After 15 years in HR I have learnt that the Graduate recruitment cycle is one that can leave you pulling your hair out.  From graduate fairs and job board advertising in the past to using Twitter and Facebook today, the graduate recruitment market has seen some dramatic changes.

In 2015 99% of businesses in the UK were SMEs so, today choosing to work for an SME isn't considered doesn't mean that graduates are settling for 2nd best. Big companies can certainly still compete with their salaries (FYI, Aldi are one of the highest graduate payers with a starting salary of £42,000) and development programmes. But there are drawbacks too: the constraints or a larger organisation can sometimes stifle graduates using their initiative and creativity; competition to climb the hierarchy is intense; and graduates can risk their career stalling.  In contrast, a graduate in an SME can progress faster and have the ability to influence at a more senior level.  So be positive – as an SME you have a lot to offer!

Graduate vacancies in 2016 has taken recruitment beyond the pre-recession peak in 2007, to its highest-ever level and unlike in 2007 SME’s are no longer considered ‘poor relations’ when it comes to attracting the best of what the graduate market now has to offer.

  • The ‘milk round’ approach isn’t completely dead and buried and still has its place, however, increasingly companies are becoming more innovative in the way they attract graduates and with the increase in social media and the increased ease of targeting candidates some of the challenges that SME’s have faced in the past have started to disappear.  
  • In the past graduates may not have noticed SME’s on their job hunting radar but with the plethora of technology and social media available today this is no longer the case.  Use technology to promote your brand.  Social media and professional networking sites have gained even more presence in the graduate market; getting on Twitter and LinkedIn has become crucial.   
  • Be cautious though and don’t limit yourself to just looking for candidates online.  There are pitfalls to this approach and although it will allow you reach a large number of candidates the process of manually weeding out those who apply for everything they see can be never-ending.
  • Today you need to generate interest in your company before graduates hit the market.  Blog posts are free to write and can be hosted on your company website, but they can veer quickly into spam territory and the level of SEO required to make them stand out is no small change for an SME so make sure you give it some serious thought before you start spending.
  • It’s not all about the money and company name anymore.  Graduates motivation is no longer only via their base salary, they are looking for more non-traditional benefits too such as a games room/pool table in the office, casual dress, company social events.  If you do this stuff already don’t be shy about telling people and if you don’t it may be time to think about making some changes to help attract the best talent.
  • Having a strong career path and being able to show success against this is another big attraction.  Graduates don’t necessarily want a job for life but they do want a company that can develop and progress their careers and in an SME they are likely to develop faster.  Be clear about what is on offer and the opportunities available.
  • Graduates today do not expect to leave work and shut off for the day, they expect to integrate their jobs into their lives and vice versa. That can mean working remotely when possible, taking time for personal projects and staying connected to friends during office hours.  Make sure that you are communicating these types of benefits when looking for graduates.
  • The relationship between higher education and the SME sector is changing from both sides. SMEs need to raise their levels of skills and knowledge, while the higher education system is producing more graduates than the traditional graduate employers require. Make the time to connect with your local universities and colleges and promote your business throughout the academic year.

Unlike in the past engaging with graduates will depend on “lifting the lid” on your company culture, says David Rudick, VP International Markets at job board platform Indeed. “Heavily influenced by social media and peer reviews, graduate jobseekers also expect a similar level of transparency from their future employers.” If you want to engage with graduates you need to be open about what it’s like to work in your business.

There has been a lot of discussion recently over requirements of candidates and some of the larger graduate recruiters are following the trend of removing the need for a degree level qualification at all, Ernst & Young, one of the UK’s biggest graduate recruiters, has announced it will be removing the degree classification from its entry criteria, saying there is "no evidence" success at university correlates with achievement in later life.  Make sure you don’t limit your search by being to prescriptive over university attended or grade achieved.

It’s been estimated that 32% of this year’s entry-level positions are expected to be filled by graduates who have already worked for their organisations.  You should be thinking about how you can work with local higher education establishments earlier than in the final year of a course by offering work experience placements, running skills training events, drop in sessions and so on to generate interest in your company early on. With more people graduating from university than ever, this has put pressure on students to start thinking about their careers and researching what employers in their field look for much earlier in their studies.

Finally, think about your recruitment process once you’ve attracted a candidate.  After all that hard work you don’t want candidates to have to jump through technological hoops just to get to interview stage.  Traditional recruitment processes such as filing out long forms or having multiple interviews could turn off the graduates from the tech-savvy generation.  Consider more innovative ways for candidates to apply such video CV’s or applications.

So, are you ready to hire your graduate? How will your business gain the upper hand in the graduate market? It’s a competition for the best graduate talent out there – so make sure you make the most of it!

To join in the discussion join us at the TheHRhub: the ultimate support for startups and SMEs. Sign up here for free tools and guidance.

p.s - To get ahead of your game when it comes to another area important to your employees: Reward and Recognition, download our FREE eBook: Show Me The Money! The Ultimate Guide To Reward And Recognition In An SME.


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