How to develop a graduate recruitment strategy (and why lack of experience can be an advantage)

hit the ground running

A few weeks ago a recruitment company, Robert Walters said they were having to look to Irish graduates living in Australia due to the lack of talent already on these shores. Whilst the story made for good headlines (and some lamentably negative press coverage) their accusation that we are suffering from a dearth of talent in this country is unfounded – and totally out of line with my personal experience.

At IMI, we run graduate programmes for some of Ireland’s biggest companies. And we see time and time again that the companies that end up with the greatest talent assets are those that understand how recruit graduates strategically into their organisation.  These organisations all have something in common – they recognise that they should never expect a graduate to be ‘the finished article’ and that it is instead their responsibility to select promising graduates and to nurture their talent in line with the organisation’s strategy and culture.

It comes down to three specific success factors;

1. Screen for skills and hire for attitude
The hiring process must attract the right talent to your company. Modern graduates seek organisations who will give them meaningful, satisfying work, work which will vary and evolve quickly over short periods of time. They value face-to-face feedback on their performance and clear communication about their career opportunities. When recruiting make sure you communicate how you can match these needs.  Most importantly, design an assessment process that ignores the blinding lights of academic achievement but instead screens for the right competencies to get to the core of your candidates’ character.

2. Stop judging talent; and start nurturing character
Once you have those with the right attitude you must see beyond their lack of experience to nurture their character.   If there is a real story behind the headlines of recruiting overseas, it is that companies that have recruited recent graduates feel let down having had unrealistic demands for graduates who can ‘hit the ground running’.  They can often subsequently shy away from recruiting graduates and look instead for individuals that have some experience under their belt and have been ‘broken in’ by some previous employer.  This overlooks the unique opportunities presented by talented individuals who have just joined the workforce.  Daniel Coyle in his excellent books on talent tells the story of the American Footballer Tom Brady –  initially a “skinny, incredibly slow, un-athletic quarterback” who attended the NFL’s combine (the equivalent of a graduate assessment centre). In 2000 Brady’s talent was unrecognisable – but his attitude was exceptional.  Brady ended up one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

3. Turn graduate hiring and development into a strategic talent channel

IMI believe that management development starts at the point of career entry. Organisations too need to develop the confidence that it is worth investing in developing their graduates from the moment they come in the door.  In the long run this offsets the cost of recruitment as their graduate pipeline becomes a source of  future potential leaders.    It is possible, through a well-designed development programme to take  someone with no experience and equip them with the skills and competencies of someone ten years into their career,  often in a number of months.  These programmes must be designed in close partnership with the organisation to align with their strategy and culture.  A well-designed graduate programme brings the added benefit of fully inducting new hires into the organisational culture from the moment they step into the role – something that can be time-consuming and challenging for internal human resources.

We partner with organisations to focus programmes around three behavioural objectives:

• Accelerate your development – our programmes focus on honing professionalism and getting a rapid and comprehensive understanding of the culture of the organisation they are joining.

• Seek practical outcomes – every single graduate participant sets their learning objectives in consultation with their line manager so that their development on the programme is aligned from the off with business needs.

• Be ‘Responsibility ready’ – our mantra is ‘if you’re good enough at the role, you’re old enough for the role’. Our programmes equip graduates with the skills, competence, confidence and resilience to move quickly to a level of experience that means they are ready for responsibility from the outset of their careers.

So, do you need to look to Australia for talented graduates? Not if you recognise that if you systematically attract and select the right graduates.  Couple this with an understanding that a lack of experience could be an advantage rather than a disadvantage and you may be on the path to nurturing home-grown future leaders.

For more insights into how to develop graduates click here.

Alistair Tosh is Director of Executive Education at the Irish Management Institute and is a specialist in leadership development. 

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