Graduates: focusing on the candidate experience

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At Roast, tucked away in Southwark’s Borough Market, TARGETjobs succeeded in attracting the usual packed house for their latest Breakfast News session on the morning of Thursday 28th June.

With the candidate experience as the event’s general theme, speakers approached the topic from a variety of angles. First up, as usual, was Bryan Finn from Business Economics, who was once again unable to provide any particularly cheering news on the macroeconomic front. Having slipped back into double-dip recession, the UK’s GDP is currently flatlining, with predictions of overall growth now pared back to around 0.3% for this year and not much more than 1% for next.

The continuing problems of the Eurozone and a slowing of growth in the emerging economies of India and China have further conspired to hamper the UK’s prospects of recovery. Despite all this, recruitment markets are probably holding up somewhat better than expected. Unemployment has fallen slightly in recent months, although levels for recent graduates are still rising while youth unemployment as a whole remains a significant problem.

AGR chief executive Carl Gilleard was able to draw on two decades of experience in offering his reflections on the evolution of the candidate experience and the associated development of candidate management processes. The graduate market has obviously changed hugely over this period: one of the most significant shifts has been in the supply and demand ratio, with employers now firmly in charge of the situation. (A recent AGR survey records some 1.5m applications for just 21,500 graduate jobs.)

Processes have become much more automated, though at the risk of focusing more on rejection than selection. Internships are now relatively commonplace, with one recent survey suggesting that more than a third of available graduate vacancies go to candidates who have already gained previous experience with the employing organisation.

In Carl’s view, best practice is likeliest to occur where organisations’ processes accurately and consistently reflect their values. He advocates giving graduate candidates adequate time to decide on offers, using available technology to keep them informed about their progress, providing them with meaningful feedback, and continually evaluating processes to ensure their effectiveness.

He also recommended “looking beyond the 2:1” (a grade which some 40% of the graduate talent pool will not attain, incidentally), as well as broadening the recruitment focus beyond narrow groups of traditional institutions. In terms of what to look out for, he cited the Wilson Review (looking into the links between HE and business), Alan Milburn’s report on fair access to traditional careers, the introduction of the new HEARs, and the potential impact of the candidate experience on an organisation’s brand.

From Breakfast News sponsor Work Group, principal occupational psychologist Susanna Wells and head of research Marcus Body co-presented a session on the cost of bad hiring. Susanna began by itemising the direct and indirect costs of getting hiring wrong, and listed some of the mistakes that organisations frequently make when attempting to hire graduates. She also noted that fewer than half (46%) of employers succeed in retaining all their graduates for just a single year.

Marcus then took over to focus on the reputational costs of bad hiring, having calculated that some 98.8% of applicants going through the average graduate recruitment process won’t be successful. Having also surveyed the views (though GTI) of some 1,600 people who were about to apply or had recently been through the process, he came up with a number of recommendations, including defining the target audience more clearly, establishing a process to find such people, and checking that this works properly.

Finally, Santander’s graduate & early career resourcing manager Lorcan Seery delivered a case-study on the practical benefits of enhancing the candidate experience. Thanks to more personalised communications, better mentoring and the introduction of feedback, Santander had received “fantastic” feedback from candidates as well as boosting its offer acceptance rate to 95%. The company had also gained a first-time nomination for the TARGETjobs best graduate employer award and significantly boosted its Times Top 100 graduate employer ranking. The results have also increased the business’s appetite for more EiC (early in career) hiring next year.

GTI Media director Simon Rogers brought proceedings to a close by reminding the audience that deadlines for GTI’s media products are now “imminent”, and that the next Breakfast News session is due to take place at Quaglino’s in London’s St James’s on Thursday 13th September.

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  1. Interesting thoughts on the effects of poor recruitment with regards to employer reputation and branding that have also been mentioned in this blog post. Please feel free to comment.

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