22/07/2014

By Wendy Patterson, Partner at WSM

After what feels like an endless recession, with the summer months ahead of us it finally feels as though market conditions are improving and the economy is looking up. With that, many businesses’ thoughts may be turning to recruitment, perhaps after a period of low to no growth. If you are hesitant to put large amounts of up-front investment into new staff, looking to take on more junior staff who you can train on the job, creating the specific skill set you need as well as inspiring loyalty in your workers, could be a good option. Luckily the newest cohort of university graduates are just finishing their degrees now and ready for their first steps in the world of work.

Taking on graduates can be hugely rewarding for businesses. However, if you’re not familiar with this group and their needs, it can be challenging to identify talent and to understand what skills need to already be in place, and which can be developed from scratch when the graduate already has their feet under the table. As an organisation that regularly takes on graduates — we’ve taken on four as Trainee Accountants in the last year, and have also previously taken on an apprentice – we feel in a good position to share our experiences of the benefits that graduates can add both to your business, and to your bottom line.

We generally do not struggle to find suitable candidates for our roles, and the quality of candidates in recent years has been high. We advertise for graduates through the ICAEW, which stipulates the minimum number of UCAS points we require and their minimum degree grade. We have also seen the benefits of recruiting students from career-specific courses – those offered at established alternative higher education providers such as Kaplan Holborn College often produce graduates with a more work-ready attitude.

In addition to these hard skills, a successful candidate for us will also hold positive ‘softer’ qualities that don’t necessarily come across on paper, qualities that add value to our business and show that the individual has the ability to perform well and develop. These aren’t as easy to work out from an application form. As a business with lots of roles that require client contact, this is not only essential for our business but also to the services we provide our clients — therefore meaning we retain our current clients and attract new ones.

Applicants must have the hunger and desire to work both within the industry, but specifically for WSM too, and have a clear idea of what our company does and what has attracted them to it. They must display the ability to fit in and work as a member of the team. With such a large range of competitors, it’s crucial the applicant has demonstrated that they have a thirst for knowledge and that they want to learn, grow and develop, but ultimately, that they wish to provide service to our clients and work to the best of their ability at all times.

At interviews we normally have a partner and director, but also a member of the team — usually another trainee graduate. Their feedback is considered in the hiring process; if they feel the individual might not fit in, they will not get the job. First impressions always count, so a smartly dressed candidate stands out for positive reasons over someone who has not put the thought in. An interview can be a nerve-wracking situation but the ability to converse eloquently and engage the interviewer is important.

One of the main challenges we have come up against is that, once hired, graduates can find it difficult to adapt to the working environment, with many of them finding it difficult to juggle the demands and pressures of working within a leading accountancy and taxation practice. Knowledge of the capital can be beneficial, as it often means they are less overwhelmed by the commute and ready to tackle a hard day in the office. This is another aspect where those who have had a reasonable length of work experience; of six weeks or longer, have an advantage over others as they have a clearer understanding of what to expect.

Demonstrating previous industry experience — whether a work placement or a longer internship – is an excellent way for a graduate to show they have the initiative to develop their career path whilst studying, but having the intelligence to learn and develop is equally as crucial. A wealth of higher education provider’s work closely with relevant businesses to help their students secure work experience — we work with Kaplan Holborn College in central London to help prepare students for employment, giving them the skills they need. This can be an excellent route for your organisation to take to access this group, so consider which institutions are near you. Even if the student has experience within a different sector, this will show familiarity with the office environment, as well as the ability they can use their initiative and work within a team.

Sourcing, selecting and securing graduates can be time-consuming, and it might feel like a leap of faith for your organisation. But if you’re planning to increase your workforce this summer, graduates are a strong option. Alongside being a cost-effective addition, who are up to speed on digital and technological developments, graduates bring enthusiasm, energy and a thirst for knowledge to your business, all key to maintaining employee morale and productively.

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