The fight for talent: how to attract London’s best graduates

What do top university students look for in an employer?

Gary Argent, director of careers, City University London

Those coming into universities this autumn will be the first to pay the newly increased tuition fees. This means that they are more aware of the importance of maximising their prospects for employment. The message that it is not just about getting a 2.1 or a first is starting to hit home.

They are asking more questions than ever about the actions they need to take, beyond their academic work, to put them in a strong position for their future careers.While their degree is important, it is just the first stage of engaging in a conversation, especially with the larger graduate recruiters.

So what are students looking for from an employer? They want interesting, exciting work with plenty of opportunities to develop themselves.

Employers need to talk to each university about how best to engage their students

They are not just interested in what the role will be like when they arrive: they want to know what the first couple of years will bring. When will their responsibilities increase? When will they get the chance to manage a team or a budget? These are now key questions asked by graduates.

But there is also an awareness that job security is an important factor to consider. Recruiters are reacting to this and talking more to graduates about the stability of their business and their long-term plans.

What can recruiters do to ensure that they are as attractive as possible to the brightest and best graduates?

We’re encouraging employers to work more closely with universities. They need to talk to each university about how best to engage their students. Universities are complex institutions – so they should use the careers service for help.

For sectors such as retail and fast-moving consumer goods, there is often a perception among students that this is not a good place to start their careers. They equate these jobs with stacking shelves. So firms in these sectors need to drive home the fact that they offer a wide range of exciting opportunities to graduates.

Corporate social responsibility and environmental issues are a big factor for some students. Interestingly, many students view a company that has challenges in these areas as an opportunity to help address them.

Work placements, internships and work shadowing are also more important than ever for students. Many employers use their work placement activities as a feeder into their graduate programmes.

Jenny Owen, director, LSE Careers, London School of Economics and Political Science

I used to work at King’s College, London. Following the economic crisis, there was a shift away from banking and finance among students there.

But this did not happen at the LSE. Students here remain focused on banking, financial services and management consultancy. This is partly because recruiters in these areas focused on fewer universities – and the LSE remained a target.

Yet the number of students moving into law and legal services has halved over the past few years. This reflects the cuts in law firms’ trainee schemes.

We also see a greater interest in the non governmental organisation sector, reflecting the fall in opportunities in the civil service and elsewhere in the public sector. This trend is likely to grow in the coming months.

Students are becoming more flexible when considering their career options. They have seen how fluid the labour market has become – and realise they can move into something different after a couple of years. This poses challenges for employers who want to retain the graduates they have spent a lot of time and effort training up.

Students are a cynical bunch. They want to know what a role is really like

The rise of the graduate internship in recent years has made a massive difference in how people view their careers. From 2005 to 2009, students would never have even considered an internship following graduation. Now it’s considered the norm. It’s been a rapid change. A significant proportion of these internships remain unpaid.

So what can employers do to make themselves as attractive as possible to the brightest and best? They need to remember that students are a cynical bunch. They want to know what a role is really like. They can get the standard corporate information online.

The bottom line is that students want employers to be honest with them about everything – including the number of vacancies that are available.

Karen Barnard, head of UCL Careers Service at the University of London

Students are more aware that they need to start thinking about their careers earlier, because there are fewer jobs and more graduates. They are also thinking more about doing things while at university that would help their CV – volunteering, internships and so on.

Employers should not underestimate the importance of campus presence when seeking to attract the best graduates. They should come to careers fairs, sponsor student clubs, conduct workshops and build their brand on campus.

They must also be clear and transparent about what they do offer. If they don’t, students can join a company, but quickly become disillusioned and leave.

When students are sizing up a potential employer, it is not all about a big salary. It is about the quality of opportunity being offered. Some students will be interested in international work; others will be interested in variety; a high level of autonomy; or ongoing professional development. It is crucial that companies highlight this kind of thing. And more students than ever are looking at a company’s ethical credentials.

Financial services remain at attractive as ever, despite the downturn. Things have bounced back – the jobs are there and the demand is there.

Carl Gilleard, chief executive, Association of Graduate Recruiters

The graduate recruitment scene is currently a buyer’s market. The number of applications for each vacancy has risen dramatically over the past three to four years. It has reached the point that employers almost fear putting vacancies up because they are receiving an average of 80 applications per place. Employers don’t welcome this – because the high volume, low success formula is expensive. They want low volume, high success.

So employers need to target their recruitment activity. They should start by establishing what they’re looking for from a graduate.

Your existing workforce is a great asset in the recruitment process. Get them to tap into their networks and get your messages across

Then they need to market the right proposition. This means being open about what they’re looking for. Honesty is key. Case studies – via brochures, web sites or YouTube videos – of real people who have been through the graduate process is an excellent way of doing this. “Generation Y” likes this. They don’t want bullsh*t – and can spot it a mile off.

If you’re honest, you’ll filter out the potential candidates who won’t be the right fit anyway.

When it comes to targeting, there is still an important place for face-to-face contact, despite the growth of the web. You need to select universities on the basis of reputation, pass rates, and course content.

Your existing workforce is a great asset in the recruitment process. Get them to tap into their networks and get your messages across.

Social media is an exciting area. Using it as a recruitment tool is a developing art but every recruiter is talking about its potential.

Remember that making an offer to a graduate is not the end of the process. From making an offer in May to the start date in September, your competitor could make another offer. The graduate recruitment team always gets nervous at the end of August. So it’s crucial to use social media and other channels to maintain the relationship with those you’ve made an offer to.

What students want from employers: the top five

Professional training/development

Good prospects for high future earnings

Sensible work/life balance

Employer with a strong reputation

Competitive base salary

(Source: Universum)

Social Bookmarks