Firms make graduates jump through hoops in talent war

Employers are under increasing pressure to attract more graduate applicants,
but to ensure these candidates match the organisation’s needs and will be up to
the job companies are making the application process more demanding. Quentin
Reade reports

Employers are under increasing pressure to recruit the right graduate
candidates in a difficult economic climate. New research shows the rigour of
the graduate application process is increasing hand-in-hand with the size of
graduate salaries on offer.

Four times more companies (54 per cent) are using online applications since
2000 (12 per cent), according to the report Graduate Recruitment Trends. It
shows that more than a quarter of the respondents are also using psychometric
tests (27 per cent), up from 17 per cent in 2000, claims the report by graduate
careers publisher

Forty per cent are using group exercises in job interviews, and 37 per cent
ask candidates to give presentations to an interview panel. This is up from 25
per cent in 2000.

Average starting salaries have risen more than £3,000 since 2000 to £18,900,
claims the report, which included salary data from 500 companies.

Carl Gilleard, chief executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters
commented: "Graduate recruiters recognise the cost of recruitment and want
to be certain the people they select have the capacity to be successful. This
is driven by a need to select people with the skills to make a contribution to
business success quickly.

"Graduate recruitment is an expensive business, between £5,000 and
£6,000 is average. If you are going to spend thousands of pounds you want to
know that you have it right."

Gilleard said the increasing number of firms requiring graduates to make
presentations and using psychometric testing also reflects that employers are
not just assessing skills; they are also looking for graduates who will fit in
with the work culture.

"Companies want to be certain the people they select not only have the
right skills, but also the right attitude and the right approach to work to fit
in the organisation," he said.

Graham Thompsett, recruitment manager at Jaguar-Land Rover, explained that
his company has raised the standard on its application process.

Graduate applicants are tested using verbal, numeric and the Saville and
Holdsworth tests at first interview stage.

A smaller group then go through the company’s two-day selection centre where
they perform group exercises, a one-on-one role-play, written exercises, and a
competency evaluation.

For the past year testing has been carried out by line managers instead of
HR so the managers choose the people they are going to have work for them,
Thompsett said.

He said the company is always trying to improve its systems. Competition for
the best graduates is hotting up and companies need to work to keep them
post-offer. "Good graduates are very aware of what they are worth,"
he said, and Land Rover tries hard not to lose them between the February job
offer and the September start.

The company sends detailed information packs; including a CD-Rom containing
pictures and biographies of future workmates and information about
accommodation in the area, to graduates to ease them into their new position.

"We try to limit the amount of surprises they will face [when starting
their new job]."

Land Rover now targets marketing at 13 UK universities.

Anne Minto, HR director at Smiths Industries, said the company has been
psychometric testing graduates for the past four years, and also asks
applicants to make a presentation.

"It’s one thing to sit and talk in an interview, but it is completely
different when people are on their feet."

She said often the final two or three applicants are asked to make
presentations, but some candidates bow out at this stage. "It separates
the serious from the really serious," she added.

But she believes using psychometric tests and presentations is enough of an
assessment and it can be damaging to try to pre-determine what people are
capable of, and the level they can reach, before they start a job.

"It’s important to do as much as you can to determine what long-term
development is in them [graduates], but you can go too far," she said.

Widening the net

More companies are using online application forms to widen the net of
possible graduates, claims Graduate Recruitment Trends by graduate careers
publisher GTI.

Land Rover’s Graham Thompsett said the company’s graduate
recruitment has been totally online since September 2001 and has been
successful.

"We completed our graduate recruitment three months
earlier with better graduates [recruited]," he said.

Applications are not sorted online, but screened by management.
"Human contact is still important," Thompsett said.

Smiths Industries HR director Anne Minto said the firm invites
online applications, but because the system sees hundreds of candidates apply,
"it takes careful monitoring".

Smiths Industries is to launch a tighter system, with questions
to determine skills and qualifications.

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