Graduate recruitment: the next ten years

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"The strengths-based approach forces a candidate to focus on their core abilities. " Isherwood

Ten years ago, when All Saints were on top of the charts and David Beckham wore a sarong, graduate recruitment was very different. Recruiter’s in-trays – not in-boxes – filled with paper application forms every morning. Filing cabinets overflowed with candidate papers and every autumn van loads recruitment brochures were shipped out to careers services.

The internet has fundamentally changed the way graduates hear about vacancies and how they apply to them. But what about the next ten years? Will the number of graduates have increased or decreased? Will information technology advances cause more upheaval? Will the life of the graduate recruiter be any easier?

The Office for National Statistics has predicted that the population of 18-25 year olds will fall by around 400,000 over the next 10 years. In 10 years time the current recession should be a distant memory, and if employer demand increases by the same rate it has for the last 30 years, there will be an extra 1.7m vacancies to fill by 2019. Because these vacancies will be for skilled workers, so the long-term demand for graduates is unlikely to disappear.

Labour and Conservative governments have both recognised the need for a skilled, educated workforce, which is why we have seen the drive to increase the number of people who enter higher education over the last twenty years.

A sensible assumption would be that the population decrease in young people will significantly reduce student numbers, but, counter intuitively, the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) predicts that student numbers will increase over the next 10 years.

Birth rates in the top social classes are increasing, not falling, and middle-class parents send their kids to university, so student numbers should hold firm. However, they are not going to dramatically increase either.

HEPI found that social class determines school achievement which in turn drives university participation. Unless the government can improve the school achievement of those from poorer backgrounds, university participation rates are going to stick below 50%.

All this means that the size of the graduate talent pool isn’t going to increase significantly, so don’t expect graduate recruitment to get any less competitive in the long-run. However, recruiters may not be able to change the size of the talent pool but they can change how they fish it.

Every year many graduate vacancies remain unfilled, despite the 260,000 students who complete a first degree each year. This cannot be entirely down to student apathy and a lack of employability skills.

For a number of years selection methods have not altered. The competency approach to recruitment is now standard practice amongst most graduate employers. It is a reliable, objective, fair and consistent.

But everyone knows, or can find out, how competency recruitment works. Careers services and employers run interview skills workshops on campus. Graduate websites explain how to structure interview responses and how to come up with good examples that demonstrate the required competencies.

This has resulted in the graduate recruitment interview becoming an efficient, if formulaic, machine. Interviewers struggle to evaluate the real person sat in front of them and candidates feel that they don’t get the opportunity to express their true self.

Which is why Ernst & Young, in conjunction with occupational psychologists from Work Positive and the Centre for Applied Positive Psychology (CAPP), are developing new selection methods to assess graduates; methods that enable interviewers to get the heart of a candidate and understand their true potential; methods that don’t encourage staged answers to interview questions. The method is the strengths-based approach to recruitment.

Vetting Non UK Nationals
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Professor Alex Linley of CAPP defines a strength as, “A pre-existing capacity for a particular way of behaving, thinking or feeling that is authentic and energising to the user and enables optimal functioning, development and performance”. When a candidate is using their strengths they demonstrate a real sense of energy and engagement; will often lose a sense of time because of being so engrossed and engaged; will rapidly learn new information and approaches; will demonstrate exemplary levels of performance; and will irrevocably be drawn to do things that play to their strengths – even when tired, stressed, or disengaged.

The strengths-based approach forces a candidate to focus on their core abilities. So whilst candidates must still prepare, they won’t be able to apply a formula.

Good recruitment should match the strongest candidates to roles that will enable them to achieve their potential, and allow graduates to make informed and authentic career choices. Too often poor recruiting fails to identify the inherent talent in the thousands of students graduating every year.
I doubt we’ll be wearing sarongs in ten years time, but I think graduate recruiters will have just as great a challenge to search for, and hire, talented graduates as they do now.

By Stephen Isherwood, Senior Manager, Graduate Recruitment, Ernst & Young LLP

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