strong platform and starting position for local companies to think cleverly about developing HR strategies to attract graduate talent in a competitive market.

The emphasis on salary and job security suggests that students are considering the implications and long-term impact of the cost-of-living crisis. It’s clear that they want to be rewarded for their expertise, but they also want to have security that will allow them to provide for their future. In contrast to male students prioritising high future earnings, female students value a friendly work environment. This shows that job security and other financial attributes are, of course important, but staff do want to feel valued and part of positive work culture. It’s important that employers strike the right balance between reward and recognition especially with fresh talent coming to the workplace.

“As the number of graduate roles are likely to increase, employees are at an advantage and, in many cases, will be able to name their price. Employers need to be prepared to compete and offer an attractive package in the current climate.”

The job market in Northern Ireland remains buoyant, with a consistently high number of roles across a variety of sectors. Demand can often exceed supply, so the graduate market plays an important part in filling these roles, particularly within the IT and Tech sectors.

Recent data from NIJobs reveals Graduate and Apprentice Jobs are up 88% YoY and have increased by 12% since pre-Covid levels in 2019. The top five sectors for graduates in 2022 are Engineering, IT, Construction, Accountancy & Finance and Banking, Financial Services & Insurance. While overall, since 2019, one in four of all graduate jobs are in IT.

Sam McIlveen, General Manager at, adds; “There are roles at every level and sector in the local job market, and the investment in the IT and Engineering sectors demonstrates that we have the skills base to accommodate and deliver. In many cases, graduates and apprentices are the ideal candidates for these roles due to their specialist nature. As graduates begin to take their first steps on the career ladder, employers need to compete and move quickly to attract and retain fresh talent to make them an integral and valued part of their organisation.”