Attracting the right talent to your business is a huge challenge for SME owners. Your company may be going places but how do you convince the smartest graduates to join you over a big company. Natalie Waterworth, co-founder of digital marketing agency Talented Heads, specialises in working with millennials and shares her tips for attracting graduates to your small business.

When I graduated from university eight years ago, the cream of the graduate crop were getting scooped up by the big investment banks. The top talent was being lured into the corporate jungle by lucrative pay packages; money was the key to a graduate’s heart.  We all know how that story ended. Thanks to the financial crisis graduates are no longer enticed by rivers of gold.

My own career was shaped by the financial crisis, because I was amongst those graduates who started in the banking world. My career has since done an about-turn, and now I work in the digital marketing sphere, specialising in the millennial generation (aka 20-somethings). I work closely with the current generation of 20-somethings, many of whom have recently graduated or are soon to graduate.

The young’uns emerging from university now have been hardened by the financial climate. They were educated in a time of pessimism, and their ambitions have been tempered accordingly. This does not mean that they are unambitious or pessimistic; rather they are realistic and measured.

Graduate jobs are scarcer now than prior to the financial crisis, which has forced university leavers to look outside the box when searching for work. This, in turn, is a fantastic opportunity for SMEs to hire great talent.

The best graduate talent is still being head-hunted by the corporate giants. The likes of Google and Facebook are ever-present at universities looking for the smartest students. However not all of these students are looking to work at a Facebook or a Google. Recent graduates have benefited from witnessing their predecessors mistakes, and they are looking for different things now, things that many big corporates simply cannot offer them.

This presents a fantastic opportunity for SMEs to access top graduate talent. Here is how your SME can compete with the big guys to attract and retain awesome candidates:

  • Show them how their role can make a difference. The financial crisis has instilled in graduates a strong social conscience. They want to make a difference in the world and they want to make it a better place for everyone. A job role will be much more attractive to a graduate if they can see that they are making a valid contribution.
  • Pay above the breadline. Today’s graduates aren’t after instant riches, but let’s face it, they shouldn’t be subjected to poverty either. Many graduate salaries can often be nothing short of abysmal. You should offer a salary high enough to show a graduate that their contribution is valued by your organisation. This is especially the case in London, where the cost of living is high. A few thousand pounds extra goes a very long way when you’re a broke university leaver.
  • Be online and be relevant. Graduates need to be able to find you in order to want to work for you. Nowadays this is all about having an online presence. Graduates want to learn about your business by reading about you, watching you, and communicating with you online. They want to get a feel for your workplace before accepting a job offer and they want to know what it’s like to work for you. For this to happen, you need to have a strong presence on social media and the web, which needs to be up-to-date and relevant to graduate job-seekers. This can be achieved through profiles of past graduates, video interviews, blog posts about your workplace, photos of your office and your team – the list goes on.
  • Involve them in decision making. They may be the office junior, but it doesn’t mean they don’t have an opinion. A way of making graduates feel involved and feel a part of the wider organisation is to involve them in some decision making. They don’t expect to be contributing to business critical decisions right away, but there are plenty of basic decisions that they could be involved in. Tell them this (in the job description preferably) and make it clear that they will be involved from the start.
  • Be open to change. The digital revolution has changed the way we work, and your business needs to be open to this. Don’t be afraid to ask your graduates for help with the technical stuff – they are digital natives. The next generation of workers is the most digitally connected and the most technologically savvy generation in history; you should use this to your advantage. Graduates will love the ability to help and make a difference, and your business will benefit as a result. Let them know how much you appreciate the difference that they can make, and they will love you for it.
  • Provide Development Opportunities. Ambitious candidates want to keep learning, either through in-house training and/or externally. Recognise that they may require some flexibility to allow them time to study and learn.
  • Provide Advancement Opportunities. Training isn’t enough if it doesn’t lead anywhere. Ambitious candidates want to see a clear path to promotion, and if you provide them with this transparency, they will work hard to achieve it.

Don’t assume that graduates will know that you offer these things without telling them. You need to signpost these opportunities clearly, you need to tell them what you can offer them. This is best done in your online presence. Awesome graduates are looking for awesome jobs. Keep this front of mind in all communications you have with the potential candidates.

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