The rise of the resilient graduate

by HCA16 Jun 2009

Current economic conditions are tightening budgets and shrinking job opportunities. Job security is fast becoming a thing of the past and the trend for the number of graduate positions on offer is on the decline.

The 2009 graduate season will see an overwhelming number of graduates chasing fewer program places, dramatically intensifying competition and making the top graduates harder to identify. A graduate that can accept, overcome and cope with change such as mergers and acquisitions and staff cut-backs is the type of employee that you want on your side now.

These 'resilient' graduates are tough minded, calm under pressure, and are able to recover quickly from setbacks. While some may believe Gen Y do not hold these attributes, such generalisations are a myth and often an excuse for poor management or poor hiring decisions.

Gen Y, the same as Gen X and Baby Boomers, will have its heroes; those remarkable individuals in a business that grow from strength to strength and embrace change in times of adversity. In fact, Gen Y has the potential to produce some of the most formidable business leaders of our time.

As HR department budgets are cut and HR professionals are pushed to the limit, organisations may end up hiring lower performers as they are unable to effectively cope with the sheer volume of applications. Therefore, after years of growth, organisations need to re-think how they will secure the best graduates who display resilience and will be able to hit the ground running.

While 'resilient' employees are valuable at all stages of the business lifecycle, they are essential in times of economic downturn.

Taking on resilient graduates who demonstrate strong initiative and leadership potential will help build a 'can-do' attitude in the work environment. Employees with the ability to manage stressful situations positively are also in a better position to take on greater responsibility and inspire their peers to do the same.

The major difficulty now facing employers is identifying and securing these graduate superstars before the competition. As such, an organisation needs to invest in a recruitment process that identifies a candidate's potential, resilience and evidence of past performance.

Specific characteristics that can identify resilient graduates are optimism, composure, tough mindedness, the ability to cope with negative happenings and a natural tendency to be calm and relaxed.
The recruitment process should include objective tools such as ability tests, personality assessments and competency-based interviewing. This will help employers identify a candidate's future potential to be resilient and capture the best graduate talent.

It has become clear to all but the most optimistic that the Australian employment market is changing. With the cost of a bad graduate hiring decision adding up to 1.5 times a graduate's salary, organisations can no longer afford to ignore the situation.

Given the economic climate, organisations must re-think their recruitment strategies in order to survive and stay ahead of the bottom line. Hiring resilient graduates will improve staff retention, generate better business performance, and also make sure the organisation is in great shape once the good times return.

Eric Wilson's top five tips for planning your 2009 graduate recruitment strategy

  1. Be objective: In times of slowing demand, organisations cannot afford to make hiring decisions based only on gut instinct or academic results. A recruitment process that incorporates objective assessment tools will ensure employers can identify high potential candidates that are best suited to the position and will become a productive contributor to the business faster.
  2. Go online: Having all application materials, tests and touch points of a graduate recruitment process online will save organisations time and money. It will also overcome any issues with geography or time zones so the pool of potential candidates is not restricted to one city.
  3. Speed it up: Processing times can make or break an organisation's chances of securing the best graduates. In the current economic climate, graduates may be nervous about their job prospects and with fewer positions available, even the best graduates may be pouncing on the first offer. Organisations must ensure processes are smooth and speedy from the moment a graduate application is received to make sure they get the graduates they want before their competitors.
  4. Practise makes perfect: To ensure they don't miss out on top talent, organisations should provide graduates with helpful links to practice tests, such as those at This will allow graduates to better prepare themselves and put their best self forward when completing the real test.
  5. Candidate care: The economic downturn and less positions on offer may mean graduates aren't going to hold as much power as in the past - but the cream of the graduate crop are still going to be hotly contested. Organisations need to communicate with candidates at every step of the process. This will ensure they feel comfortable and be more responsive to the interview and selection process. Even in a tighter market, a positive experience greatly impacts the graduate's decision to accept an offer.

About the author
Eric Wilson is the SHL director of professional services for Australia and New Zealand