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The third degree: 7 tips for attracting and hiring the best grads

September 5, 2023
A person holding a graduate hat at sunset.

Getting the right talent for your business is as difficult as it is important. Many organisations like to hire grads for a variety of reasons — they can grow and develop within the company, they offer a fresh perspective that some seasoned professionals might fail to see, and of course, they are a clean slate that you can mould into the perfect employee for your business.

However, picking the right graduates could seem exponentially more difficult. Traditional hiring relies on experience — the one thing most grads don’t have to offer. It falls on organisations to rely on other elements in their recruitment process. So, how can you select the right people? And what can you do to attract top grads to your business?

1. Understand what grads are looking for

Recent graduates are in their early twenties, placing them at peak Gen Z territory. This means the things they care about might be slightly different to the older generations — yes, even Millennials! For example, Zoomers often place empathy as one of the most important qualities in a boss, which gives you an idea of the kind of workplace they’re looking for.

They’re also extremely tech savvy, so a clunky application process where they have to retype their already designed and perfected CV over and over will make them drop out. Candidate experience and feedback are particularly important for them, so make sure you provide it. This can include shorter recruitment processes, more choice for interview times, and modernising your technology.

It’s not just about the generation as a whole. What motivates a grad in a legal job will not be the same as a sales job. Consider the particular roles you’re recruiting for — what’s your audience? What are their needs? And how can your workplace provide them with this?

2. Make grads aware of your brand

Graduates have big dreams. They know the first role they work is going to set the tone for the rest of their career, so they’re going to put a lot of thought into making the right choice. Top grads might receive numerous offers, which means you have to ensure you stick out in their minds. One way to do this is through brand awareness.

Attending job fairs at universities and colleges near you, partnering up with education institutions, and ensuring your business is visible at events directed at graduates can go a long way. But of course, you must ensure your digital presence, too. A graduate is likely to search for your company online, so your website should be decent and your social media has to be well put together.

Remember: your brand isn’t just about sticking the name of your business on swag. It’s vital that you illustrate your company culture to new grads. A strong identity coupled with a fun and inclusive culture will entice graduates, as they particularly look for organisations with compelling core values. It’s also important to show them a glimpse into what working for your company actually looks like — highlighting work-life balance, benefits, and feedback.

3. Showcase development opportunities

You’re not simply looking for any grad — you want to hire talented, passionate, and ambitious people. These graduates are likely to be ‘interviewing’ your business just as much as you’re interviewing them. One of the main questions they will be asking themselves is ‘how will this company help me reach my overall career goals?’, so if you can’t demonstrate this clearly, you’re going to drop to the bottom of the stack.

If you don’t currently have a mentorship programme in place, you should definitely consider setting one up. If you do, make sure to shout it from the rooftops — tell them how it works and about its biggest success stories. Regardless, you should be focusing on growth opportunities within the business, the skills your candidate will learn and improve working for you, and what you’re going to do to support their overall personal development.

Further reading: How to support the personal development of your employees

4. Consider your requirements

As discussed above, with grads, you can’t rely on experience to tell you what you need to know. Instead, you have to really think about the person you’re looking for: what would they need to have to fit the bill of the ideal employee?

In order to do that, you should write down what an average day would look like in the role you’re recruiting for, as well as its overall responsibilities. Using this information, you can now distil the skills and competencies required for excellent candidates. These should be highlighted in the job description, rather than ambiguous statements or unclear ideas, which might deter serious grads who wouldn’t be able to figure out whether the role is what they’re looking for and if they possess the knowledge and skills necessary to perform well.

5. Start an internship programme

If you have a number of vacancies that could be filled with graduates, it might be worthwhile to start an internship programme. This will help you see how a number of successful grads act at work, as well as invest time in training and seeing the results. When candidates are given work tasks, you can tell a lot more about their fit and their abilities than through a CV or interview, and pick those who you know are the best performers. An internship programme can also attract grads who want to gain more experience, and give you another chance to showcase why you’re the best fit for them.

That said, while no one expects an internship to be as well paid as a permanent role, we recommend to steer clear of offering unpaid internships. Gen Z are very sensitive to exploitation, growing up in years of political and financial turmoil, and unpaid internships are a particular pet peeve. It’s best to accept fewer people for a shorter paid internship, and with the cost of living crisis soaring, it would really show your dedication to financial wellbeing.

6. Focus on cultural fit

Especially when it comes to graduate roles, both sides expect there’s going to be a learning curve. There are very few jobs where people can hit the ground running with zero experience, so training is a core part of any graduate position. While any placement requires a thorough consideration of cultural fit, in these junior roles, it becomes even more important.

Someone who integrates right into your culture seamlessly will find it much easier to learn the job, and is more likely to stay with you for years to come — this is, of course, vital when you spend so much time and resources on teaching new workers not only how to do their specific role, but also how to act in an employment context.

7. Prefer cognitive and personality assessments over education history

Traditionally, graduate recruiters would pay close attention to a person’s degree and especially the institution they attended. A law grad from Oxbridge would be looked at differently compared to an arts graduate from a non-Russell Group university. It’s just the way it is! Or is it?

A recent LinkedIn analysis of job ads in the UK showed that 90% did not require a degree, with recruiters five times more likely to search by skills rather than academic background. It shows a real shift in our understanding of what makes a candidate successful. But when it comes to grads, what do you have as tangible evidence other than their education?

This is why many organisations today are incorporating assessments into their recruitment process. In fact, 80% of Fortune 500 firms use them, as well as 75% of The Times’ Best Companies to Work. Using these assessments enables you to check for the competencies of graduates, as well as get an indication of the behaviours candidates will show in their regular work life. Of course, this will also shed light on their suitability regarding your company culture.

Thrive’s assessment, for example, is a reliable and valid and scientifically robust psychometric tool that is role-specific. This means that our psychologists have narrowed down the top qualities and abilities necessary for different positions, and each assessment will be tailored to this particular set of competencies. However, you can also add other skills and traits based on your needs as an organisation.

If you want to learn more about how Thrive can help you recruit the best grads out there, book a demo with us today.

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