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Graduate recruitment: needle in a haystack

As applications for graduate placements flood in during the lean times, firms are having to think beyond traditional methods of recruitment to find the best candidates

With graduate unemployment at its highest for 12 years, undergraduates have
their work cut out competing to get on the career ladder in 2010. Many top
graduate recruiters have cut the number of roles on offer, or even postponed
their schemes altogether and 90% of SMEs don’t plan to take on any graduates at
all this year.

To make matters worse, research has shown that around 80,000 graduates who
didn’t find work last year have joined the hunt again this year, significantly
increasing the talent pool and competition for jobs. And the backlog is only set
to become worse, with many students choosing to take time out before applying
again next year.

As some of the biggest graduate recruiters around, this could have a huge
impact on accountancy firms’ recruitment policy. While it is good news as there
are lots of graduates to choose from, the intense competition means firms are
inundated with applicants. Finding the best has become a bit like finding a
needle in a haystack, particularly as many applicants have applied for jobs that
they aren’t necessarily suited for in an attempt to spread their net as widely
as possible.

Smart graduate recruiters are starting to realise that traditional
recruitment methods are no longer enough. They must look for innovative ways to
engage and assess graduates to give an accurate picture of their suitability for
the role.

Creating a pipeline of talent

For a number of years the leading professional services firms have been
increasingly focused on finding well rounded graduates with the ability to build
relationships and manage people, rather than just looking at those who are top
of the class academically.

This has led to the line between study and work becoming increasingly
blurred, with students encouraged to think about their CV from the moment they
start university. Those with a good understanding of their own strengths and
areas for development are at an advantage when they become candidates. Many
employers offer internships to first year university students and some even run
programmes for those doing A Levels. This
allows them to engage with the most talented at an early stage and helps to
ensure they have a pipeline of talent coming through in their final year.

Another recent trend is for graduate recruiters to organise challenges and
competitions for students in order to engage with them further ahead of their
graduation. A good example is the TARGETjobs Undergraduate of the Year Awards,
which involves leading graduate recruiters such as KPMG and Ernst & Young,
with the aim of identifying leaders of the future in industries from accounting
to engineering.

The right tool for the job

When it comes to assessing candidates for job and company fit, psychometric
tools continue to be a key resource –but these are being used more and more
diversely and usefully than ever before.

Instead of being passive participants in recruitment, graduates today demand
processes that engage and inform them, as well as assessing them. For example, a
form of ‘self-assessment’ can prove valuable in deterring unsuitable candidates
and to this end some employers have developed ‘realistic job preview’ and
‘organisation preview’ tools, completed by candidates before they apply. By
giving immediate feedback on their likely fit to the job, company, corporate
values and culture, candidates can reflect on their motivations for applying.
Further along in the process, some employers also provide candidates with
assessment reports focused on their ‘career development’, further enhancing
their employer value proposition.

Assessment tools also now measure a wider range of key attributes. Concepts
such as ‘judgement’, ‘innovation’, ‘engagement’ and ‘learning agility’ have
joined core measures of numerical and verbal reasoning and measures of
personality. These can be invaluable in helping to identify those elusive
‘all-rounders’ and give a far deeper insight into a candidate’s likely
performance in the workplace.

Future leaders

There was a time when having a degree of any class guaranteed a good job and
a decent salary for life. But that time is fast coming to an end, with change
accelerated by the recession and rising levels of unemployment.

With ever increasing numbers of young people graduating from university,
degrees and academic qualifications are becoming less and less important as
differentiators of talent. Recruiters must think outside the box and focus on
new ways to identify, screen and measure graduate candidates – as the future
leaders of the business they are surely worth the investment.

Changing the game at kpmg

While academic qualifications are important for graduates applying to KPMG,
the Big Four firm is primarily focused on finding all-rounders and those with
the personal and professional skills needed to build successful client

In order to increase its chances of attracting the best, KPMG now targets
students from their first year at university, with an internship specifically
designed for this year group. It also runs sessions called ‘Get Ahead of the
Game’ to advise students on how to go about looking for a graduate job and this
runs alongside KPMG’s ‘straight talking – no spin’ brand building campaign
involving a basketball challenge and freestyle basketball players.

All of this helps the company engage with undergraduates plus, this year it
is also involved in the TARGETjobs Accountancy and Economics Undergraduate of
the Year Award, with the aim of spreading the word even wider. When it comes to
assessment, KPMG uses a personality questionnaire based on its global skills and
behaviours. This is used to generate the questions to be asked at the interview
stage allowing strengths and weaknesses to be explored in more depth.

Howard Grosvenor is managing consultant at SHL

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