Hiring Graduates

At the time of writing (July 2016), confidence in the creative jobs market is the best it has been for the last four to five years. However, while the number of people placed in permanent roles has continued to increase, the availability of suitably qualified staff is continuing to fall.  The UK jobs market suffered a dramatic free-fall in July 2016, with permanent hiring dropping to levels not seen since the recession of 2009.  Demand for people, in particular at account management level in PR and digital agencies continues to rise, but the sharp fall in placements suggests people are still very cautious about moving.

“The record-high employment rate and ongoing skill shortages have made it difficult for employers to find suitable candidates for the roles available in the past, and this remains the case. We’re now seeing the added problem of individuals deciding to stay put rather than change jobs in the current environment.

With employers focusing their attention on trying to win over experienced people with proven skills and track records, there remains one untapped resource.  We have growing numbers of new entrants to the marketplace looking for work, and it’s a pity that many employers ignore them.  Not acknowledging what they have to offer continues the very real risk of losing a generation of talent – it makes no business sense, because without a blend of youth and experience, the workplace will no longer reflect the marketplace.  Added to the fact that many graduates are becoming disillusioned by the lack of opportunities in what is a great career for most, may see this sector lose the very people it needs to grow.

There are some agencies that have started to recruit at graduate level to reduce the pressure on senior staff and train from within. This can be rewarding, particularly if your new hire is a success and adds value to your organisation.  Furthermore, employing graduates straight from University allows you to hire people free of bad habits, and enables you to mould and develop them to fit your culture and ethos.  The risk here is, however, how to go about assessing a graduate, because there is very little track record to evaluate. Often, the only solid thing an interviewer has to go on is examination results, which aren’t much on which to base an employment decision – the results will not tell you much about their reliability, dependability, integrity, time-keeping or commercial savvy!

In essence, your goal is to find a graduate who will add value, and tailoring your interview style and technique will help you find the diamond in the rough, and believe me, there are plenty out there who are chomping at this bit.  The following will help:

Prior to the Interview

Plan ahead. Interviewing at graduate level can be very time-consuming. Decide who needs to be involved (two people maximum), timetable the exercise, and ensure everyone who is involved is free to contribute when they are supposed to.

Produce a list of common questions for all candidates which will enable you to gain a fair basis of comparison – although, of course, it is legitimate to ask varying questions to different candidates depending on their backgrounds and core competencies.

It is very important to empathise with candidates at graduate level to bring out their true personalities and skills. There is no point in intimidating a junior candidate with a large interview panel, posing tricky questions, especially at first interview stage.  Be proportionate and sympathetic. For most positions, we recommend that one person conduct the initial interview on their own. They can be more flexible with interview times and will be able to whittle down the field to a decent short list for the remaining interviewers to meet at the next stage.

During the Interview

Explain the culture of your company – warts and all. It is best to be open and honest so there are no surprises when your candidate starts. Explain the benefits, as these are not immediately obvious in a job description. Ensure that they are explained properly so your candidate understands what is in store for them, both short- and long-term.

Acquire a good understanding of why they are interested in the role, and try to discover whether this job on offer would be enough to hold them to the company in the medium- or long-term.

Listen. Ask the question, sit back and listen, and don’t interrupt unless it is necessary to do so. It is common for a poorly-trained interviewer to miss out on a potentially excellent candidate by failing to listen. We have seen many companies lose out on candidates through poor interview technique.

Questions – There is no magic formula for discovering a diamond in the rough, but the following questions may help you understand your candidates’ personality, motivation, and hidden strengths in a better light.

Have you worked during your degree?

It is very important to hire someone who has a work ethic and has been exposed to working in a commercial environment. Any work experience, no matter where it has been gained, will give a graduate a more reliable and mature appreciation of the workplace. The most effective graduates we have placed into Account Executive or similar level roles have held down more than one summer placement or have had a solid 6-12 months’ relevant internship experience under their belt.  In fact, many have gone on to do very well in their chosen career.

What do you know about our company?

It might sound like an obvious question but it will tell you how much a candidate is genuinely interested in your organisation – by demonstrating how much research they have carried out prior to the interview, the candidate will illustrate how genuine their commitment is. Candidates who have gone the extra mile and taken the time to research your company in greater detail than others may have are worth consideration.  Those that don’t aren’t serious and are just playing the field.  There is zero excuse for a lack of research!

Which jobs have you enjoyed the least and most?

It is likely that most graduates will have experienced repetitive tasks and drudgery in their previous roles. You are looking for someone who responds to this question positively, and has taken valuable lessons from their experiences, both positive and negative. It will have helped them hone their skills and understand some of the basic principles of business, such as meeting deadlines and building healthy relationships with colleagues.

What’s your idea of how our industry works?

You want to be reassured that the candidate has acquired a credible understanding of your industry and, perhaps, even an assessment of your competitors. This is a quite a decent question because it takes the ‘what do you know about us/role’ a step further, and will highlight candidates who have taken time and effort to ascertain a healthy insight into your profession.

How determined are you?

The vast majority of interviewees are prepared for the ‘what are your strengths’ question and this takes it a step further. You are seeking an answer which can demonstrate initiative and willingness, as well as an individual’s efforts to go above and beyond the call of duty. This could be illustrated by working extra hours or taking on a task which others have avoided.

What did you learn at university?

This is an interesting and open question, and will help you gauge what this person is truly about. You are looking for “real life” answers and positive experiences that your potential employee has encountered during their educational period. A gap in their memory may illustrate that their education was not their main priority!

Why should we hire you?

This might sound the most obvious question of all but it is surprisingly often omitted from the interview process. Without question, the candidate that can demonstrate genuine enthusiasm, interest, and, most importantly, willingness to succeed is one worth consideration. A candidate that is more interested in what salary and holidays you are offering, as opposed to the quality of the role, may still be worth consideration, but not without careful deliberation – they may be off at the first sight of a better offer.

Do you have any questions?

A candidate that passes on the opportunity to ask questions at this stage of the process raises questions about their true interest in the opportunity. A candidate that demonstrates the ability to ask sincere and authentic questions demonstrates a credible interest in the future of both the role and company.

Once you’ve employed a graduate, a key thing is to mould them into the way your company works. Giving your recent recruit a level of responsibility in a role will encourage motivation, trust, and loyalty to the company, and they will usually stick with you. This is particularly true for graduates – being first employed and then valued as an employee by you will encourage them to stay with your company for at least the medium- to long-term.

To conclude, there are many questions you can pose to a graduate embarking on their first serious career move, but the above will give you a better idea of their character and long-term aspirations.

After the Interview

Your reputation will suffer or grow depending on how you have dealt with candidates during the interview process. It may be that another role comes up in the next year that a rejected candidate is exactly right for – they will be eager to be considered if they were treated with respect the last time around. You are under no legal obligation to provide feedback, but we strongly recommend taking the time to do so. It creates a positive lasting impression of your company, and will ensure goodwill in the market and the future.