Graduate recruitment: wheat and chaffe

Given that recruiting is such a major commitment for UK businesses, it
shouldn’t be left to chance. Get it right, and it can help the future of your
business – the alternative is just an expensive waste.

Many organisations invest a great deal of time and effort into the whole
exercise, and succeed in taking on the quota of graduates they have set
themselves. But how many organisations, including the professional practices, do
a full costing of this annual exercise and then evaluate the return on
investment? Do you ask yourself how your organisation monitors and measures its
effectiveness and contribution? When do you expect to see a return? What about
those who leave within three years – what is the impact on your bottom line?

A major challenge with graduate recruitment is the ‘market’ variable of
supply and demand. We all know that the number of people emerging from
universities with degrees is increasing. But not all degrees are equal, and
there are certain establishments from which recruiters prefer to source new

The more challenging variable for you is what is happening among the graduate
recruiters. Increasingly firms are competing with businesses across a wide range
of industries – from MI5 or the Treasury to the oil industry, household consumer
goods and aerospace sectors. If graduates want to work in finance, will it be in
accounting, consultancy, banking or investments?

When looking to attract the right graduates, you should start by considering
what type of person you want to bring in. Without necessarily creating a group
of corporate clones, you do need to think about who will fit in with the overall

How well does what you have to offer match these expectations? And when was
the last time you benchmarked yourselves against the ‘market’? Evaluate your
overall package and consider whether you need to improve any aspects. Try to
avoid getting caught in just paying premium salaries; they do not guarantee
quality applicants. Be in the 60 – 80 percentile and you have scope to negotiate
or pay premiums to really exciting candidates.

Before starting to send out the messages that you are recruiting, make sure
that you have some other fundamentals in place.

Think about how you want applicants to apply, and who will handle the
applications. Assess them against the criteria you have set. You also need to
consider how you will communicate back to the applicants and remember to
personalise messages – it may take more time, but remember that recruiting is
part of your PR and marketing.

Planning interviews is key. Who will be involved and have they been trained
in the intricacies of the interview process? Think about what style or process
you want to use and the selection criteria you are using as the basis for
offers. Make it clear to applicants what you expect from them at first
interviews and beyond. Give applicants job descriptions, plus any other
supportive paperwork.

Remember too that interviewing is a two-way process – the reality is that you
are in a highly competitive marketplace and candidates are also assessing you
for suitability as an employer. Do not be tempted to overpromise or dress up

Step back, think about the youngsters you know and put yourself in the shoes
of today’s graduates. What do you think they would want from a potential
employer? Think about what they are likely to expect (or hope for) in terms of
the job, the package, the training and a career. Admittedly there can be a
tendency for these to be somewhat unrealistic, as a result of naivety, a lack of
careers guidance and peer group talk.

If you use psychometrics or assessment centres, ensure you are clear about
what profiles you are looking for, and why. Also, make sure you provide personal

Once job offers have been made and accepted you need to think about the best
way to introduce new recruits to your business. Research shows that having a
clearly laid-out induction programme makes a significant impact on the
likelihood of people staying and also on their performance. In an ideal world
you should have a detailed plan for the first six to eight weeks. What work can
you give them that will both encourage and involve them?

In the longer term, you need to think about some sort of ongoing development
plan and process in place, that considers such aspects as professional training
and guidance, and facilities to provide personal and career mentoring and
guidance. What is the review process and how often does it occur?

Once you are ready to receive applications, you need to let graduates know
that you have vacancies. Whether advertising, using the internet, agencies or
careers services, be specific about what you are looking for from applicants in
terms of experience and attitude and use this to filter. Be open about the job
and what it will involve, including some of the downsides.

Think about how your organisation uses its website to attract the graduates
you want. One suggestion to drawing prospective candidates to your site is to
contact specific universities directly to let them know you have vacancies, and
invite direct applications or lead them to your website.

One you get prospects onto your website, make sure you give them a compelling
reason to stay. Does it explain the offer clearly and does it send accurate
messages about the organisational culture so that applicants know what to
expect? And is there enough of a compelling reason for them to contact you to
learn more?

Just because graduate recruitment is a recurring activity does not mean that
it should be taken for granted. Revisit how you do it, identify what works well
and what does not – and change it accordingly.

Benchmark yourselves against other organisations going after the same target
group, and be clear about the type of person you want. Place emphasis on
induction, personal development and mentoring and it will pay dividends.

Graham Yemm is founding partner of Solutions 4 Training

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