Graduate

This article is sponsored by Shortlister.

It’s graduate season again and every large employer in the country is fighting for their slice of the top graduate talent pie, but what are the best in the graduate recruitment business doing to secure the highest possible quality of grad?

Josh Mills of Shortlister.com caught up with Phillip Haig, University Recruitment Partner for Johnson & Johnson, to discuss the graduate recruitment strategy that made them finalists at the In-house Recruitment Awards last year.


Josh Mills: It’s coming up to two years now since you joined the business, how did you find the transition from your role as Recruitment Manager at Manchester Met University, to University Recruitment Partner at Johnson & Johnson?

Phillip Haig: Interesting! Obviously it helped a lot to have that experience of working in the University context and being able to apply it to a corporate recruitment role has given me a real advantage. One of the main areas that my experience with Man Met underlined the importance of was internships and getting the students and graduates in to positions that increase their employability.

You know, HE is becoming incredibly metricked and rightly so, when you consider the levels of investment on the part of the students in terms of tuition fees and employers in terms of graduate salaries. With that kind of investment at stake it’s made maintaining strong working relationships with the right universities incredibly important for us. And those relationships have got to be mutually beneficial. We make a point of going above and beyond attending the usual careers fairs and on campus activities with our preferred pool of targeted universities.

JM: And out of interest which universities make it on to that list?

PH: Given that we’re still a small graduate recruitment operation in terms of manpower we have to be pretty selective in the organisations we work with.
What we’re looking for from our university partners is for them to be really pushing industrial placements – that year in industry is so important to whether a candidate will have the basic professional skills, confidence in the office etc. to succeed once they’ve been onboarded.


JM: Johnson & Johnson were nominated for Best Graduate Recruitment Strategy last year and you had a massive hand in the direction of that strategy.
What aspect of the strategy stood out for you as particularly successful?

PH: I think it’s got to be the university partnerships that’s been the real success story. One of my favourite stats is that 70% of the graduate hires we make start with the on campus activities we engage in. We attended over 40 events and not just careers fairs either.

JM: So we’ve heard about your successes, what challenges have you faced?

PH: A challenge we’ve faced and I think it’s one that’s fairly common to everyone working in the grad space, is to make candidates realise that there are opportunities available that they wouldn’t necessarily immediately think of when they think about an employer. Take Johnson & Johnson for example: a lot of the candidates we speak to at universities who are interested in marketing don’t necessarily realise that there are attractive opportunities available in B2B marketing with our business. It’s understandable as people do think of J & J as a consumer brand and obviously everyone sees the ads on TV about baby oil all the time and it just reinforces that B2C impression of us. There’s an element of education to be done there, for sure. It’s an ongoing process, but we’re making good progress. Two years ago our graduate recruitment wasn’t even a centralised function, so that gives you an idea of how far we’ve come.

JM: How do you continue to build on that progress then?

PH: I’m a firm believer that a high impact recruitment strategy requires the involvement of non-recruitment staff – which in itself creates the challenge of actually getting the recruitment staff to the careers events! It can be tough but I think if you make it clear to them that they’re helping to ensure the quality of the grads who are going to be working with them in 12 months time they see the value. It’s an invasive, direct approach but then to really stand out from the crowd you’ve got to demonstrate you’re doing things differently, in a way that illustrates to candidates that you understand what is important to them – so that means pushing benefits like fast career progression. I think we’re on the right track overall. Hit rate at assessment centre and first year performance have both improved and we’ve eliminated agency spend. It’s going to be a lot of work getting to where we want to be but the
quick wins have been encouraging.


JM: Taking a wider look at the industry now – there’s been a lot of talk recently about how LinkedIn is struggling to attract younger people and, in particular, recent grads who don’t necessarily have a professional network to maintain on the platform. As someone who understands the grad space, how would you go about addressing this?

PH: I’m not sure that I think that the entire problem is down purely to the grads not having a professional network. A significant factor from my point of view is that LinkedIn doesn’t offer the same degree of personalisation that other social networks such as Facebook, Twitter or even Instagram offer. I don’t think if I was the CEO of LinkedIn I would necessarily be in a rush to copy Facebook, but I think LinkedIn as it is currently doesn’t give users scope to express themselves in a personal way – which, if you’re trying to engage the present crop of grads coming through, is crucial. For them I think the current set up of LinkedIn is just too uniform. Having said that, I don’t think the onus should be entirely on LinkedIn – there’s a lot more universities could do with it, for instance. It’s a great starting place for building relationships between HE bodies and employers. Employers should also really be encouraging their placement students to sign up to the service and start adding people – there’s a lot more everyone could be doing.


JM: Finally Phillip, we ask all of our interviewees to make a prediction on recruitment in the next 12 months. It can be on anything – tech, trends, policy etc. What changes can you see on the recruitment horizon in the next year?

PH: I think it’s got to be technology hasn’t it? There’s still an enormous amount it can be leveraged for. For instance I think we’re going to see employers building and developing relationships with communities of their placement students and interns, past and present and using social media to keep them warm. It’s taking the idea of a talent pool a step further than just having a list of potential candidates who work in a certain discipline. You’d communicate with them regularly and use relevant, valuable content to keep a relatively close relationship going with them.

At present this would require more attention and activity to keep going than most recruitment departments have the resource to spare for – however given the clear business benefit, and how interconnected we are used to being in all other aspects of life, I think it will become more common. The technology is already there to achieve this – it’s just spread between different platforms, like email and Facebook, so I suspect we’ll see more integrations between different networks.


Phillip Haig is the University Recruitment Partner for Johnson & Johnson, finalists for Best Graduate Recruitment Strategy in the 2014 In-house Recruitment Awards.


Author: Josh Mills is Marcomms Coordinator for Shortlister.com – the video screening specialists.

Image Credit: Shutterstock.


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