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Are There Just Too Many Graduates Now?

Graduate recruitment has been criticised again this week, this time in a report by the advisory firm CEB. The observation is that because graduate recruitment campaign have become such an established method of getting from university into the workplace, they have lost their value. According to the report, two-thirds of university leavers said they regretted accepting job offers as soon as they start in the role, and one in four expected to leave their first employer after less than 12 months.

Students are often told two things by their lecturers and careers advisers:

  • If you don’t get at least a 2:1, you won’t get a decent job.
  • It’s much easier to get the job you want once you already have a job.

This advice may be largely correct, but does not create the right attitude for employment. A good degree in a good subject suggests hard work and some intellect, but it doesn’t necessarily prove that someone has the right qualities for the job. Although it’s generally accepted that it is easier to move from job to job than starting from scratch, telling students to focus on getting a job rather than being good at it can be detrimental to both sides.

  • The student may end up getting a job he does not really want to do. I’m not suggesting he should hold out to be the next Alan Sugar or Alex Ferguson, but we spend 40 hours a week at work. It’s sensible for a graduate to look for something he can do and that he wants to do. If he takes the first offer and finds he’s a square peg in a round hole he may well be unhappy and/ or out of his depth. If he doesn’t perform as he should, dismissal at an early stage is likely. That doesn’t look good on the CV.
  • The employer can spend a great deal of money on someone who may not make the grade, or who may do well but then leaves after ten months because he has found the job he wants (or at least thinks the grass looks a bit greener elsewhere).

One of the authors of the report, Eugene Burke, said: “Today’s graduate recruitment market is stuck in a vicious circle. Graduates are struggling to wade through generic company messaging to find their way to the right job while businesses are wasting millions chasing high numbers of graduates who leave within the first year .….. graduates want to understand what opportunities there are to develop and grow, demonstrate the talents they have and progress in the organisation.”

Mr Burke advised that organisations should review their approach to graduate recruitment and look for ways of bringing in people who will achieve organisational goals.

So should companies give up on graduate recruitment? Not necessarily. A good university degree is an achievement and adds a string to the bow. Experience from internships and other jobs helps to make graduates more employable and gives them a better sense of what they want as well.

There are three main strategies for graduate recruitment and they were summarised in the report.

  • “Buy” –employers are prepared to pay a premium for graduates who are strong in the relevant skills.
  • “Buy and build” – recruitment of people with some strengths while recognising these recruits will need investment in them to perform.
  • “Build” – taking on graduates with basic raw skills who will need more development over the long-term.

The report concluded that the “buy and build” approach is more than seven times more likely to find the right people who are happy in their jobs and therefore less likely to leave.

So how does an employer go about recruiting the right graduates?

  • Creating an early talent pipeline and offering a structured internship scheme are both highly effective approaches that employers can take to hiring the best graduates.
  • Make sure that you are clear about your offering to graduates on your website. List the benefits and anything else that will help attract prospective employees and persuade them that your business is a great place to work.
  • Designing a good selection process which starts testing even before interview is really important. There are now so many graduates out there competing for a small number of jobs that recruiters have to devise ever-more ingenious testing to put them through, to ensure that only those with relevant skills are seen.
  • Psychometric testing can be helpful, though the downside is that it is now so well-known that people are focusing on being good at the test rather than the job it is for.
  • Graduates want career prospects so let them know they have room to develop and grow in the business.
  • You too will need to assess potential so include a process that tests future potential, understand what you want and appoint on that basis.

In the end if you want someone bright for a job, advertise the job for anyone. Don’t necessarily demand a degree (it may imply you’re after someone young),just demand the things a potential employee would need to do the job. If you advertise well, you should get some good graduates but also some good candidates from other walks of life. If you have a clear set of logical, job-based criteria and testing, you’re much more likely to find someone who is both good and wants the job, rather than just any job.

Russell HR Consulting provides expert knowledge in HR solutions, employment law training and HR tools and resources to businesses across the UK.

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