Nurture graduates in recession, even when not hiring

Employers must ensure that they remain visible to graduates during the recession – even if they are not hiring, leading graduate recruiters have said.

A survey by the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) yesterday revealed that graduate vacancies had dropped by 25% while employers now received nearly 50 applications for every graduate position.

Carl Gilleard, chief executive of the AGR, warned that as employers cut back on the number of graduate jobs they offer, it is crucial that they do not stop communicating with university students as this could damage their ability to recruit graduates in the long-term.

He told Personnel Today: “When employers stop recruiting they tend to become invisible and, if that happens, when [the economy] takes off again their challenge to attract the best talent will be all the greater. Employers need to keep their profile and brand in front of students.”

Gilleard insisted employers must continue to attend careers fairs but be honest with graduates about their situation.

“Employers should still attend career fairs and talk to students to keep their profiles up, but they must be honest and not make false promises,” he said. “It’s not just about opportunities available in the next few months but in the next few years. Employers should be saying why not come to us in two or three years time.”

Leading HR professionals working in graduate recruitment, supported Gilleard’s calls and urged other employers to communicate clearly with universities to make sure graduates were aware of the opportunities still available.

Bob Athwal, head of graduate schemes at energy giant Npower – part of the energy and utilities sector which was the only sector to increase the number of graduate jobs available this year (an increase of 7%) – said employers must work together to get the message out to graduates that companies were still recruiting.

He said: “We all have a joint responsibility. During this downturn we need to work together to get the message across that there are still a huge number of companies recruiting.”

Athwal added that good communication with all applicants, especially those who were unsuccessful, was vital to ensure that companies could attract the best talent in the long-term.

He said Npower – which currently has 60 people on its graduate scheme – now sent all applicants personalised e-mails within 72 hours of an application to thank them for their interest, and offered all unsuccessful applicants feedback on their performance.

He said: “It’s really important to look after the ones who don’t make it because they are the ones who will feedback and could have friends more suitable for the role. Our process means they still feel positive about us and that’s really important for our brand.”

Alison Hodgson, the HR director for central resourcing at Royal Mail, added that it was vital employers increase their “accessibility” for graduates.

Speaking at the AGR annual conference she said employers should make their current graduates available to talk to students at careers fairs and to be shadowed by potential applicants to allow students to learn more about the challenges involved in the jobs, and what the organisation has to offer.

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