Employers are advising graduates struggling to find jobs that it would be better to take temporary work and wait for the right position than return to university for further study.
The winter survey of the graduate jobs market by the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) showed that the number of vacancies has fallen for the first time in six years, with a projected drop of 5 per cent in 2009.
But the survey found that while 30 per cent of employers believed that further study would help unemployed graduates find a job, two thirds said that temporary paid employment was a better option.
"For those who do not secure that dream job first time around, the key is to take some form of paid employment if you can," said Carl Gilleard, chief executive of the AGR.
Aaron Porter, vice-president of the National Union of Students, said: "The Government and the higher education sector need to provide adequate support and guidance to enable graduates to continue their studies if they wish. The long-term health of our economy depends on the skills acquired through postgraduate study."
The AGR survey also found that graduate wages are frozen, with the average starting salary stuck at £25,000 a year. Some sectors, including the financial services, are cutting theirs by up to 8 per cent.
But Mr Gilleard remained optimistic. "The picture for graduate recruitment could be bleaker. There are some silver linings, with growth predicted in the engineering and public sectors - both of which are likely to appeal to graduates seeking job security this year," he said.