A bespoke tailor of talents

April 11, 2003

Careers services are adapting to new challenges, but graduates and employers must be realistic, says Simon Hamm.

Graduate recruitment is a game of trial and error. The anarchical system we operate in - online applications, psychometric tests and telephone interviews - filter applications down to a point where it's often luck rather than expertise and skills that gets an applicant to the final stages of selection.

Higher education careers services are under extreme pressure as the expectations of students and employers intensify. To operate in this climate, careers services need to reappraise the service they are offering students. But, at the same time, the students and employers also need to reconsider the approach they are taking to recruitment.

Students need to be more realistic in their employment expectations.

Policies to widen university access and the year-on-year rise in numbers of students taking degrees has increased competition for graduate vacancies.

The introduction of tuition fees has raised student expectations of a return on their education investment. Combine this with the current uncertain economic climate, and it's clear that changes need to be made.

Although graduate attitudes to the recruitment process must change, they should be aware that they hold a great deal of influence in the "recruitment relationship". As such, they should make sure they select the company that devotes significant effort to recruiting them.

In my experience, students feel that companies fail to treat them as the valuable customers they are. In reality, graduate recruiters should be encouraging applicants to want to work for them: ultimately, it's the graduates' choice whether to accept an offer of employment, and the best graduates will undoubtedly have several companies to choose from.

Graduate employers, however, face an immense challenge of their own. How to find the magic four or five best candidates from among 1,000 or more applications is a difficult and unenviable task. Employers must start the graduate recruitment process knowing exactly what they want and what they will expect from their recruits. They must also make it clear what they can offer graduates in return.

And what of careers services? Our role is very much the middle-man between universities and employers. To fulfil this role, we need to understand and support the needs and expectations of both groups.

As the demand for graduate jobs increases and students are more consumer driven, we will need to offer more individual and tailored support to students. The "technique tips" on how to fill out application forms and seminars on interview skills will not suffice. We will have to become more creative, investigating methods to show graduates as individuals with the skills and expertise to meet the needs of business in the future.

More than anything, the graduate recruitment process needs to be more transparent for all parties involved. It's only when this happens that careers services, employers and graduates will get value for money and a return on their investment.

Simon Hamm is head of careers and placements at the European Business School London.

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