How to select the best graduates

Pharmaceuticals company GlaxoSmithKline has set up a pilot scheme to enable it to select the best graduate candidates before they’ve even thought of applying for a job. Alex Blyth reports

UK pharmaceuticals company, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) recruits between 40 and 50 graduates every year. Given that this group will be expected to mature into the leaders of the company over the next two decades, GSK makes every effort to hire graduates with the right talents, experience and attitude.

However, in the past couple of years this has become increasingly difficult, as the number of applicants has steadily increased.

Liz Burton, manager of UK University Recruitment at GSK, explains: “The Government’s policy of getting 50 per cent of 18-30 year olds through university has meant that we are deluged by well-qualified applicants whenever we post a job on our website. There are still some good candidates, but it is increasingly time-consuming and difficult to spot them.”

So GSK is faced with a dilemma that those facing skills shortages will be rather envious of – how to separate the real cream of the crop from the rest of the cream of the crop.

“We’ve turned recruitment on its head” Burton says. “Usually, graduates find the companies they want to work for and then persuade them to hire them. We’re identifying graduates who we might want to work for us, and then persuading them to apply.”

This approach depends for its success to a large extent on how effectively the company can identify the right graduates. Burton says that she is looking for people who have done more than just study, people who have a wide range of interests and activities. So, it is hitting the campuses and approaching people who have held posts in the students union or societies and is using e-cruiters to find them online.

It is also working with GAP, a charity which organises overseas volunteering for 17-19 year olds, and CRAC, an educational charity, one part of which is a group of students building links with business. GSK is using databases from both organisations to find the right sort of candidates.

Between 30 and 40 of these candidates will spend a day at GSK’s head office in Brentford finding out what working for a company like GSK is like.

The day will be called ‘GSK Revealed’ and involves games and simulations around areas such as research and development, manufacturing and supply, and sales and marketing. Recent graduate employees will be on hand to talk about their experience of working for the company.

Burton is keen that the day should be useful for everyone involved.

“We’ll also be running seminars giving the students tips on interviews and CV writing. It won’t be just us talking about how great GSK is. There will hopefully be something useful that they can take away from it, even if they decide they don’t want to apply to work here.”

As a final incentive, GSK’s guests will be set a topical question, and the writer of the best answer will win a trip to Spain to visit the company’s Drug Discovery Unit, which works solely on drugs which are sold profit-free to the developing world.

The pilot day will be on 5 October and Burton is optimistic.

“The real test will be how much interest the day generates and ultimately how many successful applications result from it,” she says.

If it is a success, then it could be something that other companies will soon be looking to emulate.

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