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January 14, 2013 / Mervyn Dinnen

Do Graduate Recruiters Know What They’re Looking For?

New research now tells us that state school educated graduates get better grades than their private school counterparts but they come off worse when it comes to job opportunities and salaries.

Sadly I’m not surprised.

I saw this recent piece in the Telegraph which purports to enlighten graduates as to what companies look for when recruiting them. Here are four quotes…I’ve left out the name of the recruiter and company. They were all sizeable service sector businesses:

“We are after people with a can-do attitude, enthusiasm, interpersonal skills and the drive and ambition to make an impact. Softer skills such as collaboration are also valued, especially as employees often have to work with a variety of people outside their immediate team. For us, it’s less about what you’ve studied and more about why you want to work for us and what you can bring.”

“We want to employ bright, intelligent students with inquisitive minds. We are totally non-specific in terms of the degree taken. We are also keen to see candidates who have gained work experience in industry and are able to demonstrate a real intent to pursue a career in research, marketing and communications.”

“Some of our most successful employees have captained a rugby team or been president of the students’ union. One of the biggest frustrations we have is meeting students with the same CVs and answers — as if they have all been prepped in the same way. At interview we try to assess behaviour as much as any work experience to give us a sense of the future a candidate might have with our company.”

“We’re looking for exceptional, rounded, ambitious individuals who can show sustained involvement in activities other than the purely academic, such as work experience, industrial placements and voluntary work in the UK or abroad.”

Are you any the wiser as to what they’re looking for? If you were making your first foray into the jobs market would you know which one was for you?

They clearly have access to a thesaurus (exceptional, rounded, bright, intelligent, can-do, interpersonal…you get the picture) and seem to have no interest in offering any insight into what  may set them apart.

And beyond that it’s just bland, colourless words.

Remember the findings shared at CIPD12 about youth employment ‘Too often entry level roles fail to stimulate or engage them, and give them a poor experience of the workplace. They need variety, challenge, teamwork and customer interaction – try to give it to them; it will bring out their best’

The two tiered approach I mentioned at the start is entirely consistent with research I did about 18 months ago into PWCs new initiative to get non grads into their business. Read it here – 50% of people don’t go to university yet only 7.7% of trainee positions are for non-grads.

So we really now have a three tiered approach with many of our major businesses. Alas there are no stats for how the grad positions at PWC split between state and private school educated kids….though given that the one professional services firm quoted above talked about looking for rugby captains and student union presidents I think we can make an educated guess….

Barely a day goes by without someone in my timeline moaning about graduates and their sense of entitlement in the job market. Some readers will know that I usually side with the graduate!

The ‘in my day we took any job‘ hirers are right. They did! Except now they are hiring they aren’t looking for someone who wants ‘any‘ job. They want someone who wants their job, in their company, in their sector. And they want someone who will prove that commitment in interview. And if successful will then start a 3 month probation period, after which time if they’re lucky they will get KPIs, targets, appraisals and performance reviews.

The ‘in my day we took any job‘ brigade rarely ever had that. Smart and eager was often enough.

As in so many areas of business at the moment, we have an uncertain future with fewer openings. Maybe graduate recruiters are getting too used to finding reasons to reject rather than looking for reasons to hire.

After all, with 32.7% of degree educated 25-29 year olds working in jobs below their skill levels we’re almost world leaders in under-utilising the skills of our graduates.

There’s talent everywhere. There’s an abundance of talent, a million or so of it are under 25 – young, hungry and keen.

Open your eyes and go get it. Develop it. Nurture it. Invest in it. Stop talking it down, blaming it and making it grateful for 20 – 40 hours a week work. And stop hiding behind bland, colourless words…

…and if you’re obsessing about graduates then heed the words of US HR Blogger China Gorman:

“Four-year college degrees have long been a proxy for base level of skills—that a person can write, work with numbers, and think through difficult questions.  Except that’s probably not true any more.  Not only are there many ways to get those skills these days, there are many ways to get them that don’t include an over-priced experience that saddles the student with tens of thousands of dollars of debt.  Additionally, most employers will argue that a four-year degree isn’t a proxy for anything any more:  they provide no guarantee that the holder will actually be able to write, speak, think or do the most basic math”

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7 Comments

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  1. colourless words – love it

  2. Julia Briggs / Jan 14 2013 6:39 PM

    Hmm, several points raised here:
    a. the woolliness and bias of employers – some of the words are very revealing about bias (rugby for example). However, many of the words used can be turned into behaviours which you can recruit against (and if you are not doing so already, why not). I am sure they are and I can understand the frustration of seeing the same shiny stepford candidates coming through, happy with their grades etc. But, in a world very different to my youth, NO WORK EXPERIENCE. At age 22. I have seen so many of my friends’ children just sit there whilst everything is arranged and paid for them, by their helicoptering parents. Examples: attending their interview for an MA (what bloody idiot accepted them on the course), writing their academic papers, applying for jobs for them using a made up hotmail account, phoning their mates to land the all important internship (and then paying for the placement as well as all expenses), calling me on so many occasions to help their child out with CV, workplace advice etc. And when was the last time you had a really good debate with some of these bright grad workers (you bemoaned the loss of ‘political’ on a blog once didn’t you?) So I get what the employers are saying in terms of the ‘extras’ which are really essentials for success.

    As to the other two points

    b. what are employers providing? Not very much for a lot of people, just cheeky internships for many. Surely they will become illegal soon as the minimum wage applies to all work. Or even the living wage. It’s become too easy to provide very little as you have so much in front of you as an employer and still complain you aren’t finding talent. The irony is there is most probably very little ‘talent’ in your current organisation, including you Mr(s) Hiring Manager. Because talent is just what the word implies – it sets you apart (which is why I don’t agree there are a million talented under 25s, let’s find a different word to describe it). Another question is – really, do they want talent? Why?

    c. Is a degree or higher qualification worth much? For the employer – depends what they are looking for, see a. above. For the employee – possibly not, see point b. above. And point a. Bring back proper apprenticeships, weight the results of those who have had all the advantages and let’s see where the talent comes from. And who really wants it.

  3. Ross Clennett (@rossclennett) / Jan 15 2013 12:03 AM

    Excellent post, Mervyn. Thanks for calling our attention to this ridiculous way of advertising for graduates. How about the employer state the type of work the graduate will be doing? Or the sort of career they might build at said company? It’s a very arrogant way to advertise and very unlikely to encourage a diverse range of applications.

    China Gorman’s quote is a beauty. The range of competencies and skills by tertiary insititutions becomes smaller and less exclusive by the day, I hope employers start to understand this and recruit accordingly.

    • Ross Clennett (@rossclennett) / Jan 15 2013 12:05 AM

      That final sentence should read ‘The range of competencies and skills developed by tertiary insititutions becomes smaller and less exclusive by the day, I hope employers start to understand this and recruit accordingly.’

  4. Katie McNab (@RecruitGal) / Jan 15 2013 9:12 AM

    Not only are recruiters (and hiring managers) vague about what they’re asking for, but they’re usually pretty vague about why they are asking for those things in the first place, and how they’re going to assess them.

    (And don’t get me started on people who think they have the magical ability to predict “potential”, particularly in a group of fresh grads with extremely limited experience…)

  5. Constantin / Jan 18 2013 11:57 AM

    I thought it was just me going mad, not understanding the world and the recruitment process. The above also extends to recent graduates who have previous work experience, but perhaps not particularly in the field they studied. Nevertheless, I thought transferable skills were important decision factors in the recruitment and selection process – how idyllic and puerile of me to think this way… On a different note, the increased and tightened legislation does not help either. I am a practical person and I prefer people to be direct and honest with me, but given the current political climate those in charge and with decision-making power are apprehensive about giving tailored feedback – general and generic feedback does not help anyone! Annoyingly, some organisations even make bold statements such as ” [we are]… committed to feedback, enabling you to understand your performance and improve upon this for the future” and all I got was what they already had on their website under hints and tips, but no reference to my performance in any shape or form. I should say that I am starting to enjoy this game of guessing what employers want (employing trial and error techniques) and how I can demonstrate that I have what they ‘think’ they need. If their objectives or business raison d’etre is to have full inboxes with useless applications, I shall help them achieve that.

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  1. Do Graduate Recruiters Know What They're Looking For? « T Recs | Recruiter | Scoop.it

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