RTT – Effectively Attracting Graduate Talent

RTT – Effectively Attracting Graduate Talent

These are the thoughts and takeaways from the latest Resourcing Think Tank (RTT) held on Tuesday 4th December 2012 hosted by Clifford Chances’ Abbas Jaffer (Head of Resourcing), titled ‘Identifying the Right Time to Attract Undergraduate Talent’.

The following summary has been prepared to reflect a segment of the discussion held amongst senior HR and Resourcing professionals from leading UK and other international businesses.  Specific company details, experiences and examples have been omitted from this summary as all discussions are held under ‘Chatham House Rules’.

The war for talent seems to have evolved into a never ending campaign. One of the most frequently fought fronts is the annual battle for graduates.  This clearly defined frontier often uses some of the most evolved and imaginative programmes of talent identification, selection and engagement; arguably one that many lateral and experienced hire teams could learn a lot from. However, there are inevitably varying challenges associated with this talent war such as:

  • Identifying exactly where this top talent lies
  • Sourcing them cheaply and quickly
  • Rolling out the scheme on an international basis
  • Losing out on graduates due to a failure to provide clear career trajectory
  • Finding the right individuals to operate profitably in a sales role or position which will require flexibility
  • Raising awareness of the graduate employer brand.

Success or failure can often be split by a fine line. During this RTT we discussed one of the most critical decisions that these hardened teams of graduate recruiters need to make. When do they launch their campaigns? Too soon, and without the right on-going engagement, the initiative will be lost. Too late, and without the right impact, the top talent will have already been captured.

The Graduate Mind-set

The current mind-set of a modern day graduate isn’t for the future. This isn’t an assumption that suggests that they are not career orientated, but merely that the average length of tenure is typically fairly short. Often for graduates their first role out of university is an experiment, so it’s crucial to be upfront about what you can offer and additionally develop a thorough screening process to ensure their values, motivations and behaviours are aligned to the businesses’. Generally speaking, the biggest drivers for graduates are salary, working for a sexy brand and being enrolled onto a structured career development programme. These factors are all largely related to a natural inclination to draw comparisons between themselves and their peers.

Our experts’ views:

a) When recruiting for future skills, assess the expertise you already have in the business and dial them back into the recruitment process

b) Many graduates compare themselves to peers on LinkedIn; providing them with something as simple a great job title could strengthen their desire to join your company.

When Should you Target Graduates?

With the introduction of higher university fees, students are arguably taking their career planning more seriously which means that employers need to be more vigilant when attracting them. It was suggested that generally companies will be missing out by not attempting to engage with first years, although it was noted that this would be largely dependent on industry sector. It was clear that offering work experience prior to enrollment on a graduate scheme was hugely beneficial for raising brand awareness and creating a lasting impression with students.

Our experts’ views:

a) Hold ‘Insight Evenings’ with students to understand how they want to be engaged with and importantly, when

b) With this generation perception is everything, so the ‘door-step appeal’ needs to positively reflect the brand – from the quality of biscuits you offer to the soap used in your toilets!

Every Industry is Different

One of the most crucial steps to take when identifying the best time to attract undergraduate talent is to monitor industry trends and previous success stories within your sector. For example within the investment banking sector the optimal time to reach out to students is during sixth form, for attracting girls into technology businesses school age works best and for the legal industry, success has been reported during the 2nd year of university. However, regardless of sector, all initial engagement has to be followed by a comprehensive ‘keep in touch’ plan to ensure graduate candidates’ interest is sustained.

Which Universities Should you Target?

There is no sure fire way of knowing which universities are going to deliver the best talent into your business year on year. However the best place to start is by beginning more broadly and selecting universities based on their rankings, highly esteemed courses and location. This information should also be coupled with records of your ‘best’ graduates and the universities they attended. Once you have arrived at a decision with regards to the most appropriate universities to target, measure the results over a prolonged period of time, narrow it down and select the ones that work. Surely it’s better to be more targeted and have a bigger impact on a smaller scale?

Using Internships to Fuel your Graduate Pipeline

Approximately 50% of businesses at the Think Tank reported using internships to fuel their graduate pipeline and typically look to convert between 80-90% of interns into graduate employees. Committing to a work experience programme can be incredibly effective, as graduates with business experience are far more ‘work ready’. However, it’s important to note that a bad internship is worse than no internship. Additionally, it’s been suggested that students often ‘fall in love’ with and pledge alliance the first organisation they spend a considerable amount of time in, so getting in early with graduates is key.

Creating an Honest Dialogue

A frequently repeated mistake when hiring graduates is overselling a role and being unclear with regards to the expectations of the candidate. It’s paramount to be explicit about what a role entails when promoting it. It’s far better to be upfront in a job description or when engaging with candidates on campus, as ultimately this is going to save both them and you time in the long run and prevent drop-outs further down the line.

An enormous proportion of students today want to pursue a career in marketing based on the perception that such a line of work is fun, glamorous and creative. However, very seldom do students have an accurate understanding of what a marketing role entails. Further engagement needs to occur during education, led by career services, to inform students of the ‘real’ nature of varying career paths.

Using Social Media and Gamification for Graduate Recruitment

Social media can be a very effective tool for recruitment, however it can be incredibly damaging to a brand if not handled carefully. The clear benefit of this channel is the interaction it can stimulate with prospective employees and the real time / personal feeling it can create. Good success has been reported using the company Facebook page to hold live bi-weekly Q&As with graduates (applicants and prospects) to answer questions on the business, how they operate as an employer and the components of the graduate scheme. Two weeks prior, graduates are emailed with the details of the session and following the Q&A a graphic is prepared and posted summarising the main outputs. This scheme has proved incredibly effective for driving traffic to employers’ careers site, however it’s essential that when graduates arrive on such a site that it’s functional, designed in alignment to the brand, friendly to use and importantly, mobile ready.

Our experts’ views:

a) Using online gamification when recruiting is a great tool for screening and engaging candidates. This tool can challenge an inaccurate brand perception and additionally encourages candidates to talk more about their experience with your brand regardless of being successfully placed.

b) Additional social media tools which have proven effective for recruitment are Pinterest, Twitter, Reddit and YouTube.

Running a Graduate Rotation Programme

Introducing rotations as part of the graduate scheme has proven effective for attracting candidates and also for assessing which part of the business the talent is best suited. Typically organisations will offer four six-month placements in different business units based on the ordered preferences of candidates. If such a programme is utilised, it’s essential to encourage graduates to be open-minded and give ‘their all’ in every role, irrespective of whether it’s their preferred discipline. This is more likely to be achieved if performance is measured in all four areas and then fed back into the final graduate appraisal.

Graduate Recruitment Top Tips:

  • It can often be difficult to attract support service disciplines which fall outside of the employer’s industry, so aim to recruit two years in advance when canvassing graduate talent
  • Graduates are 60% more likely to secure a job post university if they have experience – offer internships or work experience to prepare them for the working world. However, be sure to maintain their engagement to prevent harvesting talent which your competitors can pinch
  • Distinctly highlight career paths to counter either a poor location or lower salary than industry average
  • Utilise the increasing university costs and the inevitable reduction in higher education applications; invest in school leaver or apprentice programmes
  • Offer graduate rotation schemes to assess where talent is best suited within a business and provide further opportunity for candidates
  • Provide graduates with a mentor of senior status to support them though their programme
  • For specialist skills or hire, sponsor school leavers through university with the intention that once they graduate they will join your company
  • ‘Second jobbers’ can often be more cost effective and productive than graduates as they have a firmer understanding of where they want to take their careers – when appropriate, why not target these candidates?
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