Darren Harris, head of graduate and future talent at the agency aia, offers his insights on how to reach out to graduates.
Graduates now are not what they used to be. Traditional graduate recruitment focused on high-ranking universities. But rising student debt and the introduction of fees are forcing students to study closer to home, so employers need to look at institutions closer to their locations, and target their recruitment activities towards whether or not these institutions will produce graduates with the skills they need.
What really works on campus is face-to-face conversation, not fancy apps or augmented reality. It’s a huge struggle for recruiters to find people within their organisations to manage campus activities but students really value the insight they gain from genuine conversations with employees. Focus groups reveal that face-to-face interaction can make the difference between applying and not applying for a position.
There’s a huge case to be made for training and upskilling company ambassadors. One of our clients has made it mandatory within its graduate training programme for participants to attend two campus events a year.
Students like to do something constructive. The Charity Teach First, for example, runs skills sessions on campus. CV workshops also go down really well. Candidates value knowledge that they can frame in the real world.
Social media has great potential with students. We created a Facebook competition for the law firm Linklaters, which invited students to suggest a prize that they would like to win and why in 250 words. It was such a success that we ended up awarding 30 prizes, even though we set out to have only ten winners. It was a brilliant branding exercise, with the winners all tweeting about their prizes and talking about the competition on Facebook.
However, there’s a growing disconnect between what graduates offer and what employers want. Our clients see a real lack of communications skills, poor attention to detail and scarce problem-solving abilities coming through, even in the most highly qualified candidates. Employers are right to feed these concerns back to the universities, but when they do the message is passed through so many different departments – careers service, faculty, education board to name a few – it becomes lost or so dilute as to be ineffective. It’s extremely difficult to make any real changes to the way in which a subject is taught, unless you set up a foundation degree course. Some forward-looking organisations are already doing this, but it requires a five-year investment.
The recruitment cycle is beginning at an ever younger age. Now that the top talent isn’t necessarily going to university, employers are taking their brands into schools, and there’s growing competition for internships, which obviate the whole graduate-recruitment struggle if you can convert them into hires.
Onboarding is a critical stage of the candidate journey. Some hires receive their offer in January and don’t start a job until August. That’s seven months in which another employer could make them a better offer. There are lots of digital onboarding tools that will immerse candidates in the employer brand before they start and enable you to start building a relationship with them. If you leave them out in the cold they won’t feel bad about letting you down at the last minute.
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