The last few weeks of my university degree were filled with anticipation and excitement. After completing my coursework and handing in my dissertation, my focus quickly turned to securing my first job, and my sights were firmly set on being accepted onto a graduate recruitment scheme with a blue-chip business.

Graduate schemes with large businesses often had reputations for decent salary and benefits packages; plus, they also gave budding professionals a chance to kick-start their new careers with some very big and very well-respected companies – for the right people, of course.

Illustration of a graduation hat

Fast forward 20 years, and the graduate recruitment landscape is markedly different. Recent research by labour market analysts Luminate found that 73% of graduates in the UK would now prefer to work for a small or medium-sized business. However, it’s thought that only as many as 30% actually found work with an SME.

It’s clear there has been a shift in the types of businesses graduates feel are best to help their early careers flourish. Unlike my first forays into the world of work, big, blue-chip businesses are not necessarily the prime target for talented graduates looking for their first job.

For medium-sized and growing businesses, this presents a huge opportunity…

Graduates can help fill your organisation’s skill gaps

Although recruiting people with relevant skills and experience is desirable for any business, given that we’re in the midst of a much-publicised skills shortage, hiring a graduate can actually be hugely advantageous.

Graduates will be entering the jobs market eager to learn. They can be trained and developed to meet the specific needs of your business. In addition, they’ll also be more likely to be loyal and stick around for an employer who has helped them grow. Our 2022 company culture survey revealed that career opportunities and development were the second biggest priority for people aged 18-24 looking for a new job. Annual pay and benefits may have come out on top, but only just…

It also seems that graduates are fast recognising that the best career opportunities aren’t just confined to the big corporate multi-nationals. Recent research by Hot Spots Movement for PwC discovered higher-than-looked-for graduate turnover was closely linked to a lack of global career opportunities and insufficient time for regenerative activities.

Here are six ways in which you can help attract them to your company – and ensure they stay.

Offer career-benefiting responsibilities

One reason why graduates are drawn to medium-sized and growing companies is because it’s more likely they’ll be given better opportunities.

Flatter hierarchies and more agile organisations often mean they’re able to take on greater responsibilities from day one, and more likely to find themselves in a position where they can mentor other employees. If nurtured well enough, graduate recruits can make a real difference to an organisation relatively quickly.

It’s common to have little to no contact with senior staff at bigger companies (unless you’re fetching them a latte). So, the chance to learn from more experienced colleagues to enhance their future career prospects can be a huge draw for graduates.

You can use this to your advantage by emphasising in your job advertisements that you offer that kind of opportunity and that the successful candidate will have more one-on-one contact with senior employees. This will put them in a strong position to learn and develop skills they’ll need to help build a flourishing future career. This also brings us neatly onto…

Think carefully about your job advertisements

Set the bar at the right level: It seems obvious, but it’s essential that recruiting managers target the right level of graduate. For instance, if you’re looking for exceptional graduates to work with new cutting-edge technology, there’s no point asking for candidates with a 2:2 or above. You may get more applications, but the first-class candidates you’re really after will think that the job is beneath them.

Conversely, if the job doesn’t require a top degree, you don’t want to attract someone who will quickly discover the job isn’t stretching or exciting enough for them, realise they are better off elsewhere, and leave.

Focus on successes over experience: when recruiting talented graduates, attitude and approach matter much more than experience, so be sure to stress that in your job description. They’re likely to be fresh out of university, so they probably haven’t had lots of relevant experience under their belt anyway.

Even if they have worked in a similar business, it could be they spent their time filing documents and setting up meeting rooms, so they’re not necessarily the better candidate. However, by pinpointing the graduates’ successes, whether that’s something they’ve achieved during their degree, in a previous job, or as part of a university society or sports team for instance, you will gain a clearer idea of whether they are the right candidate for the role.

Make the job spec graduate friendly: Using business jargon may be all well and good in the office, but recent graduates may not be so clued up with your terminology, so don’t clutter your job description with it. It’s likely to make them feel under-qualified, or stop them from understanding the role properly. It’s good practice to let one of the younger members of your company check the job spec before it’s posted.

Advertise in the right places: You’re dealing with digital natives, so it makes sense to harness the power of the internet and social media to attract the best talent. This doesn’t need to be labour intensive or prohibitively expensive. Modern, cost-effective HR systems, like Cezanne HR, have recruitment software that can automatically post your vacancies to free online job boards and let you share vacancies through your personal LinkedIn page, company twitter feed or via email.

Pitch the right rewards

Graduates who have just left university will no doubt have student debt on their minds. However, while you may not be able to compete with the big boys on salary, there are other things that you can offer that make you attractive.

Generation Z – who will make up the majority of new graduates entering the jobs market – place a lot of value on company culture, work flexibility and office perks, and they’re often willing to sacrifice a higher wage for these things – along with the chance to contribute to the business in other ways.

Whether it’s frequent work socials, the opportunity for hybrid working or a health insurance programme, re-evaluating your company’s culture to attract the next generation of your workforce could be something to consider.

Invest in training

The prospect of training will attract the best graduates. They wouldn’t be where they are if they didn’t want to develop, so teaching them a new skill and allowing them to use it in practice will make your junior employees want to stay.

Because it’s often considered to be too expensive, training may often fall down the list of priorities for HR teams. However, encouraging graduates to attend conferences, setting up mentoring schemes, or putting on one day of training a month with a senior member of staff is an affordable way to keep your graduate employees engaged, and they’ll feel like they’re progressing at your company, and in their career.

Re-evaluate your diversity, inclusion and equality strategies

Creating more robust diversity, inclusion and equality strategies are forecast by the CIPD to be one of the most important workplace trends over the next few years. In fact, according to a report by jobs board Monster, 83% of Gen Z candidates said that a company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is important when choosing an employer.

Good HR software can give you the data you need to track, analyse and improve your organisation’s DEI efforts using pulse surveys. It can help highlight areas where action is needed and can support more informed decision making. You can read more about this subject here.

Deliver on your promises

Last, but not least, don’t make promises you know you can’t meet. Digital natives are not slow to share broken promises and bad experiences online, and employer review sites like Glassdoor are often the first point of call for your digitally-savvy graduate.

Graduates value honesty, and it’s much better to tell it as it is, than pretend to be something you are not. The last thing you need is a spate of negative – and anonymous – online reviews from current or former employees.

Paul Bauer author image

Paul Bauer

Paul Bauer is the Head of Content at Cezanne HR. Based in the Utopia of Milton Keynes (his words, not ours!) he’s worked within the employee benefits, engagement and HR sectors for over four years. He's also earned multiple industry awards for his work - including a coveted Roses Creative Award.

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