by Rebecca Fielding
I’ve launched graduate schemes many dozens of times over the last twenty years, both in-house and more recently with clients. In this second blog, of a three-part mini-series this Summer, I share tips 6-10 to set your graduate scheme up for success. To read tips 1-5 please check out part 1 in the series here.
6. Bust the myths with benchmarks and data
When you are launching a new graduate scheme lots of people internally will have a view on things like the recruitment criteria, which universities you partner with or salaries to pay. These views can come from personal experience (often out-dated as the sector changes so quickly), press coverage, or anecdotes about what others in the sector are doing. What you need is current data, information and market insight to ensure that any recommendations you make are based on fact rather than myth, perception or personal perspective. Use this data and insight to inform your proposals, influence decisions and counter existing views.
The very best way to garner this insight and data is by joining professional membership bodies like the ISE in the UK, SAGEA in South Africa, AAGE in Australia or NANCE in the U.S. (other professional bodies cover other geographical regions). Each publish annual surveys with current benchmarking data and host conferences, focus groups or networking for members – often within specific sectors. Here's one small snippet from the ISE 2021 survey for example, on recruiter ratios and cost per hire by sector - which can be hugely helpful to inform your planning and launch:
There are also a wide range of freely available reports, white papers, articles and data sources you can delve into. Some of my top recommendations for the U.K. include:
One note of caution: Not all sources are created equally. Some surveys have very small sample groups, skewed methodology (e.g. The Times Top 100 which focuses on a certain niche of employers and universities) or political bias that underpin their criteria. Understanding your sources and the relevance to your context is critical.
7. Talk to university partners sooner rather than later
University careers and employability professionals are deeply knowledgeable about their students, institution and employer practises (they work with thousands of employers across all sectors every year). Many employers can make the mistake of crafting their strategy, determining which universities/students or courses they want to target and developing their campaign - THEN getting in contact with the universities at the point of launch.
I would argue your campaign and strategy will be infinitely better developed and more successful, like all good partnerships, if you engage with and take advice from your university partners much earlier in the process.
Adopt a collaborative co-design process and listen carefully to the insights and differences – what works on one campus, or for one student body, is unlikely to transfer directly to another. Taking this approach will not only set you up for success but also potentially unearth new initiatives and possibilities for you to engage with students that you weren’t even aware of.
Some international professional bodies like NACE are a broad church and incorporate careers services and employers alike, but in other geographies like the U.K. they are separate. There is much value for you as a new graduate employer engaging with professional bodies such as AGCAS to make connections, understand the sector and promote your opportunities to large numbers of higher education careers professionals in one place at the same time e.g. the annual AGCAS Heads of Service conference (which you can attend, exhibit, network at and sponsor).
8. Engage your graduate alumni
In tip 2 of the series I stated ‘Involving your alumni in any launch is critical not only to capture existing best practise but for lots of other reasons - more on this later in the series’. Here's the more I promised....
Who are these people?
Whether you have had a formal internship, placement or graduate scheme in your business previously or not, you will have a good number of graduates who have joined you in recent years. Often, they were recruited directly into vacancies, or through informal/unstructured local relationships. But importantly they are already in and delivering for the business in real roles. They may only be a year or two out of university themselves, but did not have the benefit of entering the organisation through a structured scheme – with the perks, visibility, development and salary this can often attract.
Why are they important?
Your existing alumni can help you to:
Ignored or mis-handled during the process of launching a new graduate scheme this population can also have a significant negative impact. There is nothing more likely to cause an exodus of existing graduates 2-3 years in, if they see you paying new grads with no experience more money! You can’t always match salary exactly but addressing it and ensuring your internal benchmarking lines up as much as possible is key. And it’s not all about the money – it’s also a good idea to offer your recent grad hires the opportunity to opt into development opportunities you have lined up for your new graduate scheme. Lunches with the CEO, senior mentors and highly prized accreditation/training can also be a source of much tension if existing graduates feel new hires have opportunities that they did not.
There is of course nuance here – sometimes what you are looking for with your graduate scheme for the future is very different to the direct entry hire roles you have recruited for in the past. But overall this important group of people are well worth discovering and investing significant time with as part of your launch.
9. Apply human- centred design principles
Many organisations or individuals new to graduate recruitment will tell me how successful they have been because ‘we received 3,000 (or insert insanely large number) applications’. This is far from a measure of success. It is in fact a spectacular failure of the candidate attraction strategy, potentially brand damaging (I know many people who refuse to buy products or use services from particular brands due to poor graduate recruitment experiences many years ago) and an enormous waste of an organisation’s time and money to screen through so many applications. But most importantly each one of those numbers is a real person with hopes, aspirations, talents and drive to succeed.
The key to the most successful graduate campaigns are in fact fewer, better quality applications from candidates who understand the opportunity. Who you can then get to know, coach and support through the selection process - offering exceptional levels of candidate experience and feedback along the way. I call this the 'deathly hallows' of graduate recruitment:
Building your candidate journey by applying human-centred design principles allows you to achieve this 'deathly hallows' magic and stand out in what can sometimes feel like a brutal environment to many graduates experiencing repeated rejection for the first time. Build your personas, inhabit their environment, understand their barriers and concerns. Place that person at the heart of your design. Create a process that allows people to shine, do their best, showcase their unique personality/experiences and show you their potential - not one that is designed to handle volume and arbitrarily reject people in numbers at each stage of the process. Bring radical candour into your attraction, talk about the challenges as well as the benefits, add value and educate applicants along the journey. Achieve this and even those candidates you reject from your process will remain firm advocates and brand ambassadors for years to come as you helped them at a complex and challenging period in their lives - that transition from education into employment.that transition from education into employment.
10. Choose your partners wisely
There is a rich and complex eco-system of suppliers and partners in the student/graduate recruitment landscape from creative agencies, to recruitment out-sourcing, recruitment tech platforms, on campus events teams, development providers and many more. There is no fixed formula for finding the best partners for you as there are so many variables; your levels of internal expertise, resource, time, graduate numbers, existing agreements/systems and budgets all being critical. However, there are a few key things you can do to help you find the best partners you can to help in the launch and delivery of a new graduate scheme: