Is graduate talent out there?

The number of graduate jobs available is set to increase this year but almost one in four positions remains unfilled, according to the Summer 2014 survey from the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR).

Last year, there were 85 applicants for each graduate vacancy, yet the AGR states that 23% of employers did not fill all of their graduate roles. Does that mean that, of the 85 people who applied for each of these unfilled positions, not one of them had the requisite talent to be successful? 

It’s easy to be lulled into thinking that the answer to this question is yes. According to research commissioned last year, by training company BPP, major employers believe that graduates lack the basic skills needed for the workplace, they cannot handle customers and they’re unable to operate independently. 

Yet our research shows that graduates outperform non-graduates in skills such as analysing data, listening to and communicating client needs, staying calm under pressure and adapting to changes in the environment. 

Of course, there will always be some graduates who don’t have the knowledge, skills or attitude for the job. But is it really true that we can’t fill our roles because there’s a lack of quality candidates available? 

The alternative might be harder to swallow. That is: If talented graduates are out there, why can't we find them? This begs a further question: what criteria are we using for selection? 

It’s entirely possible that the reason organisations are unable to fill their graduate roles is because they’re unnecessarily sifting out worthy candidates in three specific aspects of their selection process. 

Just under a quarter of AGR employers demand that graduate applicants have the minimum of a 2:1 degree. But while acquired knowledge may be important for some roles, it doesn’t demonstrate the ‘workplace skills’ that graduate employers are crying out for. Shouldn’t employers instead be trying to assess whether candidates have the ability to learn; whether they can influence others, be supportive, and respond to setbacks? These are the ingredients for success in today’s workplace. Degree classifications say little about how that individual will behave in the role. 

Worthy candidates can also be sifted out unnecessarily through an inappropriate interviewing procedure, which asks graduates for evidence of their past behaviour at work. The problem with this is that many graduates don’t have experience of the corporate environment, so they can’t answer these ‘tell me about a time when you have ...’ questions, because they’ve never been in that situation before. Consequently they fail the interview. By allowing graduates the opportunity to demonstrate their competence in non-work contexts – such as at university or in sporting or social environments – you give them a chance to showcase their potential in areas such as leadership, dealing with ambiguity or influencing others. 

The third way that organisations filter out suitable candidates unnecessarily is through ineffective use of assessment. This is either because they use the wrong processes, they deploy assessments at an ineffective time or they don’t know what they’re looking for, as they haven’t defined the competencies that are related to success in the role and the organisation. As a result, they can’t identify graduates who have the potential to perform. 

Graduates often don’t have a relevant track record and they can rarely demonstrate business impact but that doesn’t mean they don’t have talent. By redefining graduate recruitment processes to identify potential, we can harness graduates who can make a real difference to our organisations.

Graduate talent is out there. The question is: are we primed to identify it? 

Lucy Beaumont is solutions director at Talent Q.