The Future of Graduate Recruitment

Graduate recruitment has always been of great professional interest to me, in fact my first ever digital recruitment project was creating the strategy and project managing the build for Siemens first ever graduate recruitment site in 1999.  What has always frustrated me though is the lack of progressive thinking from many employers in their approach to recruiting graduates. Uptake of new technologies has, with a few notable exceptions, always been incredibly slow and in my opinion much of the overall thinking that goes into corporate graduate recruiting strategies is outdated and in danger of fast becoming irrelevant. A bold sweeping statement I know but let me explain what I mean. A few months ago I was at a conference and asked two graduate recruitment managers from two very well known blue chips why they only focused their recruitment efforts on a small number of specific universities and how they choose these institutions in the first place. The first graduate recruiter told me that they only wanted the best graduates so focused only on the best universities. So far perhaps so logical, however when I pressed the point and asked what criteria they used for selecting which universities were the best, I was told that they didn’t have any criteria they just targeted the same universities every year because they were ones they always target.  The second graduate recruiter gave pretty much the same answer but at least added some slightly more enlightened insight by saying they would like to broaden their number of target institutions but were worried about diluting their brand by not being able to maintain the same level of high quality, high touch campus presence.

I can understand why the target institution thinking was important even in the recent past. With so many universities and students out there and graduate recruiters relying on traditional communication strategies, it was important for them to build these kinds of filters into the process to maximize their resources in order to get the best results. However things change and behaviors should evolve.

In Clay Shirky’s excellent book Cognitive Surplus he describes how human beings are often forced to take on board behaviors that can become the established way of doing things but are actually unnatural to the brain and quickly change when technology develops to replace them. His example is remembering phone numbers and although all of us over a certain age developed strategies for remembering lots of these long numbers, we quickly abandoned them when mobile phone address books became ubiquitous.  I feel very strongly that this kind of shift needs to happen in the minds of graduate recruiters.  The old filters, strategies and ways of doing things need to change quickly as there are two major forces that are dictating the need for huge change in the future.

The first of these is the market itself. With the onset of £9000 tuition fees and the current high levels of graduate unemployment, it is inevitable that companies should be thinking about their future talent strategies in a different way.  If employers still want to attract the best young talent in the years to come targeting the same old universities with the same old methods isn’t the way forward. The people who can afford to go on to further study in the future are likely to prioritise proximity, affordability and flexibility as key criteria in their choice of institution rather than previous reputation. That is if they decide to go to University at all! There will be a massive fragmentation in the market and I don’t believe using the strategic shortcut of targeting specific institutions is going to deliver the required results.

The second force driving the future is the ways in which the social web and social technologies are enhancing the way people communicate. I recently did some work for one of the more forward thinking graduate employers and what became really clear quickly is that today's students are keen to enter into a relationship with potential employers early if there some kind of payoff for them (this doesn’t have to necessarily be an eventual job offer either). They also have a genuine desire to self organise and support each other in their job hunt. Add in the fact that they are most connected generation on the planet and it is fairly clear that the traditional graduate brochures, posters and flat websites aren’t going to provide the collaborative brand experience they are looking for.

I think this all points to a clear view of the future and if employers think about this strategically they can actually offset these forces against each other. Fragmentation in the geographic distribution of talent isn’t as much of a problem if companies have a properly thought out social engagement strategy. I believe that finally we have the basis for employers to provide the same high quality person-to-person experience online as they have done on campus in the past. The social web offers the chance of one-to-many and peer-to-peer dialogues in a way that the “virtual careers fairs” of the past never could.

It’s great to see some brands already experimenting with this and I’ve previously blogged about some great work from Unilever here and Deloitte here. However more employers need to be looking at this area closely. There is a learning curve to go through and I wholeheartedly believe that the first movers now will be securing the best talent for years to come. Whatever happens though it surely must be time to finally kill off the graduate brochure once and for all!