This article examines the impact of social origin on tertiary graduates’ labour market outcomes in Germany and the United Kingdom, two distinct countries in terms of higher education systems, labour market structures, and their linkages. Data from the 2005 REFLEX survey, OLS regression and linear probability models are used to analyse the effect of parental education on graduates’ occupational destinations at two time points: at labour market entry and five years after graduation. We test various hypotheses on country variation (i) in the strength of association between origin and occupational destinations, (ii) in the mechanisms by which social origin affects occupational destinations (i.e. via qualitative education differences), and (iii) in the extent to which social origin matters at different career stages. The results show that parental education effects are similar in the two countries when occupational destinations are analysed using the International Socio-Economic Index of Occupational Status (ISEI). They substantially differ when the analyses focus on entry into the higher-service class. In this latter case, both the gross and the net effects of parental education are stronger in the United Kingdom than in Germany. However, country differences in parental education effects reduce when graduates’ occupational outcomes are analysed 5 years after graduation.