job hunting

The Future for Employability…Personal Responsibility?

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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?

The Rise of Personality

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At the recent Bright Futures Society Committee National Training Conference (hosted by the excellent President of City Bright Futures) one of the committee members asked the panel of employers we had assembled: “If so many graduates get a 2.1 and they all have work experience, what are you looking for now to differentiate one applicant from another?”
Great question and the answer, which drew agreement from all the panel was simply ‘Personality’.

So have recruiters come full circle and returned to a place where it is the individual personality that makes the difference, not their degree, nor the type of work experience they have been able to secure, because so many have these things?

This feels to me like a great leveller, especially when we hear so much about issues such as social mobility, as the issue of the contacts students may or may not have to get work experience is less valid, the University they attended is less important, what matters, as I sum it up to students is ‘YOU’!

Back in 1994 when I started out in graduate recruitment we used to talk about ‘Knowledge, Skills and Attitude’. We always said that the most important was Attitude. The world was, and is still, full of very Knowledgeable and Skilled people who under perform but someone with the right Attitude will want to build their skills and knowledge to do the very best with what they have and constantly be better; and that was what you want to hire.

So our message to students when we are working with our Societies is simple, yes getting a good degree matters, yes work experience matters, but what matters most is YOU.

This then is the message that recruiters need to be communicating to students and their potential hires: ‘You’ and who you are matters; Your Attitude matters and does make a difference. What a refreshing message to give and how great for students to hear that!

Currys, Dancing Graduates and How to Interview

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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.

Is the summer a good time to recruit graduates?

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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.

Thoughts after the 2013 agr graduate conference

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The strongest AGR conference in some years I felt and there were some key themes that came through strongly from it on what Universities and Employers were focusing on and they included:

1. AGR survey results – vacancies down 3.9%; salaries unchanged on last year (so only risen once in the last 5 years); 85 applications per vacancy (the highest ever, it was 30 in 2007!) – 75% of firms use a 2.1 as a cut off and 35% use UCAS points (more on this later) – Salary progression for graduates after 1 year is 5%, after 3years it is 25%, and after 5 years it is 50%

2. Employability, according to a Guardianjobs survey, had 60% of employers saying students were primarily responsible for developing their own employability; 42% of careers services believing it was primarily their responsibility (38% thought it was up to the students); and 42% of students thought it was primarily their responsibility (with only 24% thinking it was their careers service who should shoulder the responsibility). So as our Bright Futures Societies absolutely empower students to take responsibility for this, we need to help them to strengthen what they do for more and more students.
But a disconnect was still clear between students and Universities, of whom only 21% & 24% respectively thought they were unprepared for the world of work BUT 40% of employers thought students were unprepared.

Some other key messages included:
– ‘Employability Skills’ is becoming a phrase that risks it becoming too narrow and giving the impression to students it is just about skills, it also needs to include issues such as career motivation (what is the right career for me and what do I need to do to secure that right career)
– Employability goes beyond getting a job and needs to include building a successful career, so employability does not stop when you get a job
– The obsession by both students and employers has moved on over the last few years from just needing that 2.1 to now it being all about work experience. The overriding message students hear from employers is around the need for work experience and they are listening and acting, but it risks work experience becoming simply a ‘tick list’ or ‘badge’ which students believe mean they are now employable, without the reflection on why it makes them more employable. The risk also is that the students do not then take advantage of the wider student experiences that University life offers (such as volunteering, being involved in Student Societies etc) and are not then the rounded, grounded individuals that employers will want ultimately hire. So does the message need to be more, “Securing a good career is about more than good academic results and work experience, you need to take ALL your experiences and show how this makes you stand out & more employable”?
An idea from a law recruiter was to introduce a question on the application form which asks ‘If you have not worked over the summer, what have you been doing?’, great for those students who have been doing something different but potentially equally valuable from a personal development point of view.
– When addressing the issues of skills we need to move on from the traditional ones such as teamwork, communication, analytical skills and get the message to students that they also need adaptability, creativity, understand the value of being networked etc
And finally a point re-iterated by an impressive 1st year from the University of Leicester, ‘students live in the now’ so to affect their behaviour and actions early enough we need to bear that ‘now-ness’ in mind.

3. Social Media. ‘Community’ is the new source of talent. Rather than thinking about ‘push’ marketing i.e. advertising, instead create talent communities by sharing information and insights. Enlist (people) – Empower them (with tools and training) – then Engage with them. Make it Personal (so what they want) – Make it Social (when they want it) – and finally Make it Mobile (where they want it). Our Bright Futures Societies are just such talent communities, that we have enlisted across over 50 Universities and empowered; they now just want and need to engage with employers…

4. The debate around the 2.1 and UCAS points as cut offs for applications. The need to question this was well made with just 2 stats:
a. Use of UCAS points excludes 58% of maths and computer science undergraduates
b. Use of the 2.1 excludes 42% of maths, computer science and law undergraduates
Not to mention the diversity and social mobility issues that are impacted through these cut off levels

And my final and lasting memory will be of my colleague Jackie up on stage with the ventriloquist!

Who is brave enough…

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Analyising some recent data and stats my orgnaisation uncovered some scary information for all the internet job boards and soem great news for the Universities and that is job boards cost a huge amount of money and the cost per hire (unless you are a volume recruiter) is not pretty. Whereas on campus activity deleivers a far better return (when well managed).

The question/challenge  I want to lay down is which graduate recruiter is brave enough to dump all their job board activity and focus instead on activity on campus – working directly with students.

There is another benefit of doing this and that is considerably less time spent wading through piles of Cvs of which, if they have come from job borads, most will be rejected at the first stage.

It will require real guts to make this decision – the job boards won’t like it and nor will the media agencies but then I would say to them the challenge with any organisation (mine included!) is to keep evolving and make sure you are offering a service that works.

But back to the graduate recruiters themselves…who is brave enough & who dares to be different?!