What attracts top graduates?

by 22 Jan 2008

Competition is tough for the top university graduates every year, and as the talent shortage continues to bite, companies need to take a smarter approach to attracting and retaining such graduates. Sarah O Carroll speaks with four top graduates about what attracted them to their current employers

David Hume, graduated from University of New South Wales in 2007 and is currently the associate to the Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia. David received the University Medal.

How many jobs did you apply for?

I had lined up my present job about two years before I left university. Most of the people I know had done a clerkship at the end of their penultimate year and from that they get offered a graduate position. At the time of applying I applied to four law firms. Most people however would apply to five to 10.

What enticed you to apply for certain firms?

The most important thing for me would be the quality of the training and the quality of the mentoring in your first couple of years. Because most people don’t know what they are going to be doing in 10 years’ time (they might have an idea of the general direction), early on in your career – certainly for me and for most of the people I know – just getting the best experience and best general skill set from the job [is a priority].

Remuneration would not be as important a factor. In your first year out you’re going to be getting paid more than you ever were in your life, but expenditure is still at the same level as when you are a student. So disposable income increases substantially. Regardless of what you’re getting paid you’re going to think you’re getting paid a lot. Most people realise you’re far better off getting experience and training now, and in 10 years’ time getting paid more as a result.

What is the most important source of information when researching about companies?

Word-of-mouth is definitely the most important source of information when researching which firm to apply for. Not just working out which firm to go to but working out what kind of job opportunities there are out there. Whether it is in law firms, public service, or working with judges like I am, most people just hear what older, more experienced contemporaries of theirs are saying.

What did you like/dislike about the interview process?

The thing I most liked about the interview process was it is best when the people interviewing me were genuine and honest about the company. They weren’t just giving marketing spiels the whole time.

Rochelle Belkar graduated with a double degree from the University of New South Wales and is currently working in the economics analysis department of the Reserve Bank.

How many jobs did you apply for?

I applied more for cadetships than graduate positions and it was through that I got my job. I applied for six jobs.

What enticed you to apply for certain firms?

The main thing was that I really wanted to use what I had learned in university, particularly my economics and maths majors.

What is the most important source of information when researching about companies?

It was definitely the websites. All the companies I applied to had really thorough information on their websites, and in the job application section of the website.

What did you like/dislike about the interview process?

There was nothing I really disliked about any of the interviews I did. They were all quite thorough and inviting. It would be more the type of job I’m being offered rather than the interview process that would influence my decision which company to go to. In both of the cases of the jobs I was offered I had really good rapport with the interviewer, and that was important.

What advice would you give companies in the hiring/interview process if they want to secure the top graduates?

That’s a good question. Probably explain to the graduates how their role would be important in the whole company, or why that role is an important role, what would they be contributing. I think smart graduates want a job that means something rather than sort of pushing papers. They want a job that contributes to the company.

Shaun Yow is currently employed as an associate at The Boston Consulting Group. Shaun graduated with First Class Honours and also received the prestigious Geneva Association/International Insurance Society Research Award during his degree.

How many jobs did you apply for?

I applied for three jobs.

What enticed you to apply for certain firms?

One would definitely be work-life balance. For me it was always between banking and consulting and I wanted the challenging job but without having to do the excessive hours. Another would be the calibre of people within the organisation; what types of people the company attracts. For example I’m working for a consulting firm and it attracts a diverse group of people who are smart and come from different backgrounds, so that was really appealing for me. Thirdly, the type of work that would be involved. I was looking for a dynamic environment where the types of work are always changing and always challenging. Also the reputation a company has in the market is important. That’s important for students

What is the most important source of information when researching about companies?

I would just have to say word-of-mouth, I think. A lot of the research online is very US-focused or Europe-focused. So I relied a lot on just talking to professionals and other students who were looking around.

What did you like/dislike about the interview process?

The interview process was similar for all the interviews I went for. I suppose what stood out about BCG was … it didn’t feel like I was being interviewed. I didn’t feel I was in the spotlight, it felt more like a conversation, rather than someone grilling you and trying to really suss out who you are. So it felt a lot more like a conversation and I think you can display your best qualities in that sort of forum. It says a lot about the people as well, and that tells you a little bit about the culture of the workplace, and also a little bit about the people.

What advice would you give companies in the hiring/interview process if they want to secure the top graduates?

I would say you really have to keep your finger on the pulse for what your competitors are offering, actually for who your competitors are and for what package they are offering graduates. Consultants for example aren’t just competing against consultants. There’s a talent pool and really a lot of firms, such as banks and consultancies, are all competing for that talent. So you really have to line-up who your closest competitors are, and they may not always sit within your direct line of sight. And also to really understand what they are offering graduates not just in terms of remuneration but in terms of opportunities. I know ‘opportunities’ is a very general term, but it sits highly on that list of things to look for from a potential employer. So things like future career progression, highlight options such as travel opportunities, mentoring, and further study. It depends on who you are targeting to, but really to know how to compete on those dimensions as well as just pay. Grads, especially ones who have a good résumé and a good background will be looking for the whole package.

Prashan Paramanathan graduated with Bachelor of Mechatronic Engineering and Master of Biomedical Engineering degrees. Prashan is currently working as a business analyst at strategy consulting firm Port Jackson Partner Ltd.

How many jobs did you apply for?

I applied for a few in managerial consultancy and engineering consultancy.

What enticed you to apply for certain firms above others?

To work with some very good partners and you get to work with senior-level management of Australian companies, which is a big plus so early in your career. It’s a small industry in terms of the number of firms and I applied to the four or five well-recognised management consulting firms.

What is the most important source of information when researching about companies?

Mostly, a lot of it was on the internet. You can look at the international sites but also local sites. They had profiles of the people working there and especially the partners who were working at the different firms. For example at Port Jackson you work closely with the partners and it’s quite interesting to find out what their backgrounds were, whether they were diverse or not. Also personal contacts were important. It was very useful to talk to friends who were working at the firms already about their experiences and the types if of interviews you go through in each of the firms. Those were the two main sources that I used to learn about particular firms. I used the careers office more for preparing for interviews

What did you like/dislike about the interview process?

The thing that really impressed me was the people that I was interviewed by. I found the [the impression I gained from] people who were interviewing me more important than what was said in the interview. I made a lot of my judgement based on whether I felt like I could work with the people who actually interviewed me. The other thing was after an offer was made the firms that made offers were very willing to set up meeting with partners, business analysts and people from different levels of the organisations, to spend an hour just talking to me about their experiences and any questions I had.

The one downside I guess was that occasionally the follow up process got a bit too intense. They would call you up all the time asking if you are okay and if you need any help. That leaves a sour impression. There are also often dinners for the group who are being offered a position with the firm. I have mixed opinions about those dinners. I don’t think they left me with a great opinion of certain firms. I think it’s a nice gesture, but the firm should be careful about the impression they give to new graduates.

What advice would you give companies in the hiring/interview process if they want to secure the top graduates?

I think they have to be very conscious about the value proposition they are selling. They also have to be careful with the impression they are making with the people they are interviewing with, but also careful not to be arrogant about their company. They have to be careful not to promise anything in their value proposition that they’re not going to deliver. As a graduate you notice. Sure, conditions of employment are important, but I’ve had plenty of friends who have taken the lower offer because they like the people better.

What do graduates look for?

A recent study of almost 32,000 university students found that more than 95 per cent said good training and opportunities to develop new skills which would be important in their future work were a priority, while an equivalent proportion also wanted jobs that were interesting and challenging.

The study, which was conducted by Graduate Careers Australia, found that other important factors in their future work included: career balance/work flexibility (93 per cent); a good manager (90 per cent); and opportunities for advancement (89 per cent).

An additional 76 per cent of students said company-paid training and development was the most attractive, non-cash benefit graduate recruiters could offer new graduates, as were additional leave through rostered days off or time off in lieu (56 per cent) and superannuation (54 per cent).

The study, Snapshot: University & Beyond 2007, also indicated that many graduates may go into their first job with the expectation of staying longer than they actually do. According to Graduate Careers Australia, this highlights the value of employers endeavouring to ensure that the graduate’s expectations and preferences are met as fully as possible, and of the importance of employers presenting an accurate and realistic picture of the organisation’s offerings, training and development opportunities, and ‘corporate culture’ during the assessment and selection process.

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