The latest AGR magazine (http://www.agr.org.uk/Graduate-Recruiter) has an article from Paul Redmond, Director of Employability at the University of Liverpool, ‘Dancing in the Dark’ which makes some key points:
– University is about learning to think, develop opinions, process information and grow as a person but it is also about work AND study.
– The Careers Services ‘task is to prepare students for the world of work, while employers provide the opportunities’. But this is not enough, he says, employability cannot be done to people (a point I have been making for years), ‘students have to engage and take responsibility’.
(I agree with both his points, by the way!)
And not by chance, employers want to hire graduates who will also take responsibility, in this case for their personal & professional development, their career and their future – in essence employers want their new ’emergent talent’ to take a lead and drive their own futures.
This ‘taking of responsibility’ it would seem is thus an agreed key theme and attribute that students need.
It is for this reason I am so passionate about our Bright Futures Societies, in Universities and Schools. Through these Societies students are taking responsibility for their employability and taking a lead on what they do when it comes to careers, skills and their future for their peers.
However does ‘taking responsibility and taking a lead’ get the profile at University that it clearly needs to? Through our work in schools, we hear more and more about ‘student leadership’ and the Schools that are establishing Bright Futures student Societies, see what a great opportunity for student leadership the Society presents. For some reason I just don’t hear that message as strongly at University. The University ‘Experience’ absolutely provides huge amounts of opportunity to take responsibility & to a lead but it seems that the important trait is not highlighted enough and made much of.
Students know that to get good jobs they need to demonstrate key skills such as team work, communication, flexibility etc, but do they realise how important ‘taking responsibility’ will make on their futures?
You may have seen the recent press about a graduate being asked to dance at their interview for a role at Currys (to Daft Punk, in case you are wondering!) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-23972952
The graduate was rightly surprised by the request and felt very uncomfortable. There has been various comment on the back of this event about employers seeking to make the interview process more fun and to be innovative in how they recruit. I am sure Currys want to be see as innovative & hire fun people in a customer facing role, but is this the way to go about it?
Dancing graduates may show their have confidence (not to mention little or no shame!) but will it really give you an insight into their passion for customers and your products & services? Getting good people is key for any organisation and how you engage with them before they start with you will play a key part in the calibre of those you hire.
This then got me thinking about some ideas on the recruitment process for graduates and how to do it well.
Interviewing is a two way street and no matter how tough the job market is, alienating candidates through the process risks not just losing good candidates (the graduate in question turned down an offer for another interview with said retailer) but causing a lot of damage to your brand.
The whole purpose of a selection process is not for it to be ‘fun’ nor for it to be ‘innovative’ – those might be nice extras but not the focus when designing how companies bring great people into their business. It is for recruiting organisations to find the right talent, AND for the applicants to find the right role for them.
So what would just some of my tips be?
1. Employers should have a selection process that reflects the culture of the organisation and gives the candidates the best chance to show their natural abilities, talents, behaviours and attitude and how that links to what is needed to achieve in the role.
2. Worth also giving thought to how you reject applicants. Don’t just email them ‘thanks but no thanks’ and ‘wish them luck in the future’! Instead offer them some tips or advice for their future job hunting. If you are going to take the time contact them and say ‘no’, there is an opportunity to do it more usefully for the applicant. It can be standardised advice so take no extra time.
3. When inviting them to interviews give them some tips and advice so they can prepare as best as possible – even if it is to say that they should take the time to prepare!
4. Make the selection process a learning experience for the candidate, where they learn more about the business and the role, which ideally will lead them to wanting to work for you more. So for Currys they could have applicants spend 15 minutes just walking around their store before the interview and then feedback what they saw, with comments and suggestions, that in itself would lead to a good, useful & relevant discussion for both interviewer and interviewee.
5. Stop obsessing about how to make interviewing ‘fun’, because let’s face it on the whole it is not fun for the applicant nor do they expect it to be. They take their job hunting seriously (more so than ever) and expect it to be demanding (but fair). So provide opportunities for the candidates to get a feel for the culture of the business, by meeting others in the team for example. Graduates, we know from feedback from them, are fully aware that the world of work is not easy and not all fun, so don’t try and pretend it is – show them how it is, what I call being ‘positive but honest’!
6. My final comment would be that there are many opportunities for recruiting organisations to themselves stand out to applicants and thus increase the quality of hires, through ‘moments of connection’. These are opportunities to show the human side of the organisation and connect with the applicant making them feel like an individual, not just someone to be ‘processed’ or go through a series of selection activities.
So if you want to be innovative find ways to ‘connect’ with your applicants as far too many organisations just process them like numbers. Those who do not, and create ways of recruiting people that reflects the organisation, makes it is learning experience for recruiter and candidates alike, and truly ‘connect’ with their applicants will be taking another step to ensuring great & relevant talent join the organisation.
With tens of thousands of graduates melting their way through graduate ceremonies this summer it begs the question as to who will hire them.
A small % of the total number of fresh graduates will have secured themselves employment but the majority will be job hunting now or about to start.
Some employers might feel that the ‘best’ graduates will already be hired, and whilst that in part is true, many very talented graduates will not.
So as an employer why should you be confident that there is still lots of good talent available now & through the summer (or indeed year round)?
1. There is huge pressure on students (from their University, family, peer group etc) to achieve that all important 2.1 and get the very best academic results; as a result many will purely focus on that outcome and put off very time consuming job hunting until after exams
2. Students want to make the right career decision and will decide to make the time to do their searching and choosing for their future in a considered & focused way, with no other major distractions; we all know how time challenging it is to personally job hunt when we are in employment (todays students face similar time challenges). I know I would much prefer to interview a graduate who said ‘I was not sure what I wanted to do for a career whilst at University and so made a conscious decision to not apply then but wait until after exams and get the decision right; rather than apply to jobs in my final year because that is what I was told to do and all my mates were’ I want graduates who are applying to my organisation to know what they want to do and can articulate why – if they cannot do that be they an undergraduate (who has applied during their final year) or graduate (who applies in the summer) they won’t get past me! So making the time to get that right gets an applicant a ‘tick’ from me.
3. Graduates today are potentially facing 50 years of work, with the pensionable age getting later and later, so many will want to go travelling and enjoy their last long holiday until they retire! I am not sure we should begrudge them that?
And linked to this point and if you are thinking they should have wanted to start their career already, delaying it a few months is kind of understandable, isn’t it?
There is a caveat to all this in that at this time of year there are plenty of graduates applying for jobs, who have not been so decisive in their job hunting plans during University and the trick is to be able to differentiate one from another.
So is the summer a good time to recruit graduates? Yes there is plenty of great talent but you need to know what you are looking for – and part of that will be evidence of that considered thought during University.
It’s that time of year when graduate surveys are produced, which tend to have a big impact on expectations for employers, undergraduates and graduates. There is a good summary of a number of these surveys (from High Fliers and HESA, with AGR’s due out on 9th July) provided by the Guardian.
The Truth about Salaries – The surveys which tend to get most media attention (High Fliers and AGR) are important but it needs to be remembered they only reflect the major graduate recruiters, whom recruit in total, typically, around 10% of the graduates leaving University each year. So with High Fliers stating average starting salaries of £29,000 this is based on the 100 ‘leading graduate recruiters’ and when AGR come in with their figure, which I expect to be around £26,000 for this year, they represent the largest 600 employers.
So if as an employer you want to compete for the same 10% of graduates that is the salary levels you need to consider
If as a graduate you feel you are in that top 10% then those are indeed the salaries you can potentially get.
However for the vast majority of graduates, the HESA stats (these are gathered from data supplied by all Universities graduates) are more reflective, which is an average of £20,000. This is of course an average so graduates will get more or less than this depending on the role they go into and where in the country they work.
The Truth about Job Prospects – It is still a tough job market as a graduate. 74% of graduates, according to the Trendence Institute, expect to find it tough.
Graduates are making or expecting to make 34 applications to find their first position; and according to the AGR employers are receiving on average 83 applications per vacancy. This does not mean however, as the media have tried at times to make us believe, there are 83 graduates for each vacancy (because we know graduates make more than one application!).
Whilst it is true there are less graduates roles than there were pre-recession; the real reason the graduate job market is so competitive is not because of the recession (although that has of course had a significant impact) but rather there are so many graduates chasing those graduate roles. With 2,500,000 people studying in HE, which generates c350,000 graduates year, there are just no enough (traditional) graduate level roles for them all. Add to that almost 2/3rds of graduates get a 2.1 or better, so academic success does not make you stand out as a graduate, and nor as an employers does it help you identify the best quickly.
To become competitive as a graduate, you need to offer more than your degree; and as an employer to recruit the best you need to look beyond academic results (not to mention the fact that academic success does not always directly correlate to work based success)
The Truth about the graduate market is that each year (recession or not) it has become tougher and tougher for both parties. For graduates because of the huge ‘supply’ and for employers because of both the ‘huge ‘supply’ and ‘demand’ for the best as more & more employers (be they a global business or small entrepreneurial start up) want to attract & recruit the strongest talent.
So what’s to be done?
As an undergraduate and graduate you need to answers the question ‘what more have you done?’ Or put another way, and to quote one of our keynotes from the recent Bright Futures employability conference we ran, graduates need to be asking ‘what do I need to do to work for you?’ NB For a FREE copy of our post conference report go to: http://brightfutures.co.uk/home/events/national-conferences/employability-conference.html
And as an employer, find ways to spot talent early and build a relationship with that talent, both online & face to face on campus – because in today’s world it is not about how do you generate applicants but rather how do you generate ‘fewer and better applicants’.
It is rare to find an undergraduate or graduate today who does not know that getting a degree is no longer enough to secure a graduate job – which is great news that this hugely important message has got through to so many.
Students know they need to have more on their CV (as well as academic success) such as work experience, volunteering or charity work, society involvement, music, sport, the list goes on. But speaking to students who are exasperated and hugely disappointed that they are still being rejected despite having all these things on their CV brings up a worrying issue and the next big challenge facing Students, Graduates, Universities and Employers – namely that these additional CV items are becoming a ‘tick box ‘ activity for students to achieve. And to reinforce this concern our recruiter clients are beginning to spot this too, so that despite a great looking CV, with all these extras, students are still failing at interview.
So why despite all these great ‘full’ Cvs are they failing? My sense is that the piece of the jisaw being missed in the message to students is that it is how they have developed as a result of these great experiences that matter, not the experiences alone. Students need to learn how to draw out the qualities / abilities / skills / competencies (call them what you will) developed as a result of these experiences; show how they have become more ’rounded and grounded’ (to quote a recent CBI report) and that, as a result, they have become more resilient, more flexible and more able to take on challenges that the working world will throw at them.
Life at University through both the curriculum and extra curricula opportunities on offer provides the potential for a hugely rich and transformative experience (and not to mention nor forget fun experience too). Students need to make the most of these often once in a lifetime opporutnities and not just put it on their CV but reflect on their wide varaiety of experiences to demonstrate how they have developed and are ready for the world and life after University, and for many into work.
Whilst at a great 6th Form College last week where I was meeting the committee members of our next Bright Futures School Society one of the committee members described university as one of the ‘hurdles’ she needed to get over in order that she secure a great career.
This struck me as both highly insightful and sad.
Going to University should surely be seen first & foremost as a powerful and worthwhile experience that should be made the most of, not either an obstacle to be overcome or an necessary activity for a great career.
It would seem that the all round value of higher education is being lost and students thus before they come to university will focus on just overcoming this hurdle – is this really what we want their attitude to be?
Universities & employers need to tackle this issue by getting the message to students in secondary education that employers want that good degree in their future hires but also want students to take advantage of all the other opportunities university offers (socially and developmentally). Otherwise students will go into Higher Education focusing on getting that degree as efficiently as possible and miss out (or leave until too late) all the other experiences university offers that employers increasing are demanding from their graduates.
So coming back to our savvy committee member who asked the question in the first place… she wanted to know about the other ‘hurdles’ she needed to overcome. They include such things as getting a broad range of work experience; developing key skills and a clear understanding of the career they want; examples of volunteering; the list goes on. University life can provide all these things but students need to know that before university so they can set out to acquire them from year 1 at university rather than finding out too late, when they start getting job rejections in their final year or worst still when they leave and find many ‘hurdles’ still in front of them.
A recent BBC article – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-20935521 – states that the big employers will be hiring more graduates in 2013. Half of the surveyed organisations plan to increase their intake and 1/3rd plan to keep numbers the same. But a word of caution is that the levels of vacancies in big firms is still 11% lower than it was in 2007 (i.e. pre recession).
The most telling part of the article is the growing focus on work experience from employers. Without it, half of these employers say it is unlikely graduates will be offered jobs and for many recruiting organisations they will fill up to a 1/3rd of their graduate intake with those who have ‘interned’ with them.
Our experience, through our Bright Futures Societies, is that students are well aware of this need to offer more than a degree and that ‘work experience’ really matters.
BUT the challenge for students is that there are not enough tradtional internships and industrial placements to go around, for example the leading 100 graduate employers only offer 62% of the volume of these roles compared to their graduate numbers.
Organisations who recruit graduates (be that 1 or 1000) need to find more ways to give students the work experience they need. AND ‘Work Experience’ needs to be seen in its broadest sense for it is not the work experience itself that is of value but the outputs and skills developed from it that matters. So ‘work experience’ can and should include such opportunities as hiring students as temps (Universities have started doing this more); short term projects that individual students or groups of students can work on; committee roles in a student Society; Volunteering etc all will develop skills and thus constitute work experience.
So the opportunity and challenge to all employers is what ‘work experience’ can you provide for students that will not just make them more employabnle but also provide you with a pipeline of talent to join you as a graduate?