Has the global financial crisis changed the attitudes of Australia’s top graduates? Amal Awad finds out
Two years ago, a Graduate Careers Australia survey
found that more than 95 per cent of university stu
dents cited “good training and opportunities” as a
primary factor in finding future employment. In a
rapidly changing environment, where technology is king
and the global economy is still feeling the aftershocks of
the financial crisis, little has changed. Companies may well
find they increasingly have to keep up with the demands of
an ambitious Generation Y in search of flexible and nur
And top graduates, as with employers, have clear goals:
to excel by working with the finest minds, in organisations
with solid reputations. Flexibility, training and opportuni
ties for growth are the most attractive qualities.
This may all sound like the catchcry of a restless genera
tion, but it’s a big world filled with opportunities, and grad
uates are actively seeking them out in the firms they consider.
For Mallesons Stephen Jaques graduate lawyer Emma
Dunlop, such development was her primary concern when
applying: “Finding a firm that would give me the best pos
sible training and opportunities, and which also had a friendly
and collaborative attitude,” she says is what she sought.
Dunlop emerged with first-class honours in Arts/Law,
and a University Medal for Arts, from the University of
Sydney (USYD). Like many, Dunlop knew what she was
looking for in a future employer, even if some things came
down to simple preference. In her case, it was an interest
in international law and arbitration, so she looked for firms
with Asian links.
“My choices were also influenced by the feedback that
I received from friends who were already in the workforce.”
Dunlop applied for three clerkships, saying most law
students view the clerkship selection process “as the first
step to an employment offer”.
It’s a similar story for fellow USYD graduate Rohen
Sood, who graduated with three majors and first-class hon
ours in engineering and commerce.
“The primary issue for me when looking for a job was
the opportunities that came along with it. To elaborate on
this, things like a brand name firm, global network, and
their willingness to invest in upskilling me were crucial.”
Sood, who joins IBM as a project co-ordinator, says
that at this point remuneration isn’t the most important fac
tor. He applied for about 10 roles and the “primary lure
of these firms” was the possibilities that lay within.
“I think this is what most people look for – a stepping
stone that will help them achieve their career goals.”
David Burburan, a software engineer at Australian-
based software company Altium, says he looked to repu
tation as well as benefits when he went on the hunt.
Burburan, who graduated with a software engineer
ing/maths degree with first class honours from UNSW,
admits his central concern in looking for a job was simply
to find one, because he could afford to look around and
be more selective later. But he still considered the com
pany’s offerings, including working conditions and salary.
“Once I’m in a company for a while these [factors] fade
a little and in their place the most important would be the
company’s goals and the people I work with,” says Bur
Saadiya Choudhury, another USYD alumnus, completed
a Bachelor of Arts, receiving honours in Industrial Relations
and Human Resource Management. She was already famil
iar with her field but finding suitable employment still
“I had significant HR experience before taking on this
graduate role, so I was looking for something that could
challenge me and let me think outside of the box.”
Applying for 10 to 15 jobs, Choudhury targeted com
panies that offered structured graduate programs, partic
ularly ones with rotations within the company.
“I feel that this gives you a better idea of how the com
pany deals with issues across business divisions. It also
gives you the opportunity to meet lots of people and learn
a lot more,” she explains.
Choudhury found the right opportunity at Airservices
Australia, where her current role is Human Resource Advi
sor, following a year in their graduate program.
“Because of my tertiary background, I was really keen on
getting into a company that had a rotation in Industrial Rela
tions or Human Resources,” she adds. “It also had to be
with a company that had a good reputation in terms of staff
learning and development and employee satisfaction rates.”
Has the GFC affected top graduates’ outlooks?
In terms of the muted economic environment, only some
graduates say it had an impact on their application process.
Dunlop acknowledges “nervousness amongst law stu
dents” that clerkships would not end with offers, but says
it didn’t alter her approach to the clerkship process.
Sood believes the crisis had a significant impact on grad
uates, saying he applied to more companies than he would
have in more stable times.
“A lot of firms that came to campus to recruit in the pre
vious years did not even show up [in 2009] … The number of
roles on offer seemed lower, making the competition tougher.”
For independent business consultant David Thornton,
an excess of “small, non-routine tasks” postponed because
of recruitment freezes and the high cost of consultancy
provided an “an ideal opportunity to get a foot in the door
with new work if one was prepared to be “competitively
priced” and “take a risk with work flow”.
The recent graduate of the Australian Graduate School
of Management (AGSM, UNSW) says he hoped his MBA
would fuel new business ventures. As such, despite an
impressive resume, he decided against applying for jobs.
“I just placed myself in the environment that I wanted
to explore,” he says, and was soon engaged by CSIRO on
a consultancy basis.
However, Thornton says for full-time employment, he
would look at a company’s “flexibility and support” in
relation to managing his workload, lifestyle and commit
ments, “rather than doggedly following corporate routines
which can lead to more frustration and inefficiency”.
He’s certainly not alone in this thinking, with Choud
hury saying work/life balance also factors into whether
you remain with an employer.
“Clear succession planning and opportunities to net
work with others across the organisation,” are factors she
also advocates. “The opportunity to support further study
is also important in wanting to stay with a company.”
Sood says he expects an employer to invest in his future
and offer opportunities beneficial to his own and his com
“For example, [I would target] a company that will pro
vide accredited training such as paying for MBAs or other
courses that improve my marketability both internally
within the organisation as well as externally,” he says.
Graduates emphasise the importance of a nurturing pro
fessional environment, where their careers are not fixed
in terms of progression.
“It’s a very Generation Y thing to say, but I think that
having the flexibility to change the direction of your career
from within a company is very important,” says Dunlop.
“This may involve training in a new specialty, or working
in a different country. What is important is that your career
trajectory doesn’t appear to be fixed from the outset.”
What top graduates expect from HR:
1. Support (transitional and administrative)
3. Sound processes
4. Timely responses
5. Personal contacts for graduates
Who's interviewing who?
While graduates cite numerous sources for identifying suitable employers, they, too, are paying attention in the recruitment process. The interview, in particular, offers a good indication of a company's culture and environment.
David Burburan, a software engineer at Altium, says his interview surprised him. "One of the things that Altium did, which quite impressed me, was that they spent just as much time trying to sell the company's vision to me as they spent testing me."
Saadiya Choudhury says previous recruitment experience served her well because she understood what comprised sound practice.
"In the interviews I participated in, I found the process to be of a high quality. I think companies generally invest a lot in graduates so they finetune the process to get the best," she says.
However, Rohen Sood admits he had a misconceived impression of what the interview process involved. "I envisioned the clichéd dramatic interview with a panel of three sitting behind a steel table in a dimly lit room with a hanging lampshade while I sat in a chair three feet away from the table - exposed in the middle of the room," he says, adding that his first interview, a one-on-one, was actually "quite amicable".
Meanwhile, Emma Dunlop approaches interviews as "a two-way street, with both parties deciding whether they would be happy working with each other".
Attracting top graduates to your firm
Be accessible - the "elitist vibe" can be unappealing, says Rohen Sood.
Offer programs that invest in graduates' futures - "Something that lets us know that this company wants me to succeed, and they have a system in place for me to do so," adds Sood.
Emphasise corporate fit - "Not every firm will be ideal for all graduates as each one has a different philosophy and culture," Sood notes.
Streamline application processes for time-strapped honours students, suggests Saadiya Choudhury.
Timeliness - avoid confusing candidates with complex timelines, and snap up top graduates before others can, Choudhury also advises.
Non-monetary rewards - "Ask them what simple non-monetary conditions would make them enjoy their work more," suggests David Thornton. "For example, longer leave, flexi-hours, work-at-home days, corporate laptop and phone, time to work on their 'own' projects that might be related to the community or environment or charity etc."
Fairness - "To be tough on candidates, first be tough on yourself," says David Burburan. "Then you can approach top candidates with the real value of what you offer, and in turn, challenge them thoroughly. If you both pass, you will earn respect for each other."
Openness, flexibility, and a down-to-earth approach - Emma Dunlop says these three characteristics are "refreshing to graduates who are interviewing at numerous firms".
The Thomson Reuters philosophy - identifying future leaders
Leading organisations have long been identifying future leaders, attracting top graduates into their workplaces. However, whether it's a stringent recruitment process or personality tests, finding the right fit for a company's culture doesn't begin with a candidate's resume.
"As a business, we look for more than just a solid academic transcript and a few degrees. We find that the most successful graduates are those who have broader interests, like participation in community groups or work experience gathered while studying," says Riaz Ajam, Human Resources Business Partner at Thomson Reuters. "Such individuals are often more work-ready and tend to have the smarts we need."
Ajam says it's important for graduates to have the ability to apply the theory they have learnt to practical work situations.
"So when we are selecting graduates, we employ a number of assessment tools such as team-building exercises, work preference profiling, role plays, presentations skills and markets examinations," he says.