Originally published in Issue 1 (Autumn 2017) of 'The Student Employer' Magazine by ISE.
By Amy Collins and Rachel Seignot
Bright Network research suggests graduates see a prestigious reputation and a fast-growing, innovative image as the most important criteria in an employer. But what other, more practical, aspects are they looking for? As recent graduates who have taken a wider look at the graduate recruitment market whilst working at Gradconsult, Amy Collins and Rachel Seignot explain their decision-making process behind applying for graduate jobs.
When first considering graduate job applications, we both created a ‘checklist’ to narrow down the myriad of opportunities available. Although we pursued jobs in vastly different sectors, our wishlists shared many similarities. Analysing our selection criteria, it is clear that both larger and smaller businesses have their individual strengths, and their respective graduate schemes can be marketed effectively by highlighting these.
The Graduate Wishlist
Real responsibility. We want the chance to make a tangible contribution to a company. Although employers of all sizes can offer this, graduates often overlook the fact that we can gain more experience in a shorter amount of time in an SME. Smaller employers often provide a wider range and greater number of responsibilities to new recruits.
Collaborative company culture. A positive, cooperative working environment makes for a happy, motivated workforce. We want to be amongst others with a growth mindset, where we feel confident sharing our ideas. Smaller businesses may have a stronger sense of culture as it is innate rather than a set of values that can feel ‘designed’ by a marketing team. However, schemes that employ a larger number of graduates provide more opportunities to meet and socialise with like-minded people of a similar age.
Recognition. We want to be more than just a number. We want to build relationships with our colleagues rather than being known as ‘one of the new graduates,' which may be the case in firms that hire hundreds of graduates each year. Placing graduates within an established smaller team or department achieves this, as there is greater opportunity to stand out and impress.
Career progression. Although flat structures are seen by many as innovative, a traditional hierarchy is more desirable to graduates who want to see how they can move up the ladder. Smaller businesses often have a more informal promotion system, which may lead graduates to progress either more quickly or more slowly than on a structured development scheme, depending on the business.
Personal development opportunities. We want our talent to be nurtured. Many larger employers offer this in the form of professional qualifications. Some SMEs may subsidise these for employees who impress and show they are committed to the long-term development of the business, however funding may be limited.
Travel opportunities. We don’t want to be sat at the same seat in an office day after day. Whether it’s travelling to client sites, working away at other branches or international project work, we welcome it all!
Mentoring. We want career guidance from someone who has been in our position. Many firms now offer a ‘buddy’ or mentoring scheme where you learn from previous graduates, then eventually become a mentor and pass on your wisdom. In a small business there may not be another employee who has previously worked in your role, however you are much more likely to receive one-on-one coaching from senior employees, including the MD.
Did the graduates get what they wanted?
Amy: I received offers for two of the top five UK graduate programmes and, interestingly, chose instead to work for an SME. I prefer the bespoke, client-driven approach where each project is unique and I never do the same thing twice. I’m enjoying taking on a high level of responsibility and genuine decision-making opportunities at an early stage in my career.
Rachel: I, on the other hand, opted for a corporate graduate scheme as I prioritise international travel and secondment opportunities. A clear career progression pathway and structured performance management cemented my decision. I was also attracted by the higher salary, something that many smaller employers cannot compete with.