Tuesday, 25 October 2011

The financial world's gone crazy... but what does it all mean for graduate programmes?

I've been asked by a few former followers to restart this blog - which I'm happy to do if you keep the questions and suggestions for topics you want to hear my general musings on coming! Specifically a couple of you have asked for my perspective on the current market and what it means for graduate recruitment.

What's behind the numbers?
It's important to understand the dynamics of graduate recruitment relationships at times like these. Grad Rec teams at big companies have long-standing relationships with the big universities in this country - say the top 20-25. They depend on the careers services to promo their opportunities, give them prime time slots and venues, help them make connections with faculty members to point them to the best students, allow them to sponsor prizes to increase visibility, etc. In good times and in bad, grad rec teams and career services need each other - and the 'balance of power' shifts along with the economy depending on the level of demand. The careers services depend on them to give jobs to their students, which in turn allows them to be seen as universities with great conversion rates into employment at top firms. Beneath the relationship dynamic is the unspoken rule that the big firms will visit the big unis on the Milkround year in, year out, regardless of how many grads/interns they are hiring, with few exceptions.
Thus, it's important that you do what you can to understand what the 'real' picture is with regard to hiring. What's behind the numbers? Asking the question straight out will only get you so far - if numbers are down you will only likely get a fairly loose answer, especially from the graduate recruiters themselves. At the careers fair or evening receptions, try to corner the graduates or business reps, with more of a "I saw in the careers guide that you're expecting to take 20-25 grads this year - is that still the case?". If you're a real planner, bring along a friend and ask him/her to pose as being interested in the internship programme and ask him/her to ask what the conversion rate was last year. (They are more likely to want to 'promote' the conversion rate to a potential intern than a potential grad as they are trying to sell the positives of the internship programme.)
You might also want to ask at the careers service as they might know more on the numbers as they have employer liaison officers who specifically develop the relationships with the graduate recruiters. A contact at the firm is of course also a great route, but not many people have this.
If a company is not really recruiting reasonable numbers, then you don't want to have to spend endless hours on an application if there is no real opportunities available.

Company Prospects...
More than ever before, you need to think about the company you join and not just the role or the graduate programmes reputation. Getting a solid 2-3yrs of experience is important in this market if you want to start out on a career journey if this is to be your chosen direction for a while. Companies in difficulty are increasingly having to brutally cut costs. Joining a grad programme only to be made redundant after 9-12mths can be a real kick in the teeth, and it can be difficult to get back on the ladder again, not least because that amount of experience is likely to mean having to re-start as a grad again - and facing back into that level of competition and the rigidity of the cycle can be difficult. Read the papers, read the blogs, read the forums and then make the best judgement you can about where you want to work - but I think in this market, you need to be more open-minded than might have been necessary in the past.

The importance of 'Reputation'
From day 1 in your new role, be that a grad programme, temp role or internship, it is more important than ever before to impress. In a world where people are moving on a lot because of level of redundancies and level of temporary workers in the marketplace, your reputation will travel faster than ever before. Don't make enemies and dont do anything stupid on those nights out with the MD.
In a market where people are not willing to take any risks when it comes to hiring decisions, a recommendation from someone internal about a known individual is worth more than ever. Likewise with companies watching every penny, employee referral programmes are infinitely more preferable (because they are so much cheaper!) than agencies - so again, networking and maintaining a strong reputation is key.

Do not take rejection hard. Don't let it knock you. Don't let it get you down.

In this kind of market, the level of rejection of CVs and applications is huge. Unfortunately there will be plenty of times where your CV has had little more than a glance - if that - before it's rejected. This is down to numbers, or the fact there have been loads of internal referrals, or just a busy, stressed-out manager not doing his/her job right. It sounds harsh, but it is the reality. Don't spend hours picking through the detail of your letter/application worrying about where you went wrong. If you're happy with your CV/letter, just move on to the next thing. Its disappointing, but the chances that it is nothing to do with your application or your profile are higher than ever before. Your application is a victim of these crazy times and, for now, this one isn't meant to be. Move on... their loss!

Do what's best for you
If you're lucky enough to get yourself into a position where you might get two offers - e.g. because you're invited to multiple assessment centres, etc - this might well be the year to hold onto both until the last minute. Yes, it annoys recruiters and might get you black-listed from a company for a couple of years, but if it means being guaranteed a job come next July... it's worth thinking about...

The temporary job market
More than ever companies are taking people on contract and temporary roles because they don't want to commit to permanent roles because of the costs involved. This makes this a great time to think about alternative routes into a company to 'try them out' or to get a mix of experience on your CV if you can get in the door. If you have temporary work or any internship experience make sure you are really doing a good job of that on your CV and not over-looking anything in terms of transferable skills that you developed. You might need to start at the bottom - data analysis, helping to fill admin gaps - but if you are willing to think about alternative routes to get into a company other than graduate programmes, this can be a good time for that.
If you do get something, work hard at making an impression. As mentioned earlier, its a very important time to do this. Don't winge or moan or feel the work is beneath you. There is a huge amount of that going on at the moment and anyone who rises above it and remains positive and professional immediately stands out from the crowd. Regardless of how tough times are, a great temp/ contractor who makes an impression is not someone anone wants to lose. I've seen it happen endless times where there are apparently no jobs and yet the invaluable temp is made permanent out of pure fear that they might leave. And if that doesn't happen, the impression you've made on those around you means you will be top of their list when someone asks "Do you know someone who....". Again, I've seen that happen many times - and indeed, made recommendations myself many times of people who have made an impression, sometimes years ago.

The old rules and advice of graduate recruitment all still apply - get your application in as early as you can, not the day before the closing date; attend the fairs and events to build up your contacts, etc. There are still jobs out there, you just have to look a bit harder and be a bit more open-minded.

These are just my views. The next recruiter might well give you a whole new perspective. Ask around, read the forums, read the articles on places like efinancialcareers, etc.

1 comment:

  1. I have been following your blog for a while...sadly still not quite where I want to be in terms of my ideal graduate job but let me say your posts have helped tremendously ;)

    Please keep them up!