Sowing the seeds of future success

by 25 Jul 2007

Websites such as MySpace have redefined a generation, and HR needs to keep up with how young people communicate and work. Margaret Kubicek finds out how to catch recruits young

Use of the internet is now an essential part of the mix in graduate recruitment, but the rapid pace of technological change – along with the MySpace generation’s growing appetite for emerging technologies – can pose a challenge for employers competing for talent.

Moreover, the internet presents a potential legal minefield for employers, who are increasingly going online to check out prospective employees using Google and other search engines.

“It’s important there is someone in the organisation who has their finger on the pulse of the latest technologies,” says Suzy Style, head of graduate recruitment for Accenture. “It is essential for today’s recruitment market, graduates expect that now, but it can be daunting, even overwhelming. Every year, things move on and change so much.”

Accenture has extended its online offering for graduates over the last year or so, and now has everything from podcasts and podscrolls – downloadable formats for portable media players – to careers blogs.

“It’s a different way of accessing information,”says Style. “We have case studies of work we’ve done, what it’s like to work here in terms of the culture and training opportunities, and interview tips.”

The company also has a strong presence on lifestyle sites such as Friends Reunited, as well as career sites and job boards. Nevertheless, Style feels strongly that the more traditional recruitment methods still have their place. “You need to have a presence across publications, online, and at universities and fairs,” she says.

“A balance of technical, face-to-face interaction and manual processes is essential, so graduates have a personal touch, we have full control, and there’s reliability in the process.”

News messaging

Transport for London (TfL) revamped its recruitment site last year, introducing jazzy video profiles of graduates, unscripted and shot in high-profile locations throughout the capital. It has also brought in a news messaging service for graduates using an RSS feed, and an online ‘scheme matcher’ tool to help graduates decide which TfL strand they might pursue.

“We increased the number and quality of applications we received this year,” says head of graduate recruitment Paul Siaens. “When you go on our website now it’s clear exactly the kind of person we want.”

The principles behind the approach taken by the likes of TfL and Accenture have strong appeal for the MySpace generation, says Jayne Cullen, graduate specialist for TMP Worldwide, which designed an innovative campaign for Yell using the online virtual community Second Life (see below).

“This generation’s learning styles are very different from young people five or 10 years ago,” says Cullen. “It’s all about shared learning and collaboration. That’s why these social networking sites are so popular. Young people want to participate, have a conversation and be part of a community.”

Online business networking is the MySpace generation’s ‘natural next step’ from social networking, says Peter Cunningham, UK country manager of the global business network Viadeo. “You create visibility for yourself and put your profile together professionally,”he explains. “Graduates are much more technically aware – they’ve known the internet most of their lives.”

Alan Townsend, chief operations officer of Monster UK & Ireland, believes a key driver for graduates is the feeling they are “a bit special,” he says.

“They want to be treated differently. But innovation online is about going far beyond simply putting the graduate brochure on the website,” explains Townsend. “It’s now about an interactive experience,”he says. “Graduates want to see a demonstration and gain an understanding of the role online, and perhaps also a way to benchmark it [against other roles in other organisations].”

HR departments within employers at the more avant-garde end of the spectrum are introducing an element of fun to their careers sites, through features such as games, virtual tours and day-in-the-life graduate diaries.

Diaries and blogs merit careful planning, however, as they can easily backfire if employers are too heavy-handed in vetting content, yet the risk of negative exposure – for example, through disgruntled graduate candidates posting bad interview experiences on the internet – is off-putting to many organisations.

Despite this risk, Jennifer Brimley, associate director of Origin HR, feels employers should view the web as a tremendous opportunity to get direct feedback from graduates about how their organisation is perceived, and not be too timid when it comes to giving “access to real, live people” through features such as web chats. “To get a sense of how employers are viewed by students was difficult in the past,” she explains. “They should embrace the fact they’re getting more information and feedback from students about how they’re perceived, and they should feed that back into their processes.”

Graeme Wright, head of online media for Work Communications, says it’s a matter of managers and HR trusting staff to create their own blog. “It then has an edge,” he explains. “You may lose that element of corporate control, but you’ll gain credibility with students, who say time and again they want the truth. Recruiters should have some faith in the intelligence of students to know not every employer is perfect.”

Reed Consulting’s head of graduate recruitment, Mark Milner, says employers are increasingly using search engine marketing, as well as social networking sites, in an effort to “tap into this passive jobseeking audience”.

It is a trend that employers should view with a degree of caution, however, warns Brimley. “If employers are actively looking for candidates on these sites, are they going to attract graduates who are driven and ambitious?” he asks.

“You can’t criticise them [the candidates] for not being self-starters if you went out to find them.”

Employers are using the internet not just to find potential employees, though, but to find information about potential employees; for example, by looking them up on networking sites. Doing so carries huge risk and should be avoided at all costs, according to Adam Fuge, partner at Matthew Arnold & Baldwin Solicitors.

First, there is the risk that any personal information found about a candidate (such as images of them drunk, or disparaging comments about their employer) could lead the potential employer to make negative assumptions about the candidate. Should they subsequently be rejected and bring a claim, the employer would be “duty-bound to disclose all the information they’d used in the recruitment process”, explains Fuge.

Recruiting the ultimate generation Yers

Recruiting graduates for software roles requires even greater ingenuity, as these potential employees are some of the world’s most sophisticated users of the internet.

And using them to their full potential by allowing them to work flexibly and collaboratively is essential if the UK is to keep pace with global technological development, argues Matthew Bishop, business marketing officer at Microsoft UK.

Speaking at a Microsoft roundtable event looking at how the ‘net generation’ is influencing the way business is done by driving more collaborative working, more innovation, and even perhaps more irreverence, Bishop said large companies must acknowledge and accommodate how young people use technology if they are to make themselves attractive to what he describes as the “innovation generation”.

“For young people growing up today, communication and innovation have blurred the various bits of their lives,” he says. “The blend of work, life and home is natural for them, so offering flexible and collaborative methods of working is vital, and makes it easier to retain as well as recruit talented people. Innovation and flexibility go hand in hand.”

Recruitment methods in this technological world are necessarily innovative. For example, some companies (including Google and Yahoo!) have used an online algorithm competition called Topcoder, which Joe Black, director of emerging business and technology at BT, describes as “a Pop Idol for software developers”.

The winner of this most meritocratic of competitions (anyone can play, and sex, age and race are hidden behind competitors’ chosen codenames, unless they choose to opt in and send in their details) gets a great job, and the software company gets a top-notch new recruit.

While this may not apply to recruiting for a less technological position, all recruiters must tailor their strategies to the way graduates choose to communicate and work if they are to attract the most innovative people.

Second Life: Recruitment in the virtual world

It may be surreal, but it’s a sign of the times. The recent campaign by international directories business Yell on the virtual world site Second Life saw the firm create a team of characters – or ‘avatars’ in internet-speak –decked out in Yell-branded gear, to mingle with locals and point them in the direction of Yell-branded telephone boxes on the site.

Upon entering the boxes, the avatars – or, more to the point, the real life people and potential recruits controlling the avatars’ identities – were given details about Yell and a link to the company’s careers site With just one click, the user goes from a bit of vicarious fun through their alternate identity to potential job opportunities in the real world.

Dave Runacres, account director for TMP Worldwide, which worked with Yell on the Second Lifecampaign, says: “We knew this wouldn’t be a major recruitment channel, but it was an innovative way of engaging people with the brand,” he says.

Isabelle Hung, head of national resourcing for Yell UK, admits there can be potential risks in using a site such as Second Life, but the benefits far outweigh them. “[The Yell avatars] wouldn’t go to bars or dating sites, as we didn’t want anything that would represent Yell in the wrong way,” she explains.

“When you’re thinking about becoming an employer of choice, yes, it’s about the job, but it’s also about creating in impression of who you should go and work for. We felt Second Life was an opportunity to reach people we may not have reached before.”

Courtesy of Personnel Today magazine.